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Why We Must Defend Hubble

The most successful space program alongside Apollo
by Robert Zubrin
Los Angeles - Feb 11, 2004
Recently the Steering Committee of the Mars Society released a statement supporting the new Bush space initiative, but taking strong exception to the decision by NASA Administrator O'Keefe to cancel all future Space Shuttle missions to the Hubble Space Telescope, including SM4, the nearly-ready-to-go flight that would have installed the new Cosmic Origins Spectrograph and Widefield Camera 3 instruments.

Since the release of that statement, I have received many communications congratulating the Mars Society for this stand, which several in the non-Mars science community characterized with words such as "unexpected but very welcome." A few space advocates, however, have written me, questioning why those whose primary concern is to further the human exploration and settlement of space should fight to save an astronomy project.

The answer to this is straightforward. We must defend Hubble because the abortion of the Hubble program is a crime against science. Furthermore, the grounds given for deserting Hubble are irrational, and constitute a form of moral cowardice that if accepted as the basis of space policy, would absolutely prevent any human missions to the Moon, Mars, or anywhere else.

These points are explained in greater detail below.

1. A CRIME AGAINST SCIENCE: The Hubble Space Telescope is, as explained in more detail in the appended talking points, the most productive scientific program in human history. It has revolutionized astronomy, and made discoveries that have caused us to radically revise our concept of the nature of the universe. It is emblematic of our societyˇ¦s commitment to the search for truth. If you support that commitment - and we do - then you must defend Hubble.

2. DESERTING HUBBLE IS IRRATIONAL: Giving up on Hubble makes no sense. Given the commitment to continue flying the Shuttle program through 2010, adding the two Shuttle flights required to upgrade Hubble and then reboost it to make it operational through 2015 would only add about 1% to the Shuttle program's cost, while increasing its science return by several orders of magnitude. The safety argument given by Mr. O'Keefe for canceling Shuttle flights to Hubble while allowing them to ISS is also without rational basis. It is true that when flying to the ISS, the crew has a safe-haven on orbit, which is not available to Hubble flights. However Hubble missions leave the Cape flying east-southeast, while launches to ISS go northeast. Thus in the event of a launch abort, Hubble missions can ditch in warm tropical waters while ISS flights must come down in the frigid North Atlantic, where the crew's chances for survival would be much less.

Furthermore, because ISS flights take off with much heavier payloads than Hubble flights, they require full functionality of all three engines for nearly 100 seconds longer than Hubble missions if they are to perform an abort-to-orbit. This makes landing in the drink on ISS missions considerably more likely. Finally, NASA calculations show that the danger of fatal impacts by micrometeors and orbital debris to be over 60% greater on ISS missions than Hubble missions. If we put this information together with the fact that only two Shuttle missions are needed to make Hubble operational for another decade, while over 20 are needed to complete the ISS, it is apparent that Mr. O'Keefe's assessment that the Hubble program poses greater risk than the ISS program is irrational.

3. HUBBLE DESERTION PREVENTS HUMAN EXPLORATION: Desertion of Hubble discredits the human spaceflight program because Hubble is the one example to-date wherein the human spaceflight program can show more science return per dollar than robotic spacecraft. For example, Hubble, including its four Shuttle support missions to date, has cost about twice as much as the Galileo probe to Jupiter, but it has produced at least a hundred times the science return. Fleeing from Hubble is fleeing from the human spaceflight's program primary scientific accomplishment. The cost of retreat is much worse than that, because the space agency is now proposing to begin a program of human exploration to the Moon and Mars. Yet it is patently obvious that a human mission to the Moon or Mars cannot be done at a lower level of risk than the Shuttle mission to the Hubble. So, if we don't have the guts to go to Hubble, we are not going to the Moon, Mars, or anywhere else. And if we are not going to engage in human interplanetary travel, then the primary rationale for the Space Station program -- learning about the effects of long-duration spaceflight on human physiology -- loses its foundation as well.

In the face of massive public outrage about his decision, Administrator O'Keefe has agreed to allow it to be reviewed by Columbia Accident Investigation Board Chairman Admiral Hal Gehman. Hopefully Gehman will rectify the situation. But if he does not, then Congress will have to act. They will have to take action, because ultimately the question of whether we rise to the challenge of the Hubble upgrade mission is not one of the technicalities of Shuttle flight safety, but of societal values.

If humans are to explore space, cowardice is not an option. It is not a matter of ignoring risks, but of facing them, and knowing the odds, bravely putting it on the line to do what has to be done. That attitude is the human quality known as courage. It has been the primary requirement for every significant achievement of humanity to date, and it will be the spirit necessary if we are to go to Mars.

So in every meeting with Congressmen from now on, our message must be to support the pioneer spirit through three key points:

*  Fund the new space exploration initiative
*  Set the program's sights on Mars
*  Show that it is serious. No desertion of Hubble!

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Is Space Exploration Worth the Cost?
Timisoara - Jan 19, 2004
The new space policy of the Bush administration, aimed at taking the humankind back to the Moon and on to Mars, came under fire before even being released. In their bid at the Democratic nomination for the White House, several politicians criticized George W. Bush's grand space plans, arguing that the money would find a better use here, on Earth writes Virgiliu Pop.

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