NASA announces Hubble repair mission


October 31, 2006

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (AP) -- NASA Administrator Michael Griffin on Tuesday approved sending a space shuttle to repair the 16-year-old Hubble Space Telescope, reversing his predecessor's contentious decision to nix the mission.

"We are going to add a shuttle servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope to the shuttle's manifest to be flown before it retires," Griffin told workers at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland on Tuesday.

Griffin's announcement was greeted eagerly by astronomers who feared Hubble would deteriorate before the end of the decade without a mission to add new camera instruments, sensors and replace aging batteries.

The shuttle mission will likely be in early 2008.

Former NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe canceled a Hubble mission in the wake of the Columbia shuttle disaster that killed seven astronauts in 2003. O'Keefe believed the risks were too great and the remaining shuttle missions should focus on completing construction of the international space station.

Unlike the remaining 14 shuttle flights needed to finish space station construction, astronauts going to Hubble wouldn't have a refuge in the event of a catastrophic problem like the one that doomed Columbia. NASA would have another shuttle on the launch pad, ready to make an emergency rescue trip in case of trouble.

A rehab mission would keep Hubble working until about 2013. It would add two new camera instruments, upgrade aging batteries and stabilizing equipment, add new guidance sensors and repair a light-separating spectrograph.

Without a servicing mission, Hubble likely would deteriorate in 2009 or 2010.

Among the Hubble's many scientific accomplishments, the telescope has enabled direct observation of the universe as it was 12 billion years ago, discovered black holes at the center of many galaxies, provided measurements that helped establish the size and age of the universe and offered evidence that the expansion of the universe is accelerating.

The telescope also has popularized astronomy by producing countless wondrous images.

"I believe the risks are worth the reward of going into space for just about any mission, in particular the Hubble mission," said astronaut Jim Newman, who was on the last space shuttle mission to Hubble in 2002.