Is It Worth The Expense?
As it turns out, NASA
may need to consider a manned mission to save the Hubble Space
Telescope after all. It appears such a mission would be cheaper
than the planned robotic mission.
"I'm of two minds because Hubble has contributed so much to the
understanding of our universe, but are we at a point of diminishing
returns?" asked University of Rochester optics expert Duncan Moore
in an interview with Florida Today. "It's clear from a science
standpoint, it could continue to contribute, but the question is at
"By the time we ditch [the Hubble], it's 16 years old, so now
we've got a 16-year old instrument -- and really it's older than
that because we built it almost 10 years before it launched. We
have to ask: How much are we going to get out of this baby?"
A rescue mission could cost upwards of $2 billion -- four times
the original cost of the Hubble itself and almost the cost of the
Hubble's replacement, the James Webb Space Telescope. Florida Today
suggests spending the money on Hubble now might delay deployment of
the Webb Telescope beyond its scheduled launch in 2011.
NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe decided last
January that a shuttle mission to restore Hubble to health was just
Over the following months, scientists pressed
O'Keefe to consider a robotic rescue of the space
telescope. By August, O'Keefe had relented and NASA
picked a Canadian robot design for the rescue mission. Called
"Dextre," the robot (below) could launch for the space telescope by
Then people started talking about the cost. "There is only a
certain number of dollars here," Moore told the Fort Lauderdale,
FL, newspaper. "It's not only the repair costs of going up there
and servicing it. It's operating costs after that. If they do it
robotically, that's going to cost an awful lot of pocket
But Moore and others say there's a flip side to that argument.
No matter how thin the checkbook, you can't deny that Hubble has
made history in terms of the scientific data it's gathered.
"From my point of view, it's a good investment," said Steven
Beckwith, the director of the Space Telescope Science Institute,
which operates the Hubble for NASA.
Congress has given NASA a financial green light of sorts to
repair and rejuvenate Hubble. But the amount -- $290 million -- is
nowhere near enough to complete the robot construction and launch
the rescue. But the bottom line is the answer to the question: How
much more gee-whiz discoveries will Hubble yield?