[FPSPACE] Sky & Telescope: HST servicing a "no-brainer"
DSFPortree at aol.com
DSFPortree at aol.com
Fri Nov 3 10:53:12 EST 2006
Relevant to earlier discussion.
Saving Hubble: A No-Brainer
by Robert Naeye, Sky & Telescope | October 31, 2006
As my colleague Stuart Goldman reported last week on his blog, Sky &
Telescope has changed locations for the first time in 50 years. We are now located at
90 Sherman Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, about a kilometer (half mile)
from our previous Bay State Road location. We are still unpacking boxes and
crates, but we're starting to assume an air of normalcy and we're actually
working on the next issues of S&T and Night Sky.
We also heard some very encouraging news today. NASA administrator Michael
Griffin has given the green light to service the Hubble Space Telescope sometime
in 2008. Citing safety concerns after the Columbia tragedy, previous
administrator Sean O'Keefe had canceled the mission, which would have meant the death
knell of the facility before this decade was out. But ever since Griffin
assumed the reigns of NASA in 2005, he had given positive vibes about a fifth and
final servicing mission, and barring catastrophe on an upcoming shuttle flight,
I think it's extremely likely that it will happen.
The mission will give Hubble a new lease on life by installing new gyroscopes
and batteries, which will probably extend the mission to about 2013. Better
yet, the astronauts will install two new instruments that will enable entirely
new science: the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph and the Wide Field Camera 3.
While I applaud Griffin's decision, this was a no-brainer. Independent
studies have shown that flying to Hubble is only slightly more dangerous than flying
to the International Space Station (ISS). But Hubble is vastly cheaper, and
its scientific productivity has outstripped ISS to such a huge extent that
comparing the two is about as competitive as a baseball game between the World
Series champion St. Louis Cardinals and the S&T all stars. Flying this servicing
mission is the cheapest way to add the equivalent of a new Great Observatory.
And given the fact that there are no big space observatory launches on the
horizon until the James Webb Space Telescope in 2014 or thereabouts, this
announcement will come as particularly welcome news to most research astronomers. The
fact that Hubble is still oversubscribed by a factor of 7 to 1 means it is
nowhere near the end of its scientific productivity, even if no new instruments
were being added. Most of all, Hubble is too important a scientific asset to
let die in orbit while it remains a cutting-edge discovery machine.
Today's Hubble announcement overshadows another important development. NASA
has just selected three low-cost Discovery missions for concept studies. These
spacecraft, if funded to completion, will return a sample from an asteroid,
study the chemistry of Venus's atmosphere, and map the Moon in detail to reveal
its internal structure. These are exciting missions, so stay tuned!
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