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American Astronomical Society Endorses NRC Report on "The Assessment of Options for Extending the Life of Hubble Space Telescope"

Press Release From: American Astronomical Society
Posted: Tuesday, January 18, 2005

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In a statement released today, the American Astronomical Society, the largest professional scientific association for astronomers and astrophysicists, has endorsed the National Research Council Report on "The Assessment of Options for Extending the Life of Hubble Space Telescope", which calls for a servicing mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope using astronauts and the space shuttle. The statement of endorsement (included below) was approved by the council of the Society at its 205th annual meeting in San Diego, California from January 9 to January 13.

The President of the American Astronomical Society, Dr. Robert P. Kirshner of Harvard University said, ""The Hubble Space Telescope is the most productive telescope since Galileo's-- and that was 400 years ago. It is clearly one of the best things NASA has ever done. The NRC formed a terrific panel of experts to weigh the options and they concluded a manned servicing mission is the least risky way to extend Hubble's life. We hope that NASA and Congress will undertake that mission, not just for astronomers, but for everybody who wants to know what the Universe is and how it works.""

Dr. David Black, the chair of the Society's committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics and President of the United Space Research Alliance, agreed, saying "As astronomers, we are not experts on risk, but we do know that Hubble plays a vital role in our field." Black continued, saying "What impressed me about this process was that some members of the committee who were not initially in favor of saving Hubble came to see the value of the science it produces and, most importantly, the value of the science it could produce if serviced."

The AAS statement is given below in its entirety.

American Astronomical Statement on the National Research Council Report on "The Assessment of Options for Extending the Life of Hubble Space Telescope"

The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) has been a remarkable instrument for scientific discovery, of great importance to members of the American Astronomical Society, to international science and to the broader world of curious people who seek to know what the Universe is and how it works. The long-awaited Servicing Mission (SM)-4 to install powerful new instruments and to extend the productive life of HST was suspended while NASA dealt with the consequences of the Columbia accident. Congress directed NASA to request a study by the National Research Council (NRC) of HST servicing options, evaluating both a shuttle mission and a possible robotic mission.

The final report (http://www.nap.edu/catalog/11169.html) of the NRC Committee on the Assessment of Options for Extending the Lifetime of the Hubble Space Telescope was released on December 8, 2004. The NRC report is extensive and wide-ranging. The three major recommendations set forth in the report are:

1) The committee reiterates the recommendation from its interim report that NASA should commit to a servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope that accomplishes the objectives of the originally planned SM-4 mission.

2) The committee recommends that NASA pursue a Shuttle servicing mission to HST to accomplish the above stated goal. Strong consideration should be given to flying this mission as early as possible after return to flight.

3) A robotic mission approach should be pursued solely to de-orbit Hubble after the period of extended science operations enabled by a shuttle astronaut servicing mission, thus allowing time for the appropriate development of the necessary robotic technology.

The American Astronomical Society (AAS) endorses the work of this distinguished committee and its conclusion that the lowest risk HST servicing mission is a manned servicing mission as originally envisioned for SM-4.

In calling for a manned servicing mission, the AAS reaffirms its position statement "On the Cancellation of Future Hubble Space Telescope Servicing Missions" (http://www.aas.org/governance/council/resolutions.html#CANCELLATION) in which the Society called for an independent panel to review the options, stressed placing paramount importance on astronaut safety, and asserted that the Hubble Space Telescope has had an impact, not only on science, but on the dreams and imagination of our young people that cannot be overstated. The NRC Committee has admirably balanced those concerns and brought forth cogent recommendations.

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