Hubble Telescope to Get a Makeover
Barbara Mikulski, left, and NASA
Administrator Michael Griffin talk to reporters after Griffin's
announcement that another Hubble servicing mission would occur.
(Newsline photo by Melissa Pachikara)
By Melissa Pachikara
Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2006; additional material and photo added Nov. 1, 2006
GREENBELT, Md. - NASA's Hubble Space Telescope will be getting a final makeover in
Seven space shuttle astronauts will take two new instruments to
the telescope in a mission designed to extend the life of the powerful
observatory through 2013, NASA Administrator
Michael Griffin announced Tuesday.
Orbiting Earth about every 97 minutes, the 43-foot tall telescope collects
images and data that have allowed scientists to map and study space like
never before. Using powerful instruments, Hubble has been
their tour guide, introducing scientists to new galaxies and teaching
them about the evolution, structure and intricacies of the universe.
"Literally thousands of scientists around the world use it regularly," said
David Leckrone, senior scientist for Hubble.
A servicing mission had been planned for
2004 but was put on hold out of safety concerns in the wake of the Feb. 1,
2003, Space Shuttle Columbia explosion. Columbia was destroyed during
re-entry, and its crew perished.
Hubble's last servicing mission - its fourth - was in March 2002.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) joined Griffin at the Goddard Space Flight Center
and Griffin both emphasized that the decision was made with the utmost
concern for the safety of the astronauts.
Mikulski's quote about moving heaven, earth and this galaxy to
ensure the safety of the shuttle astronauts was clarified in
this update of the story, based on a review of an audio
recording of her statement.
"I will move heaven, earth, this galaxy and even those
unknown to make sure there is money in the budget to always protect our
astronauts," Mikulski said.
During the planned 11-day mission, the astronauts will be installing a Cosmic Origins
Spectrograph and a Wide Field Camera 3, instruments that will improve
Hubble's ability to "see" in outer space. They will also be performing
repairs on an existing space telescope imaging spectrograph, which stopped
functioning in August 2004.
The trip is estimated to cost $900 million,
Griffin said. That includes $500 million
$200 million for the cost of the two new instruments
and about $200 million to launch the mission.
The additions and repairs will require the astronauts
to make a series of space walks.
Griffin noted another orbiter would be kept
ready for a rescue mission if needed.
Hubble has had a turbulent history since its 1990 debut
in space, when NASA discovered that a large mirror in the Hubble apparatus
"Word came back that
couldn’t see, and it needed the most expensive contact lens in world
history," Mikulski said, reflecting on that time. The corrective optics were
added in December 1993.
Columbia disaster, the fate of Hubble was uncertain. On Jan. 16, 2004,
NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe had decided to cancel all future servicing
missions for Hubble. Mikulski said she persuaded then-administrator O'Keefe
to get a second opinion before succumbing to a terminal diagnosis for
opinion was led by Adm. Hal Gehman, who also chaired the Columbia
Accident Investigation Board. His report was inconclusive about whether to
go ahead with servicing because further technical information was needed.
Congress funded further study, including an evaluation
of whether a robotic mission to service Hubble would work. A robotic mission
was eventually ruled out.
Mikulski has supported funding for the Hubble
servicing mission, including $350 million that had been appropriated during
fiscal years 2005 and 2006.
Mikulski noted that she and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson
(R-Texas) would also be introducing an appropriations bill for $1 billion to help NASA recoup some of the lost costs from the Space Shuttle
"Hubble is the telescope that keeps giving," Mikulski
said, describing how it opens opportunities to science and discovery.
Griffin agreed and noted that Hubble will leave a rich
"No doubt, two
generations from now, graduate students will be studying data from Hubble,"
Leckrone said that Hubble has not yet reached the limits of what it could
do. After the 2008 servicing mission, Hubble "will be at the apex of
its capabilities," he said.
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11/02/06 09:11 AM
Copyright © 2006 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism