President George W. Bush's vision for space exploration, announced last week, includes building a base on the moon and eventually putting people on Mars (ScienceNOW, 14 January). But this bold vision comes at a cost, including earlier retirement for the Hubble Space Telescope, which for a dozen years has provided astronomers with an unparalleled view of star formation, galactic evolution, and solar system phenomena.
Following Bush's speech on 14 January, astronomers were stunned to learn that the president's plan precludes any more servicing missions to the Hubble Space Telescope. "It's a disaster for science and a giant step backward for U.S. astronomy," says Yale University astronomer Meg Urry. The shuttle was expected to make one trip between 2006 and 2008, and as recently as this fall scientists held out hope for a second servicing mission that would have kept Hubble flying until the James Webb Space Telescope is in orbit in 2011. "We're very seriously concerned," adds Sidney Wolff, director of Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona. "It would leave a very long gap."
Even without servicing missions, NASA space science chief Ed Weiler says Hubble should be able to continue operating until around 2007. It could last longer if NASA adopts power-saving procedures. Wolff proposes that two instruments built for the canceled Hubble servicing mission instead be placed into orbit by rocket and operated independently on a satellite.
Weiler says that killing the mission was a "tough call" but that there was no alternative. NASA officials said it was due to heightened concerns about safety. Hubble's orbit is such that if a shuttle were damaged on a servicing mission, it would not be able to reach the international space station. Moreover, the fleet is completely booked trying to complete the space station by 2010.
Hubble Space Telescope