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US Lawmakers, Astronomers Mull Hubble Telescope's Fate

US astronauts conducted four shuttle missions to repair and upgrade the Hubble (in 1991, 1993, 1997 and 2002). A fifth and final manned shuttle flight had been expected in 2006 to replace aging batteries and install new sensors and gyroscopes, but the mission could be called off.
Washington DC (AFP) Feb 06, 2005
The uncertain fate of the Hubble Space Telescope, whose images have helped unravel some of the universe's deepest mysteries, has sparked debate in the US Congress and the scientific community due to the growing costs of keeping it among the stars.

Lawmakers and scientists agree that Hubble has been a tremendous tool for space research since it came into service in 1990, but they recognize that its expenses are a problem as Washington faces a huge budget deficit.

"There is no doubt that the Hubble is a national treasure and an extraordinary scientific instrument," said Representative Ken Calvert.

"It has literally opened our eyes to the universe and dazzled us with images of galaxies, stars, and planets," the California Republican said recently in a House Science Committee hearing.

Since it entered into service, the Hubble has established the age of the Milky Way at between 13 billion and 14 billion years old, helped gather evidence to support the Big Bang theory and provided the first convincing proof by an optical telescope of the existence of black holes.

Still, committee chairman Sherwood Boehlert asked: "Is it worth saving the Hubble even if that means taking money away from other NASA science programs?"

With repair costs possibly reaching two billion dollars, Congress will have to mull Hubble's future as it tackles the 2006 budget.

The White House is expected to submit the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's budget on Tuesday.

According to US media, the Bush administration has decided to eliminate funding for a mission to fix Hubble and extend its life until 2010, when the infra-red James Webb Space Telescope is to take its place.

Scientists are weighing the benefits of keeping Hubble online.

Joseph Taylor, a Nobel physics prize laureate who heads a National Academy of Sciences panel that sets astronomy missions, told the Science Committee he opposed a space shuttle mission to repair Hubble, "if it would require major delays or re-ordering of NASA's present science priorities."

The mission was initially estimated to cost up to 400 million dollars, but the figure has sky rocketed to one or two billion dollars.

Some astronomers say the space telescope is worth the cost.

"Hubble is a scientific asset of extraordinary value to the nation, and ... shuttle servicing is the best option for extending the life of Hubble," Louis Lanzerotti, a New Jersey Institute of Technology physics professor and member of the National Academy of Sciences, told the Science Committee.

NASA proposed in February 2004 to send a robot to repair the telescope. The idea came one year after the Columbia shuttle disintegrated as it re-entered the Earth's atmosphere, killing all seven crew. The shuttle fleet has been grounded since then but flights are expected to resume in May.

US astronauts conducted four shuttle missions to repair and upgrade the Hubble (in 1991, 1993, 1997 and 2002). A fifth and final manned shuttle flight had been expected in 2006 to replace aging batteries and install new sensors and gyroscopes, but the mission could be called off.

If nothing is done, Hubble, built to last until the end of 2005, could still survive until 2007 if its solar batteries produce enough energy.

All rights reserved. � 2004 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.

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Cost A Heavy Factor In Hubble Future
Washington (UPI) Feb 03, 2005
Some U.S. scientists are reportedly questioning whether a repair mission for the aging Hubble Space Telescope was worth the huge price tag. The mission, necessary if the Hubble is to to continue working, has been projected to cost $1 billion to $2 billion, the New York Times said.

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