Fri, May 07, 2004
NASA's O'Keefe Reportedly Sold On Robot Repair Mission To
Sending a robot to do the work of a
human astronaut may be just the ticket for prolonging the life of
the Hubble Space Telescope. At least, that's the thinking at NASA
HQ these days.
A decision on whether that will happen, however, must be made by
early next month. Time is not on NASA's side.
Former astronaut John Grunsfield, now the chief scientist at
NASA, says it can be done -- a robot can be sent to replace the
batteries and gyroscopes. Grunsfield should know. Twice, he's been
up to repair and maintain the space telescope.
Grunsfield says a robotic mission to extend Hubble's service
life would have several elements:
- Adding a deorbital capability. That part of the plan was
already an objective for NASA, which wants to make sure that the
telescope re-enters the atmosphere safely.
- "Don't break the Hubble." In other words, Grunsfield says, if
the Hubble is still working by the time a robot mission can be
developed and launched, do no harm.
- Replace the batteries
- Replace the gyros
- If possible, add instruments that tweak the telescope's
Grunsfield's argument to NASA
Administrator Sean O'Keefe was that the robotic capabilities needed
to service Hubble would be most complementary to President Bush's
"Moon, Mars and Beyond" program. He argues the same technology
needed to fix the space telescope can be used to build a lunar
colony or assist a manned mission to Mars.
"So it's a win-win situation," he said.
But time is of the essence. "If we need to do something, we need
to do it fast," said Grunsfield. If Hubble is to be saved, it has
to be before the juice in the batteries runs out.
How do the scientists who know and love the space telescope feel
about a robotic mission versus an iffy chance that humans might
service the Hubble?
"We don't know yet what robotic servicing means," Beckwith told
his staff, according to Space.com. "We should be optimistic."
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