Lagrange 5

waypoint to the past, present, and future of space

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Hubble's fate uncertain

With the departure of NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe, space policy observers are now wondering what the fate of the Hubble Space Telescope will be. O'Keefe unceremoniously cut off funding for maintenance to the Hubble, citing safety and budgetary factors in repair missions, which have always fallen under the space shuttle's aegis.

An op/ed piece in Monday's International Herald Tribune laments O'Keefe's decision and wants Congress to step in to mandate Hubble's future.

Another opinion piece, posted on TechNewsWorld by author Robert Zimmerman, argues that the Hubble mission is neither as risky nor as costly as detractors would have us believe.

Zimmerman's points are well-founded, and the axing of Hubble is probably too reactionary, but we need to remember that NASA has been given a daunting new task by the Bush administration. Somehow NASA must figure out how to remake itself from a space shuttle program into a space station program, while phasing out the shuttle and bringing in a new launch system, then lean back toward the moon, and do all of it without significant budget increases.

Someday Hubble will have aged beyond the feasibility to repair it, and we have to get used to that idea. O'Keefe and NASA have decided that Hubble's better days are behind it, and like having a Cadillac from the 1980s that's costly to repair and hard to find parts for, it may be time to find Hubble's pink slip.


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