The Future of the Hubble Space Telescope

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					    Science Angle
                                                                                                        John Bahcall is a professor of
                                                                                                        astrophysics at the Institute for Ad-

The Future of the Hubble
                                                                                                        vanced Study and recipient of the Na-
                                                                                                        tional Medal of Science. Christopher
                                                                                                        McKee is professor of physics and of
Space Telescope                                                                                         astronomy and former chair of physics
                                                                                                        at the University of California, Berkeley.
                                                                                                        Joseph Taylor is a professor of physics
By John Bahcall, Christopher McKee &                revelations have been over the last 15 years,       at Princeton and was awarded the Nobel
Joseph Taylor                                       Hubble’s most important discoveries could           Prize in Physics in 1993.
                                                    be in the future.
The US President’s budget, recently sent                 Hubble is also a tremendous national
to Congress, does not contain money for a           asset: a source of pride for all Americans        the mission was included in the five year
servicing mission to repair and maintain the        and an enormous stimulus to young people          budget run-out under the Office of Space
Hubble Space Telescope. We think that this          to learn the techniques of mathematics and        Flight.”
is a historic mistake, comparable to the            physics that are important to keep our na-             Some NASA officials have said publicly
mistake made in 1976 when the president’s           tion economically competitive.                    that astronaut safety is a reason for not
budget proposal zeroed out all support for                                                            servicing the Hubble with a shuttle flight.
the Large Space Telescope, later renamed            What are the advantages and disadvan-             However, 26 retired astronauts disagreed
the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). In 1976,          tages of extending the life of Hubble             in a written statement.
an intense lobbying effort by astronomers           through (a) a Shuttle repair mission, (b)              Moreover, the NRC study found no sig-
and physicists elicited enthusiastic support        a robotic repair mission, or (c) develop-         nificant difference in safety between a shut-
for the telescope in Congress and funding           ing a Hubble replacement?                         tle flight to the Space Station and a shuttle
was ultimately restored. We hope that               A Shuttle visit to the Hubble is the most         flight to the Hubble. No one has claimed that
something similar will happen in the present        reliable, robust, and flexible option. We al-     the planned 25 shuttle flights to the space
situation and that a bipartisan coalition of        ready know how to do with a Shuttle visit         station are collectively safer than a single
congressional leaders will be able to restore       everything that needs to be done to extend        shuttle flight to Hubble. And it will of course
funding for the HST.                                the life of Hubble and to greatly expand its      be much more dangerous to travel to the
    In open hearings on the future of the           capabilities. Moreover, astronauts have           Moon and Mars. But no-one at NASA head-
HST, Chairman Boehlert and the ranking              shown extraordinary ability to solve unex-        quarters is suggesting that we not support
member Congressman Gordon of the House              pected problems in space. The costs for a         the President’s exploration mission because
Committee on Science raised three impor-            robotic repair mission and a Shuttle mis-         it is too dangerous.
tant questions about options for servicing          sion are comparable, if one includes in the            We believe that the argument over
the telescope. We would like to provide             Shuttle option the necessity for ultimately       whether or not Hubble should be serviced
answers to those questions and place them           de-orbiting the telescope with a robotic de-      is really an argument over competing pri-
in the larger context of astronomical re-           vice. Further, the robotic option has a fun-      orities and whether NASA should continue
search in this country and of the future of         damental drawback: there probably will not        to give high priority to science. Since its
NASA. We rely in part on our experience as          be enough time to develop the necessary           founding, NASA has provided a steady
Chair and Co-Chairs, respectively, of the last      technology.                                       stream of scientific discoveries that have
two priority-setting exercises of the astro-             As Chairs of the astronomy communi-          revolutionized our understanding of the uni-
nomical community, exercises in which as-           ty’s most recent self-prioritizing task forces,   verse. We believe that keeping science as
tronomers successfully set priorities for           we are firmly committed to the process of         part of its core mission will benefit NASA
funding in the decades beginning in 1990            systematic peer review that ultimately leads      and the nation, as well as science. The best
and in 2000. We also base our answers               to the consensus selection by the science         way to support this view is to authorize a
upon the recently completed National Re-            community of a small fraction of the most         Shuttle servicing mission for the Hubble
search Council (NRC) study of all aspects of        important proposed new science projects.          Space Telescope. <<<
a servicing mission to Hubble.                      The proposed new satellite to host some
    The NRC study involved a number of the          Hubble instruments and other scientific ca-
nation’s most distinguished contributors to         pabilities is very attractive, but we think it
activities in space, including astronauts,          should be considered together with other
engineers, managers of space programs,              attractive possibilities in the next-decade
astronomers, and Nobel Prize winning physi-         study that will be organized in another few
cists. The conclusion of the intensive NRC          years. It would be premature to push a new
study was that a Space Shuttle servicing            satellite with Hubble-like instruments ahead
mission was the best option and was in the          of other projects that may be proposed for
nation’s interest. We strongly concur with          the next decade.
this view, as our answers to the questions
below will show.                                    Should a Hubble servicing mission be a
                                                                                                                                                        Photo courtesy of NASA-JSC-ES&IA

                                                    higher priority for funding than other as-
How important will the future contribu-             tronomical programs at NASA?
tions of the Hubble Space Telescope be              We believe that the NASA programs, includ-
to understanding the cosmos in which we             ing the Hubble servicing mission, should
live?                                               continue as planned with the priorities that
The Hubble is a scientific workhorse in the         have been established by previous decadal
prime of its life. It is also the privileged pho-   surveys.
tographer of the universe. Whether the                  For years, the Hubble servicing mission
images are of solar systems at birth, galax-        has been part of the NASA planning. In a
ies colliding, or the death throes of a star in     written response to Congressman Gordon,
supernova, Hubble’s photos reveal both the          NASA administrator Sean O’Keefe wrote in
ferocity and tranquility of our universe. Most      2002 that: “ The next Hubble Servicing Mis-
importantly, the photos reveal our place in         sion is …considered ‘grandfathered in’ un-
the universe. And yet, as staggering as its         der this policy, and the projected budget for

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