Panel Urges NASA to Upgrade Hubble

NASA should push ahead to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope rather than let it die in orbit as the space agency proposed earlier this year, according to a National Research Council panel's interim findings released today.

The committee, chaired by Louis Lanzerotti of Bell Labs and Newark's New Jersey Institute of Technology, comes down strongly in favor of a comprehensive Hubble rescue mission, and urges NASA to consider both a robotic flight or a shuttle rendezvous to replace operational systems such as batteries as well as scientific instruments. "NASA should take no action to preclude a shuttle servicing mission," Lanzerotti told reporters in a teleconference today.

NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe announced in January that the Hubble would no longer be serviced. But a wave of protests by the scientific community and members of Congress forced O'Keefe to order up studies of a possible robotic mission. O'Keefe has insisted that a shuttle mission to Hubble is not prudent because it would be difficult for the astronauts to use the international space station in case of technical troubles. The committee, however, says a human mission should not be ruled out, and that NASA should pursue both options for a year before deciding which path is best. The panel also encourages the space agency to work more closely with the Defense Department to speed work on robotic servicing in orbit. The final study is not due until later this year.

NASA had no immediate response to the findings, but several members of the House Science Committee issued statements praising the report. Representative Mark Udall (D-CO) acknowledged that a servicing mission would be costly, but added, "I hope that the Appropriations Committee will recognize the importance of this funding and agree that by leaving doors open both to a robotic and a human servicing mission, we can significantly improve the odds that Hubble will be saved."