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The Bush administration has cut funding for any future mission manned or robotic, to service the Hubble Space Telescope, according to anonymous sources, cited by The Washington Post.

The paper reports that NASA has binned its plans to send a robot to service the telescope so that it can focus its resources on Bush's Martian ambitions. Unnamed officials, also quoted in The Post, have confirmed that Congress will not approve funding for the mission, and that it does not appear on Bush's 2006 fiscal plans.

Hubble has operated for 14 years, and in that time has sent back huge numbers of scientifically important and visually stunning images of the universe. Its original mission was designed to run for 15 years, with regular service visits from the Shuttle.

The anonymous official said that the risk of such an expensive mission for just an extra year of service had been deemed too high. Costs are expected to run to at least $1bn, and there are doubts over the viability of the mission. One feasibility study puts the likelihood of failure at 80 per cent.

Hubble's supporters suggest that its actual lifetime could be extended to over 20 years, if the service missions continue. However, following the Columbia Shuttle disaster, NASA grounded all flights to the telescope; and Hubble is nearly a year overdue for its fourth service mission. Sean O'Keefe, out-going NASA chief administrator, as deemed as too risky missions on a non-space station orbit, according to reports.

"Hubble could easily live well beyond 20 years, and furthermore, the National Academy committee stated that the future discoveries from Hubble over the next five years are every bit as bright as the discoveries we've seen in the past," Steve Beckwith, head of the Space Telescope Science Institute, the body that manages Hubble. "I'm hoping that our lawmakers will see the value of Hubble and make it a priority in NASA's budget," he told the Washington Post.

The news comes days after the American Astronomical Society (AAS) endorsed the National Research Council's recommendation that astronauts using the Space Shuttle should service Hubble. ®

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