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Mobilize Now To Save Hubble

Since under the new space policy, the Shuttles are scheduled to remain operational through 2010, a final Shuttle mission to Hubble could occur at that time, allowing one last replacement of the telescopes batteries and gyros and a reboost of its orbit, thereby making it functional beyond 2015.
by Dr Robert Zubrin
Los Angeles CA (SPX) Mar 21, 2005
Over the next few weeks, a series of hearings and meetings between Congress and NASA will determine the fate of the Hubble Space Telescope. It is imperative that everyone concerned with the future of science and the American space program mobilize now to save this great observatory.

The background of the matter is as follows: Built, launched, repaired, and successively upgraded at total cost of some $4 billion, the Hubble Space Telescope has made numerous important discoveries about the nature and structure of the universe.

It is the most powerful instrument in the history of astronomy, and far and away the most productive spacecraft that NASA has ever launched. Because it orbits above the atmosphere, which both smears light and blocks out major portions of the spectrum, the Hubble can see things that no ground-based telescope can see, or will ever see.

It took decades of hard work by very dedicated people to create Hubble, and an equivalent space-based replacement is decades away. In contrast to the general run of meaningless Shuttle missions carrying silly science fair experiments, the Shuttle flights to Hubble stand as epochal achievements in the history of humanity's search for truth.

Indeed, if one considers the moral significance of the scientific enterprise to our society and culture, Hubble emerges not just as NASA's finest work, but as perhaps the highest expression of the human creative spirit in the 20th Century.

At a cost of $167 million, two new instruments, the Widefield Camera 3 and the Cosmic Origins Spectrometer have been developed and built which, once installed on Hubble, would together triple the instrument's sensitivity.

Accordingly, NASA had scheduled the SM4 Shuttle mission, which would both add these capabilities and perform certain other maintenance tasks that would extend the life of Hubble through at least 2010.

Since under the new space policy, the Shuttles are scheduled to remain operational through 2010, a final Shuttle mission to Hubble could occur at that time, allowing one last replacement of the telescopes batteries and gyros and a reboost of its orbit, thereby making it functional beyond 2015.

If SM4 is not flown, however, Hubble's aging gyroscopes would put the space observatory out of commission by 2007. Incredibly, on January 16, 2004, the technically illiterate former NASA Administrator Sean. O'Keefe announced that he had decided to allow that to happen.

Mr. O'Keefe justified his decision by claiming that Shuttle missions to Hubble had to cease because they were unsafe, since, in contrast to missions to the ISS (to which, under the president's policy about 25 more Shuttles would be flown), Hubble missions offer no alternative safe-haven to the crew.

This argument was basically nonsense, since the ISS cannot house a complete shuttle crew for long anyway, and moreover there are numerous other features of ISS missions that make them more dangerous than Hubble flights.

For example, Hubble missions depart the Cape flying east-southeast, which means that in the event of an abort, the crew can ditch in tropical waters where their survival chances would be much better than in the frigid North Atlantic and Arctic oceans overflown by the northeast flying ISS missions.

Hubble missions also take off much more lightly laden than ISS missions, which makes them safer, as less performance is required of the engines to make it to orbit.

Furthermore, the micrometeorite and orbital debris danger in ISS orbits is estimated by NASA to be about 60% greater there than in Hubble orbit.

So NASA's own risk analysis did not support Mr. O'Keefe's claim of higher Hubble mission risk, and while the Administrator declined to include such information in his briefings to congressional committees, NASA personnel were quick to leak the relevant data to the press.

Mr. O'Keefe countered by ordering high- level NASA officials who were known to be ardent supporters of Hubble to take public stands supporting his decision. The disgusting spectacle of bureaucratic self-humiliation that followed was more reminiscent of a Stalin-era show trial than a technical debate, and appropriately, only excited derision in the press.

Mr. O'Keefe then argued that regardless of the actual risk, the recommendations of Admiral Gehman's Columbia Accident Investigation Board precluded a Shuttle flight to Hubble, but in a letter to Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) , a strong Hubble supporter, this claim was rejected out of hand by Gehman himself.

Admiral Gehman's response provided Mr. O'Keefe with an exit opportunity from his policy blunder, but the NASA Administrator decided not to take it.

Not only that, but when Sen. Mikulski and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) ordered a National Academy of Science review of the matter, Mr. O'Keefe responded by saying that while he welcomed an NAS review, he would not change his decision regardless of anything they said.

As a final dodge, Mr. O'Keefe then announced that he sincerely wanted to save Hubble, but just could not bring himself to risk human life to do so. Accordingly, he would request $1.9 billion in new funds to develop robots capable of performing the mission.

This proposal was very disingenuous. A Hubble upgrade mission requires the coordinated effort of seven highly trained and superbly skilled astronauts using a spacecraft and other equipment that has been specifically designed and extensively tested as suitable to this purpose.

In contrast, there isn't a robot on this planet that can change out an overhead kitchen lighting fixture.

NASA has a system of technology readiness levels (TRLs) that it uses to determine the appropriateness of including a technology on a mission. According to this system, it would be unacceptable to employ a technology in a mission critical role that was rated lower than TRL 7.

At best, the robots touted by Mr. O'Keefe as candidates for Hubble repair were at TRL 4, and their advocacy for such a function represented an arbitrary and complete abandonment of NASA mission planning discipline.

In December 2004, the NAS-National Research Council committee reported back, and rejected the robotic repair, calling for reinstating SM4 in its place. Mr. O'Keefe subsequently announced his resignation, but then, before departing, submitted a NASA budget containing no funds for either SM4 or robotic repair.

Instead, Mr. O'Keefe requested $300 million to develop a special spacecraft to deorbit Hubble, i.e. crash it into the ocean in a controlled fashion.

This proposal is remarkable for its irrationality. NASA calculates that if Hubble were to re-enter without direction, there is a 1/10,000 chance that the resulting debris would strike someone.

That works out to a probability of one life saved per $3 trillion spent. If life-saving is the mission, $300 million could do a lot more good spent on tsunami relief, body armor for the troops, highway safety barriers, childhood vaccinations, swimming lessons, take your pick.

Humanitarian and scientific budgets cannot be directly compared, because they serve different objectives. However the proposed Hubble deorbit budget is NOT a scientific expense; its purpose is to save lives, and thus it must be considered a humanitarian expense, and judged accordingly.

A reasonable estimate is that one life is saved for every $3,000 spent on Tsunami relief. At that rate, the decision to waste $300 million in potentially useful humanitarian funds on deorbiting Hubble amounts to the willful killing of roughly 100,000 people � mostly children. It is irresponsible, irrational, and immoral in the extreme.

The damage done to NASA and the new space initiative by Mr. O'Keefe's irrational actions has been substantial, and threatens to become much worse and long lasting if his decision is allowed to stand.

Effectively, by choosing the most valuable part of the old space program and selecting it for destruction as collateral damage, the former Administrator has branded the President's vision with the mark of Cain.

Opponents of the new policy have blamed the loss of the space telescope on the Moon-Mars initiative, and indeed, it is difficult to take seriously the claims of scientific purpose of an agency which chooses to abandon its capabilities so flippantly.

Why should NASA receive more funds to build new space telescopes when, like a spoiled child bored with a two-hour old toy, it willfully throws away the one it already has? And how can anyone believe that an agency which is afraid to embrace the risks involved in launching astronauts to Hubble will ever be ready to send humans to Mars?

Congress has spent many billions funding NASA to create the hardware needed to implement the Shuttle/Hubble program, only to be confronted with a NASA Administrator who refuses to use it.

If Mr. O'Keefe's decision to desert Hubble is not reversed, how can Congress know that after they spend further tens of billions for human flight systems to the Moon and Mars, that the agency leadership won't get cold feet again?

Americans committed to a sane, moral, and courageous space policy need to mobilize now to save Hubble. Everyone should call their own Senators and Congressional representatives, ask to speak to their legislative aides, and demand that the SM4 mission to save and upgrade Hubble be reinstated, and that not a penny of the taxpayers' money be spent on the immoral Hubble de-orbit mission.

If NASA has funds available for humanitarian purposes, those funds should be spent to save lives, not wasted to validate the capricious decisions of a Philistine careerist bureaucrat who has since moved on to greener pastures.

Given the decision to maintain the Shuttle flying in a given year, the incremental cost of flying an additional Shuttle mission such as SM4 is only about $100 million.

Instead of stupidly and heartlessly wasting $300 million to destroy Hubble, we should use $100 million to save and upgrade this gem of science and civilization, and spend the other $200 million to save the lives of tens of thousands of destitute children far more worthy of our charity than the Hubble deorbit program. Call congress and tell them so!

All congressmen and Senators can be reached through the Capitol switchboard number, 303-224-3121.

In addition to calling your own representatives, you should also call the office of House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) [202-225-3665, 202-225- 1891 (fax), and Senate Space Subcommittee Chairwoman Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX) 202-224-5922, 202-224-0776 (FAX).

Emails should also be sent to President George Bush at [email protected].

For further background explaining why O'Keefe's arguments for deserting Hubble have absolutely no merit, Mars Society president Dr. Robert Zubrin has written and published an article in Space News February 9, 2004.

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AAS Calls For Servicing Hubble: Stick To The Plan
Washington DC (SPX) Mar 09, 2005
Today the American Astronomical Society, the major professional organization for professional astronomy and space science researchers in the United States, released a policy statement on the servicing of the Hubble Space Telescope. The text of the statement is included below.

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