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FYI Number 8: January 20, 2005

AAS Supports Manned Servicing Mission to Hubble

"The Hubble Space Telescope is the most productive telescope since Galileo's." - Robert Kirshner, President of the American Astronomical Society

The recommendation that NASA plan for a manned space shuttle mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope has now received support from the American Astronomical Society (AAS). AAS is one of the ten Member Societies of the American Institute of Physics.

A National Research Council committee, tasked with reviewing the options for servicing the space telescope in the wake of the Columbia shuttle tragedy, concluded late last year that "a shuttle astronaut servicing mission is the best option for extending the life of Hubble" (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2004/158.html). The NRC committee's report contained three recommendations: that NASA commit to a Hubble servicing mission; that NASA consider flying a shuttle servicing mission reasonably soon after the shuttle fleet's return to flight; and that a robotic mission only be considered for deorbiting the telescope at some time after a shuttle servicing mission has extended its scientific life.

On January 18, the AAS released a statement that endorsed the NRC report. In a press release, AAS President Robert Kirshner called the Hubble "clearly one of the best things NASA has ever done." He continued, "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."

The statement was approved by the AAS Council at its 205th annual meeting. It says, in part, "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 full text of the January 18 statement follows:

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."

Audrey T. Leath
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
301-209-3094

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