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The American Astronomical Society (AAS) has added its voice to calls for a manned mission to carry out essential maintenance on the Hubble Space Telescope. The AAS endorsed the National Research Council's recommendation that the telescope be serviced by astronauts using the Space Shuttle rather than NASA's suggested robotic mission.

The three main recommendations of the NRC's report are that NASA should commit to the servicing mission; that the mission should be carried out on Shuttle and that a robotic mission should only be considered to "de-orbit" the telescope at the end of its life. This, the NRC says, will allow "time for the appropriate development of the necessary robotic technology".

Dr. Robert Kirshner of Harvard University, president of the AAS, said that Hubble was "one of the best things NASA has ever done". He forecast that the NRC's recommendation - that a manned service mission is the least risky option - would be accepted by NASA and congress.

Service Mission Four - or SM4, as it's known - will include repairs to Hubble's gyroscopes and batteries. These would extend the life of the 'scope to 2013. SM4 will also see the installation of a new wide-field camera to make observations in the infrared, ultraviolet and visible wavelengths, and a spectrograph tuned to faint UV light in ordet to seek out traces gas from the early universe.

However, since the Columbia Shuttle disaster, NASA's chief administrator, Sean O'Keefe, has been adamant that the 'flying brickyard' would only be used for flights to the International Space Station. He proposes sending a robotic mission to repair the telescope, but there are concerns that the technology will not be ready in time to save Hubble. ®

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