New Space Plan Calls for The Telescope's Retirement
Last week, President
Bush announced a bold new space initiative that called for
returning to the moon and eventually setting foot on Mars. While
NASA engineers will focus on accomplishing these lofty goals, some
recent projects, like the high-tech Hubble Space Telescope will
eventually fall to the wayside.
NASA recently announced the Hubble will be allowed to degrade
and eventually become useless, as the agency changes focus to meet
President Bush's new interplanetary mission. As a result, NASA has
canceled all space shuttle servicing missions to the orbital
telescope, which changed our stellar perspective with its striking
images of the universe. John Grunsfeld, NASA's chief scientist,
said Friday that NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe made the decision
to cancel the fifth space shuttle service mission to the Hubble
when it became clear there was not enough time to conduct it before
the shuttle is retired. The servicing mission was considered
essential to enable the orbiting telescope to continue to
"This is a sad day," said Grunsfeld, but he said the decision
"is the best thing for the space community."
Grunsfeld said the
decision was influenced by President's new time line, which calls
for NASA to start developing the spacecraft and equipment for
voyages to the moon and later to Mars. The president's plan also
called for the space shuttle to be retired by 2010 leaving all of
the shuttle's remaining flights to complete construction of the
International Space Station.
Without servicing missions, he said, the Hubble should continue
operating until 2007 or 2008, "as long as we can." NASA was already
planning to replace the Hubble with a new, improved version, called
the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in 2011.
The observatory has ailing gyroscopes which were to be replaced
on a delayed servicing mission. Software was being developed to
work with only two gyroscopes but the telescope will not have the
same capabilities. Grunsfeld said the Hubble control team will
attempt to extend the life of the telescope, but the gyros will
degrade. He also said that while the batteries on the craft are
constantly recharged, they eventually "will run out of juice."
So, what fate lies ahead for the Hubble? NASA estimates the
telescope will eventually fall out of orbit and crash to Earth,
probably in 2011 or 2012. As with any ailing elder, NASA will
design and build a small robot craft that will be launched and
guided to the Hubble for the reentry.