NASA Responds to Hubble Criticism

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Editor's note: A number of editorials have appeared online in recent weeks regarding NASA's decision to not send a Shuttle mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope. Despite a number of replies NASA has sent in response to the OpEds, none of the letters seems to have been published online. Some of these replies are published below with links to the original opinion pieces.


Letter to Florida Today

Moving Forward After Hubble

NASA appreciates Florida Today's praise for the remarkable science that the Hubble Space Telescope and its incredible team has produced (Save The Hubble, February 12, 2004). Hubble will continue to provide compelling views of the universe well beyond its designed 15-year lifetime. Through NASA's astronomy program we are also exploring the far reaches of space with telescopes viewing in X-rays through the Chandra Observatory, infrared radiation through the eyes of the Spitzer Telescope, and the James Webb Space Telescope to be launched in 2011.

NASA's decision to cancel the final Hubble servicing mission was based on a careful review of risk issues following the tragic loss of the Columbia and crew. We used as a guide the Columbia Accident Investigation Board's safety recommendations, and our progress in meeting those recommendations in our return to flight activities. When all factors were considered, including the requirement to inspect and repair thermal protection on orbit and support for a second Space Shuttle ready to launch in the event a rescue is needed, the risk was deemed too high.

We have learned from the loss of Columbia, and are putting those hard-learned lessons to heart as we plan our future efforts. Space exploration will never be risk free. Pushing the frontiers of knowledge and human experience is a journey that we must support, but at the same time manage by only taking prudent and measured risks.

Dr. John Grunsfeld
Chief Scientist
National Aeronautics and Space Administration


Letter to the Washington Times

Moving Forward After Hubble

The Hubble Space Telescope is indeed one of the most important modern scientific tools and a grand technical achievement. In almost 14 years of operations, Hubble met or exceeded all science objectives. Our best people are now working hard on plans to extend Hubble's mission well beyond its designed 15-year lifetime.

NASA's difficult but necessary decision to cancel Hubble's last servicing mission was based on a careful review of a number of safety issues. One key safety concern was the requirement to have a second Shuttle ready for a possible rescue mission. Such a mission would increase the risk to two Shuttles and crews and would create even greater schedule pressures. After assessing these risks, we determined it is more important to concentrate our efforts on completing construction of the International Space Station. We are committed to realizing the full potential of the Station, rather than to attempt to increase the Hubble's already extensive scientific archive.

In opposing NASA's decision Dr. Robert Zubrin (Don't Desert Hubble, February 12, 2004) ignores the fact NASA remains committed to conducting world-class astronomy in space. The Hubble is expected to operate for at least two to three years. The Chandra X-Ray Observatory and the infrared Spitzer Space Telescope are opening new windows on the universe. Our next generation space observatory, the infrared James Webb Space Telescope, will launch in 2011.

Dr. Zubrin also argues NASA lacks the will to take on the risks required to fulfill President Bush's vision of sending human explorers to the Moon and Mars. While we recognize space travel will never be risk free, the stepping stone approach outlined by the President will enable us to learn from each step we take in this journey, thus reducing the overall risks of this forward looking initiative.

William F. Readdy
Associate Administrator for Space Flight
National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Dr. Edward J. Weiler
Associate Administrator for Space Science
National Aeronautics and Space Administration


Letter to New Orleans Times-Picayune

NASA's Decision on Hubble

Re: Junking A Jewel (February 12, 2004). NASA's difficult but necessary decision to cancel Hubble's last servicing mission was based on a careful review of a number of safety issues. We took seriously the increased risk and complexity of the safety requirement to have a second Shuttle ready for a possible rescue mission. Such a mission would increase the risk to two Shuttles and crews and would require decision making under very extreme schedule pressure. The analysis conducted by an unnamed NASA engineer in support of a Hubble servicing mission while well intentioned oversimplified the very complex, interrelated issues our top officials addressed. While NASA recognizes our space research and exploration activities will never be risk free, we believe it is important to prudently measure risks, and when appropriate to err on the side of caution.

Times-Picayune readers should know, however, that NASA remains committed to conducting world-class astronomy in space. The Hubble is expected to operate for at least two to three years. The science instruments slated for Hubble that were mentioned in your editorial will not be mothballed. NASA is looking at offering these instruments for use in future space astronomy missions managed by our Explorer Program. In addition, we are also committed to advancing scientific discovery through the work of the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, the infrared Spitzer Space Telescope, and the infrared James Webb Space Telescope, which will launch in 2011.

Glenn Mahone
Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs
National Aeronautics and Space Administration


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