Comments on SM4 Hubble Servicing Mission?

Your comments thus far:

It'd be crazy to let Hubble die and spend a fortune on sending a Man to Marsinstead. Hubble fulfills NASA's prime mission, while Mars fulfills Bush'sprimary mission, i.e. getting reelected. And if we can't afford to get acouple mechanics up in orbit, which is something we've been doing for 40years, how (or why) do we get the same guys to Mars? Given recentdevelopments, NASA should (absolutely) consider bidding out Hubble serviceneeds to other govts. and/or the private sector or any combination of same.This is especially stupid as we're just beginning to 'see the light' at theabsolute beginning (or end) of the tunnel, or donut, or ellipse or, heck wewon't know.....

As an outsider I can only think that NASA is an organization in the same basic condition it always was.

There is one re-occurring theme and that is top down management that stifles input from the rest of the organization. The Challanger blew up despite warnings because management did not want to blemish a launch schedule. The Columbia also came down because good engineering questions again fell prey to internal political pressure. It wasn't a lack of concern for safety that brought down these two Shuttles.

The fix is not to go to extremes for safety (while really just focusing on the schedule for the ISS and Mars.) Another top down decree of safety procedures will leave the underlying cause which is a lack of listening to worthwhile communication.


Keith Cowling at his "NASA Watch" web page is firing away at Walt Cunningham (Apollo-7 Astronaut and his bio is here: ) about Cunningham's editorial in today's Houston Chronicle on NASA's Sean O'Keefe's decision not to fly the last repair mission to the Hubble Telescope. See below.

I normally leave this kind of debate to the direct participants, but this whole business of America becoming so risk-adverse that any risk of injury or death sends people into a tall-spin is really getting to me. From Mr. Cunningham's web page, he appears to be the classical overachiever that NASA used to be proud of, but now apparently considers too Rambo-esque. And yes Mr. Cunningham, apparently Mr. Cowling does seem to think that the "Right Stuff" has gone out of style in America and that you are an anachronism. This attitude is implicit in the over-the-top safety culture that is now taking hold at all the NASA field centers and at NASA's contractors as well. But thank God we aren't doing that YET in the US military, where some people are going to die in any mission by definition, be it a large training mission or in real combat, because folks, fighting ones enemies is a TOUGH and DIRTY business as our fighting men and woman of any generation will attest to.

If you are to succeed in any venture, one has to make the best preparations one can to minimize risks WITH the available resources, but then you have to push the go button and get the mission done, and if you get a few cuts and abrasions, or even deaths along the way, so be it. That's what I believe Mr. Cunningham is using as a touch-stone in his Hubble repair mission judgment call, and it's something that seems to be lost on some in Washington. Yet even in the military we are fast going to the risk-adverse approach to management by going to remote fighting vehicles where there is little or no chance of our soldiers getting in harms way. But what happens when the machines are broke, the will to use them is gone, and the barbarians are at our gates? I suggest that you look at the fate of the Roman Empire or Europe in 1938 to get your answer.

Sadly, with our ever increasing Politically Correct and Risk Adverse society, brought to you by the 1960s Hippy Flower power movement, trial lawyers, and the ruling wieners in our society that's what we have to expect from now on in American and our Federal Space Program. It's enough to make one want to puke, but it also points out that Sean O'Keefe is just making sure another accident doesn't happen on his watch with his Hubble decision, which is just another demonstration of the CYA bureaucratic-shuffle.. Any bets on whether the Space Shuttle will ever fly again, or this new Presidential "space vision" is just an election year con-job? Any bets that the American Space program is already dead and its various parts just haven't figured it out yet?

If we aren't willing to take some well thought out and well defined risks in any of our space endeavors as noted by Mr. Cunningham, we sure aren't going to send anyone back to the Moon or go on to Mars where there is a non-zero probability of loss of some crew members or even the entire mission, especially with the low-rent approach that the current President is taking with it. But that very fact is probably how we as a society currently rate the importance of our space exploration program. It's nice to have, but it's not important enough to our collective selves to spill blood over it at ANY level.

So how far do we take this new safety culture of ours? How much responsibility does the individual have for keeping their fingers out of the fires of life and how much should his or her keepers have? I vote that it has already gone way too far to the keepers, AKA the NANNY STATE Government.

I don't understand your antagonistic attitude towards Walt Cunnigham'sopinion in the Houston Chronicle - nor your bias against Hubble and forthe ISS.

Mr. Cunningham's thoughts seem perfectly reasonable to me - fix theinsulation and fly. It seems crazy to be afraid to perform missions wealready have performed before. Now we need safe havens and backupmissions just to enter LEO? I'm afraid we have lost our nerve.

I am sure every astronaut would volunteer for the Hubble servicing mission.They know the risks of spaceflight and accept them.

By the way, I did read the CAIB report and understood it. I happen to be anaerospace engineer. Admiral Gehman's report does not preclude HubbleServicing missions - only risk averse and timid mentality does.

A Hubble mission is arguably no more risky than an ISS mission. And it's ariskany astronaut would be willing to take. Especially to prolong the life ofprobablythe most successful and meaningful payload the Shuttle has ever launched.

Hubble is bigger than NASA and Mr. O'Keefe. Hubble is a national asset; the decision does not lie with NASA. The move in Congress to direct NASA to fly SM4 is the right approach.

The Hubble decision brings to light NASA's continuing inability to "think outside the box". The development of an Orbital Maneuvering Vehicle (manned or unmanned) would provide the ability to save Hubble and at the same time provide a valuable capability to supply Station (no need for every payload to be able to auto-dock), not to mention satellite orbital insertion/recovery. At the same time providing experience in operation and design of space craft for our mission to the Moon and beyond.


You have developed a huge following by providing critical analysis andinformed opinions about NASA and its comings and goings. I personally checkyour website many times a day to keep up with OUR agency. I have becomeincreasing disturbed by the mean-spirited attitude you have displayed sincethe Bush Administration announcement of the exploration policy and thecancellation of the HST servicing mission. Your comments about WaltCunningham's opinion piece were uncalled for, but are consistent with yourresponses to many who have questioned or criticized the Administration inrecent months. His editorial was thoughtful and accurate. You offered noinformation contradicting anything he said; you just criticized him foropening his mouth.

After having spent 20 years at KSC working for NASA on the Shuttle and ISSPrograms, I feel like I have some expertise that can be used to take acritical view of Agency activities and policies. The fact of the matter onHST is that Sean is dead wrong about canceling the HST mission. If its notsafe to fly to HST, it isn't safe to fly at all. I reread the white paperon the rationale for the cancellation that is linked to NASA Watch and therationale is wrong regarding the potential problems with having a rescueshuttle on the pad. How much of the rest of the rationale is flawed?

About the only thing that the Exploration policy does is guarantee that HSTand Shuttle are doomed and that our involvement in and use of ISS will bedownsized to a trivial level long before its useful life is over. It alsoguarantees that there will be a long gap in having a US capability to sendpeople into space. How in the world can one justify a gap of 6 or 7 yearsbetween first flight of manned spacecraft and its first occupied flight? Iwould love for my former USNTPS classmate Craig Steidle to explain that one.I cant believe that you think it to be reasonable. As I recall, the roadmapcalled for a first flight in 2008 and a manned flight in 2014. I hope theymade a typo.

I think that you need to look in the mirror and ask yourself why you havebecome so defensive and mean-spirited. It seems that you have lost yourobjectivity to take a critical look at the Agency and provide the communitywith other opinions. I too want to see us return to the moon and mars, andwe do need desperately to develop a new method to travel to LEO and beyond... way beyond. The Bush plan might be a good place to start the policydiscussion that needs to take place, but it isn't necessarily THE way to go.

I know that many of you who read this are NASA employees heading forretirement this year. I don't work for NASA, at least not officially, butsomeday they're going to figure out that I'm their biggest cheerleader.Minus the skirt and pom-poms, of course.

Have you ever seen this movie, featuring Kevin Costner as an aging pitcher,contemplating retirement, who throws a perfect game in his final appearance?Sean O'Keefe blew a perfect chance to engage all of you when he arbitrarilycancelled SM-4 and cited the CAIB's recommendations about having in-orbitTPS repair capability in place. If he had stated that you have two years toget this done, and thrown down the gauntlet, it would've signified a"can-do" attitude "out here", instead of being paralyzed with fear.

I'm sure that you folks get inundated with your share of paradigms andmission statements on a daily basis. But you've never heard them from me,one of the folks in the crowd at KSC and the Smithsonian. Now, you will. Butremember that I'm 48, with a 11 year old son who wants to go to Mars.I've read that the RTF suggestions mailbox received 286 suggestions, out of286 million people. I had one of them, with two suggestions. Since themailbox was open to the world, what does that tell me? That no one reallycares? I hope not.

Before you clock out for the last time this year, look at yourself in themirror, and ask yourself why you joined NASA in the first place. We all knowthat it wasn't for the money. It was to make a difference, to contribute, tobe part of the continuance of Kennedy's dream.

Use all of the information you have available to you and solve theseproblems. Keeping the Hubble online is just the tip of the iceberg, becausewhat you accomplish, or fail to accomplish, will affect spaceflight formany years to come. Don't say "It's not my job" or "No one cares" because weout in the bleachers are watching.

Do whatever it takes to solve these RTF issues.

Throw YOUR perfect game.

Then you can retire.

Mr Cowing: Thanks for offering outside observers of the space program, such as myself, so many chances to speak out. NASA's recent decision to cancel all shuttle flights to Hubble really brings us back to the good old 20/20 Hindsight! Think of how many times that NASA has send shuttles into space with no 'safe haven' in place, such as Mir and the ISS. The first 25 flights between STS-1 and the Challenger accident. And then they got Discovery ready to go in 1988, still with no 'safe haven'. They then flew alot more flights before they started docking shuttle missions to Mir. When we think back about the foam falling off the external tanks and impacting the shuttle's tiles all these years, compounded with the fact that lots of these flights were sent up with no 'safe haven such as the Mir or ISS, and also not even any rescue plan in place on those docking missions, it really gives me the chills to think about all the risks they took with all those flights. Terrible that we had to lose another 7 astronauts to realize all this.

Why not send Robonaut to HST for simple repair and replacement of Gyros to allow the telescope to go as long as possible? It would make a great use of telerobotics techniques already used in labs and would be a great dry run for any future EVA required activity with the James Webb Telescope. Dust off the Interim Control Module mate Robonaut and the spares on it and put this existing technology on an Atlas 5 and go for it in a few years. We keep forgetting that we have the technology.

According to, the DART (Demonstration of AutonomousRendezvous Technology) project will "provide expertise in de-orbitingthe Hubble Space Telescope. " The plan is to send up a "boosterrocket" to de-orbit the observatory and drop in the ocean.

From what I understand, the longevity of HST depends on itsgyroscopes. If they can attach a rocket motor, they can attach arocket motor that just happens to contain a new attitude controlsystem for HST including gyros. When the new attitude control systemfails, then they can fire that rocket.

Also, I think NASA needs to understand that they are managing anational asset (and to some degree an international asset). There maybe quite a few institutions interested in financing the HST servicemission or the mission I described above. And, some of them mighteven have better ideas than that. Perhaps NASA simply give HST tosome research consortium who would then have to come up with the fundsand technology to keep it working or to bring it down. NASA wouldhave to have veto power for safety reasons, though.

Thanks for the opportunity to speak!

How about Hubble2?

Instead of paying $500M to $1B to train for and launch a servicing mission, we could pull the backup mirror out of the museum, hook the replacement gyros up to it, replace the optics on the new instruments and launch an all new Hubble2 (complete with deorbit motor) on an EELV.

Even if it cost $300+M to complete design and assembly of Hubble2, and another $100+M to launch it, the cost would still probably be less than a servicing mission, and the new hubble could be designed to last longer between visits. (Or we could just replace them every 8 years.)

I do think that Hubble has made and can and will continue to make important contributions to Astronomy, however, it, like the shuttle itself, is one of the most expensive solutions to the problem of getting better data. If we had a more responsive and less expensive RLV, then servicing might be a great thing. But since the only likely craft available to service Hubble is Shuttle, I think Hubble2 is a good alternative.


I both agree and disagree with NASA decision cancelthe Hubble service mission. With the changes NASA areputting in the chances of anything happening are veryslim. Infact it shows that NASA are to scared nowbecause of Columbia when the attitude shoud be "We canand will do this".

But I can understand the decision for the simplereason even before the Columbia accident the remainingshuttles were booked to fly ISS missions and it wasColumbia to fly Hubble service missions and trying tofit in Hubble into the launch schedule now will behard.

But I really hope that they can do it as Hubble hasbeen an extremely important and it will useful to keepHubble going for as long as they can

From your article "Astronomy Community Disputes NASA s Hubble Plans" of Tuesday, February 10, 2004: "In the post-Columbia way of doing business NASA had decided that in order to assure the safety of a crew flying to service Hubble that another shuttle would need to be fueled and ready to go in case the first shuttle was damaged and unable to return to Earth.

"This would be required since the Hubble and the space station are in different orbits. This would prevent a crippled orbiter from reaching the space station as a 'safe haven' if problems arose. Of course this would add considerable complexity to the standard way of doing things. 'This means two countdowns, two control centers, two of everything' NASA's Associate Administrator for Spaceflight William Readdy said in a teleconference with reporters on Monday."

From your article "NASA Planning to Move Next Shuttle Mission to 2005" of Tuesday, February 17, 2004: "Meanwhile, STS-300 was baselined last week for a November 15, 2004 launch date - the same as the current planned STS-121 launch date. STS-300 is a pre-staged rescue mission to be in place to recover the STS-114 crew from the ISS in the event of non-repairable damage to the shuttle orbiter Atlantis used to fly STS-114."

They can't fly SM4 because they would have to have a rescue mission ready to go, but they're going to fly STS-114 with a rescue misssion ready to go? What am I missing here?

Keith: Hope you're still accepting comments on SM4, and keep up the goodwork dealing with Pike, Roland, etc.:

"After the Apollo 1 accident, you couldn't start a fire in the CommandModule if you wanted to. After the Challenger accident, you couldn't get anSRB field joint to leak even with an intentional O-ring defect. When theshuttle returns the flight with all the new damage prevention measuresimplemented, the chances of a Columbia-type incident will be vanishinglysmall (and it only happened once in over a hundred prior flights with noneof the new measures in place). With all due respect to the CAIB and theAdministrator, I begin to wonder if everyone is overreacting to the RCC/tiledamage risk after Return To Flight. The SM4 decision could have at leastwaited until the first several missions were completed and thermalprotection results analyzed."

HST has had a significant impact on astronomy and is definitely worth another servicing mission. The Shuttle is not unsafe, it is NASA management that is unsafe. Both Shuttle accidents were due to known problems which could have been corrected but were ignored in spite of their catastrophic potential. If not for poor management, the Shuttle would have an unprecedented 100% flight success rate. Therefore, I believe it is safe to perform SM-4 as long as NASA management makes the right decisions for Return To Flight. The Shuttle is at it's safest after RTF because the workforce, and more importantly management, has their eye on the ball in regards to safety. Only after long periods of success does management become lax and allow serious issues to be declared non-problems at the highest of levels while stifling the concerns of the workforce. O'Keefe needs to quit managing out of fear of screwing up again. And boy did he screw up with Columbia by putting the pressure on the workforce to meet ISS Core Complete by 2/19/04, at Bush's command of course. If O'Keefe wants to save money, maybe he ought to do SM-4 and cancel all flights to ISS as an unnecessary risk. After all, HST has returned more science than ISS ever could, especially with a minimal crew who can barely do maintenance (and I'm talking the 3 person crew it had, not the current 2 person crew, again thanks to Bush). Besides, there's no science freezers to do human biology experiments and return samples. MELFI has never flown powered and the MPLM has never been flown in an active configuration (and won't for years to come). I just wish NASA had more intelligent management. They are either technical-oriented but fiscally retarded so they ruin the budget with enormous cost overruns (thanks JSC) or they are money-smart but dumb as a bag of hammers on technical issues (ala O'Keefe). We need someone with both the fiscal aptitude and technical background to do the right things technically within the budget we are allotted. Unfortunately, there are no more Von Braun's in the world.

p.s. Whatever the decision, I have complete faith in our management to make the wrong one.


Thanks for offering these forums.

Those suggesting the ISS orbit as an intermediary enabler for HST servicing need to understand just how difficult the orbital mechanics makes it. The shuttle carries about 1000 ft/sec velocity-change capability of OMS propellant into space, including what it has to use for initial orbit insertion (OMS-2) and deorbit. Those two burns collectively use up roundabout half. So, a shuttle may have (optimistically) about 500 ft/sec available to use for any orbit-changing maneuvers.

Plane changes (altering the orbital inclination included) are VERY expensive Delta-V-wise; they require in the ballpark of 700-900 ft/sec per ONE degree at shuttle altitudes (dV = 2*base orbital velocity*sine(angle/2); in other words, if the shuttle launches to the Station, it would only be able to lower itself inclination-wise to 51 or so degrees, and that's being generous. Hubble is at 28.5 degrees. 1000 ft/sec of OMS prop capability weighs in at around 24,000 pounds. THEORETICALLY (VERY theoretically!), the shuttle might carry 40,000 extra pounds of OMS prop in the payload bay, assuming the tankage was available AND nothing else was there. Go ahead and do the math and you'll see that the shuttle at its theoretical best (using lots of previously unflown OMS tankage) could lower its inclination from ISS (51.6 degrees) to only 49ish degrees. To sum up, that means a shuttle would NOT be able to get from the ISS orbit to the HST orbit. [Bonus reality: ISS is in that orbit because we're partnering with Russia; Freedom was going to be at 28.5. Compromises, compromises . . .]

So, you ask, how about sending HST back to ISS-land with an automatic booster? This of course presupposes a delicate autonomous rendezvous could be achieved and that HST could handle the contamination of both the booster (including the shaking thrust environment) and ISS region--all big assumptions. 51.6 - 28.5 = 23.1 degrees makes for a required planar velocity change of roughly 10,000 feet/sec. Think about that; that's a sizable percentage of the base orbital velocity (~25,000 ft/sec), which means a whopper of a booster stage. (HST weighs ~24,500 pounds; I'll let someone more qualified work out the rocket equation to come up with precise booster size.)

Realistically, then, this leaves us three options:

a) Don't do SM4;

b) Do SM4 as planned, after we perfect an autonomous shuttle TPS inspect (AERcam-Sprint?) & repair (Plume Boom?) capability and have a 2nd shuttle (the following ISS mission in the queue) [or three-four Soyuzes (would this be possible?)] standing by on the ground;

c) Do SM4 (or some portion thereof--an attitude control supplemental system seems most viable) using a ground-launched autonomous system.

Before I had been leaning toward giving (c) a shot, but, y'know, (b) makes a lot of sense--the Apollo 18 20 deju-vu-regrets possibility is smelling stronger and stronger.

HOWEVER, one risk of (b) I haven't seen discussed is the risk that a third shuttle loss would pose to ISS Assembly Complete--don't forget that the Columbia scenario isn't the only way of losing a shuttle & crew. Since finishing ISS is to be the shuttle's primary duty per the proposed new space strategy, perhaps the challenge of finishing ISS with only two orbiters (assuming an HST mission catastrophe, on a mission NOT dedicated to ISS completion) was part of the decision equation. Hardware-centered heartlessness, but an issue nonetheless.

So I offer these thoughts for Mr. O'Keefe's (re)consideration.

If it is to dangerous to send the Shuttle to maintain the Hubble, how about Soyuz? This might take both a Progress, automatic cargo version of Soyuz, to carry parts, etc, and a manned Soyuz to bring astronauts to do the work.

I have so many feelings about this issue that it's hard to have a single, coherent position on it.

1. HST and the ST Science Institute have done a fantastic job in involving the public in the excitement and awe of astronomical imagery.

2. The prospect of several years of coordinated observations by HST, Chandra, and SIRTF was one that excited much of the astronomical community. The possibility of overlap with JWST was of sufficient importance that the Bahcall committee was willing to recommend considering stifling other possible new missions to enable it.

3. There are lots of other space science missions that do great science, too, often at far lower cost per number of refereed papers in professional journals.

4. SM4 slippage, and possible future servicing missions recommended by the Bahcall committee, would have had to be funded by gutting the Discovery and Explorer programs --- from which, it could easily be argued, a lot more "science per buck" is derived than from larger programs such as HST. Even assuming HST were doing the fraction or quality of all NASA space science some of its warmest admirers have stated here, would it be right to continue HST at the cost of new technology and new science? It could be argued that the longevity of HST and the enormous cost of manned servicing missions has kept the "cork in the bottle" by stifling lower-cost, new technology missions. Arguably, without an STScI to help with public outreach, the scientific achievements of these smaller missions are less familiar to the public.

5. HST's capabilities, though, are unique, as has been mentioned here several times --- adaptive optics (AO) on the ground is limited in field of view and wavelength --- and optical/UV astronomers won't see another large "light bucket" in space for another ~ 20 years or more. The observatory on the moon business, much as we might want it, has to be seen as ripe with opportunities for Lucy yanking the football away, and it would be decades before such an observatory could be built and productive.

6. HST is unlikely to die tomorrow; its gyros and batteries still have some life left in them, and some science could still be done with reduced numbers of gyros.

7. The gyros to be installed during SM4 are refurbished (I believe) and unlikely to have the lifetime or perform to the same specification, as long, as did the earlier gyros.

8. For the coming last six years of the Shuttle's lifetime, it has to be viewed as fundamentally unsafe --- that is the real message of the CAIB report.

8. We have to ask ourselves seriously if the new science that could be achieved by extending HST operations yet again warrants risking human life.

9. As an astrophysicist, I believe it does --- but if and only if the only lives put at risk are those of astronomers, those who have a burning desire to do the science that would be allowed by a mission extension. The Shuttle astronauts will always jump at the chance to do something as interesting as an HST servicing mission: not only is it not as boring as hauling cargo up to and trash down from the ISS, it's challenging in and of itself --- and they want to fly. As long as we need skilled pilots and flight engineers onboard to get Shuttles up and down, it's plain wrong to ask them to do what robots can do.

10. There will never be an end to the argument over whether it's better to launch new missions with more advanced technologies but ever higher development costs, or try to put missions in low earth orbit and service them with replacement hardware with the enormous expense and significant risk of manned missions. Fortunate are they whose missions got to places where it's hard (today) for astronauts to follow (L1, L2, comets, asteroids, Mars) --- they have to build things right the first time, or they lose. If the exploration initiative succeeds, we'll be able to have the same discussion over servicing missions much farther away from home --- but probably no more conclusively.

If a Shuttle can carry the required fuel, I'm sure that Astronauts can go from Hubble back to the Space Station to carry out inspections before returning to earth. We all love Musgrove's account of "the dance" to repair HST !!................A WONDERFUL ACHIEVEMENT !!

Hi Keith,

Short of a sophisticated automated robotic service vehicle, I can't see how to maintain the Hubble without a shuttle though I am an avid supporter of its scientific research. Would it be possible to remotely attach a delicate booster to the scope and modify the orbit to match the ISS? If so, would it be practical to attach it to the ISS as part of it's scientific mission despite subtle station vibrations and periodic attitude changes? The station gives us the ability to monitor and repair things things so much better than isolated orbits and obsolete vehicles. It would also save on remote maintenance costs.

Dear Keith,

Can I weigh in to your page of responses on Hubble?

Firstly, I don't think this is an easy judgement either wayand I think Mr O'Keefe took a responsible decision, even ifI do disagree with it.

Secondly, an exaggerated reaction to safety concerns- which I don't think is the case here - is not necessarilyirrational. This decision may have a salutary effect onengineers elsewhere in the Shuttle programme,reminding all that NASA cares enough about safetyto make painful sacrifices for it. If Mr O'Keefe maynot be saving these lives, but he may be savingothers, by making the point that a 2% risk of crewloss is different from a 1% risk.

Thirdly, I accept that the loss of lives in a NASA accidenthas a greater significance than a similar industrialaccident elsewhere, because astronauts in some senserepresent us. They carry the flags of our nations, andthey also embody our feelings about exploration.In that same sense, the Station may be "worth" morethan Hubble, because it is a vocation rather than anexperimental laboratory. So I think cheap ripostesabout whether the S2 starboard truss section is"worth more" than Hubble are shallow arguments.

However, and with the deepest respect for those whodied and those who are still agreeing to go up there,we accept that a new bridge, a new dam, a new tunnel,etc., will cost lives. Architects of dams in Africa or Asiaroutinely include chapels of remembrance in theirblueprints, for they will be needed. We send ourpeople out to dozens of war zones around the world,to keep the peace. Many are killed.

What we should not do is to raise bogus arguments tosay that visiting Hubble is as safe as visiting ISS.I know it is easy to be brave with other people's lives,but we should be saying something braver: that thiswould be a (moderately) more dangerous flight thanusual, but in a great and good cause. Humanexploration is a great cause, but so is science.If building ISS ennobles us, so does building Hubble.We should not flinch.

A few things to point out, in repsonse to what's been said in other comments:

1. One respondant suggested that there was a logical flaw in assuming that HST missions are just as safe as ISS mission. In fact that person made an elementary error in probability. If there is 1/10 chance that an ISS mission will get into orbit, but not make port (such as would occur with a SSME failure, then Abort to Orbit), then with 30 missions to complete the ISS, this would happen 3 times. If there is any significant chance that at even one ISS mission cannot make port as the ISS is completed, then one is accepting at least the SM-4 risk, and perhaps more, based on the anonymous documents.

2. There as been completely reckless talk of what adaptive optics from the ground can do in the near future, let alone what it is doing now. There is zero capabality now or even planned to do wide-field diffraction limited imaging in the visible wavelengths from the ground. Adaptive optics are great for bright compact targets in the near-IR, but they cannot replace what Hubble can do.

3. The JWST will be wonderful when it flies, but it is not an HST replacement. The Bahcall committee recently outlined a sensible approach to the HST/JWST transition period. One can argue about supporting SM-5. new instruments, etc. versus spending the money elsewhere in space-science (as we were doing just a few weeks ago). An abrupt cancilation of SM-4 with $200M+ spent on new instruments is not the way to effect an orderly transition. If this is how we do things, JWST, and manyy other missions will be next....

As a student who has dreamed of spaceflight for years, I'm in tears over the decision to abandon the Hubble to a slow death before its time. Astronauts and manned missions are flashy and exciting, but it's the beauty of the images that Hubble returns that ignites a true and long-lasting love affair with the stars.

Without the Hubble images of M16 and M27 to remind me why I'm putting myself through the difficulty of studying astrophysics, I would not have made it to graduation.

- A heartbroken dreamer


I read your piece about the anonymous engineers on HST. One other option that may not have been mentioned is one that refutes Ed Weiler's position on co-orbiting HST with ISS to mitigate concerns about doing the servicing mission without a safe-haven for the crew. Simple orbital mechanics dictates that a plane change from 28.5 to 56 deg is not feasible at LEO, it is quite doable at GEO or higher. GEO comm birds that don't launch on SeaLaunch, do this all the time. It's basically a perigee burn for altitude (about 3 km/s) then apogee plane change at GEO (neglible delta-V). Only difference here is instead of 28.5 to 0 deg, it's 28.5 to 56 deg. Also, we would just need another 3 km/s retrograde to bring the HST into an appropriate altitude for the servicing mission. Orbit angle can be 180 from ISS to assure of no collision. Shuttle can first launch to ISS, be inspected, then phasing burns to HST, servicing, then go home.

This is an idea, I have not seen anywhere, and while it IS rocket science, it's not that difficult to conceive, especially if NASA is planning to develop this "debooster" with autonomous rendezvous and docking for $300 million. I think they could add the additional propulsion and Guidance and Control logic for about the same overall cost.


In a classic case of not seeing the forest for the trees, the scientific community is so obsessed with saving Hubble that they cannot see that they have the potential to have an even better observatory on the Moon. I think the scientific community would find a NASA willing to reach a mutually beneficial agreement were the scientific community to approach NASA and indicate that they would stop the fight for Hubble in exchange for a promise for first access for a lunar telescope. Instead, they are calling all the chits in to get Hubble serviced and building even greater acrimony with NASA.

I believe that the Hubble supporters who are fighting tooth and nail to have the servicing mission forced through NASA may end up with a pyric victory. Not something that one would associate with such an intelligent group of people who are supposed to have the capacity for abstract thinking.


There has been a lot of interest in the anonymous documents describing the risks of a Hubble servicing mission, but I haven't seen much discussion of their content.

Consider this portion:

"The existence of or lack of a RCC repair capability will be a problem that is common to HST and ISS missions. While an HST mission will not have a safe haven capability, the risk associated with the absence of a safe haven is the same as ISS missions that fail to dock with the ISS."

Fine as far as it goes, but there is a logical flaw here - the Hubble mission would deliberately launch into a non-ISS orbit, but an ISS mission would not. The chance of reaching orbit but being unable to dock with the ISS is fairly small - certainly no more than 1 in 10. So, as far as this part of the argument goes, an ISS mission would be at least 10 times safer.

Is it just me, or do both of these documents seem to be a little ... selective? ... in the arguments they present? Not exactly a balanced engineering argument.

To NASA Watch:

I strongly oppose Administrator O'Keefe's decision to abandon the Hubble Telescope. His decision-making style resembles that displayed by Dan Golden. I had hoped that abrupt announcements made in isolation had disappered with the departure of the last administrator. Apparently, Mr. O'Keefe blind-sided those professionals on the Hubble team who had been led to believe that the SM4 mission would proceed.

In addition, this brings back memories of one of NASA's darkest chapters, namely the sickening cancellation of the Apollo 18 and 19 lunar landing missions. They were sacrificed on the altar of the Space Shuttle. Does Mr. O'Keefe really want to be remembered for making a decision equally as misguided? All of the boosters and spaccraft that had already been built (and paid for) for those two Apollo missions were scrapped. In much the same way, the new camera and spectrometer that were to be installed in HST during Servicing Mission 4 are essentially built and paid for. Scores of devoted individuals have labored over the last several years to bring this instruments alive. What is their reward from the Adiminstrator? A slap in the face! Is this the new NASA?

It seems that Mr. O'Keefe doesn't "get it." Much of the American tax-paying public EQUATES the Hubble Telescope with the space program. It appears to them that it is one of few missions conducted by the space agency that they can identify with, that they can understand. So what does Mr O'Keefe do a couple of days after President Bush's bold announcement resurrecting manned deep space missions? He negates entirely the tide of joy, excitement and focus that the President's speech had generated. Of course, the news was let out late on a Friday afternoon, before a holiday weekend, and as the news media wa switching to coverage of the primaries and caucuses. This is the new NASA?

I hope that Admiral Gehman takes into account the many scientific and cultural attributes of HST in his report back to Mr. O'Keefe. The Hubble Space Telescope truly belongs to the American people. I hope that Admiral Gehman charges NASA with using their ingenuity and spirit of innovation to service HST, for it is now NASA's most effective means of inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers "as only NASA can."

Delivering and servicing Hubble was the most meaningful thing done by the shuttle program in its entire history. Yet somehow, a single servicing mission is now deemed too risky while an additional *25* Shuttle flights will be required to complete the ISS. Any assessment of risk should take into account the possibility of failure during launch, as with Challenger. And I believe there's a reasonable chance one of those 25 missions might fail to reach the Station, making an independent, Shuttle-based inspection/repair/rescue capability a good thing (and not merely a capability developed at considerable expense for one-time use).

The station may in fact be the colossus of engineering that it's reputed to be, but it's scientific and cultural value is puny compared to HST. The decision to cancel SM4 is naturally viewed with great skepticism and distrust by scientists and average citizens alike. It's obvious, even to the non-technical, that servicing Hubble is a worthy endeavor, even profound. It's also obvious that assembling the ISS is neither.


There has been a lot of interest in the anonymous documents describing the risks of a Hubble servicing mission, but I haven't seen much discussion of their content.

Consider this portion:

"The existence of or lack of a RCC repair capability will be a problem that is common to HST and ISS missions. While an HST mission will not have a safe haven capability, the risk associated with the absence of a safe haven is the same as ISS missions that fail to dock with the ISS."

Fine as far as it goes, but there is a logical flaw here - the Hubble mission would deliberately launch into a non-ISS orbit, but an ISS mission would not. The chance of reaching orbit but being unable to dock with the ISS is fairly small - certainly no more than 1 in 10. So, as far as this part of the argument goes, an ISS mission would be at least 10 times safer.

Is it just me, or do both of these documents seem to be a little ... selective? ... in the arguments they present? Not exactly a balanced engineering argument.

With all the whining I am hearing about NASA's discontinuing the upgrades to Hubble (HST), I feel obligated to write this note to support NASA's position on this. I am a university astrophysicist who admittedly does not do Hubble science. I question the wisdom of the communities call for continuing to upgrade HST, which will certainly come at the expense of other science endeavors regardless of the new Mars initiative.

The HST has produced much wonderful data with spectacular scientific results. However, one must ask, what will the continuation of HST bring in comparison to what new space experiments might bring? We obviously cannot continue HST, bring on the James Webb Telescope, and support other important areas of research. One must also consider the risk, and ask if the continuation of HST is worth the human and financial risk. Are astronomers willing to give up the Webb telescope to continue HST? A balance must be struck, which NASA management seems to be trying to achieve.

Scientists in general are a very conservative lot. We like things to be ordered and we do not generally like change. I think this may be partially what NASA management is up against. I think Dan Goldin said it right (and I don't mean by this to generally support his policies) a few years ago at an AAS meeting when he said something to the effect that Hubble Huggers will have to let go some day and move on to other things. It seems that that day is near and we will need to move on to other things. It is this moving on that usually leads to the real breakthrough science.

I vote for servicing the Hubble through a robotic mission. The Hubble is designed to be serviced by astronauts in full pressure suits. It is designed to be caught by the shuttle's arm. So it would seem like a "doable" problem to design a robotic S/C to lock on to one or two of the shuttle-arm attachment points and then service the shuttle as required. Can a hand inside a pressure glove be better than a mechanical hand/arm? Since the Hubble is in a low orbit, using TV cameras and live control of the robot could be done (possibly multiple control centers would be necessary so that a controller would be near the S/C at all times). We could launch this on expendable vehicle such as an Atlas or similar.

This would seem a lot easier than what is currently being done on Mars.

Another thought: If we can send up a robot to de-orbit the Hubble, could we not send up a robot to re-orient its orbit to be closer to the space station? Then maybe the shuttle could service it while remaining within the rules of being close enough to the space station to have a "Safe Haven". A similar robot could then boost the Hubble back to its original orbit.

In NASA de-orbiting the Hubble just to preserve the notion that human servicing of it was ever needed?

In a time when those who are against space, believe that we can notafford a space program that costs less then 1% of the national budget,we must show a willingness to forgo more esoteric pursuits. But with allthings that we try to get the American public to swallow, things are notwhat they seem.

Early next decade, Hubble's replacement is slated to go up. Hubblecurrently has a lifetime of about 6 more years, barring any accidents.That gives us no UV data for at most 6 years. And no pretty pictures forthat time.

What, in a best case scenario, do we get in return? Next generationfleet of shuttles that will deliver on the promise that this fleet ofshuttles failed. No more one size fits all. This will help deliver apermanent base on the moon, which will bring a Far-side Observatory thatmuch quicker.

How likely this outcome happens depends if we can properly educate themass of non space enthusiasts that make up the voting super majority.

Does it truly matter if its safety or the new policy that made thedecision? When in reality it most likely a bit of both that truly didit. This would have been the finial supply mission anyways.

The shuttle needs to be retired. Its more expensive then it needs to be.If it wasn't for two things, I would say ground the fleet now. Thequicker we can ground them the better, for a manned spaced program.

We have global obligations to finish the ISS, and the building of it gives us experience of micro-g construction. The ISS was designed aroundthe cargo bay of the shuttle. This frees up the design constraints ofthe cargo shuttle replacement.

The second reason why we can't ground it is the most important for amanned space program. Nothing to replace it as a crewed vehicle. Nowthis is what gives us a ray of hope in keeping the Hubble alive untilits replacement.

With all the various x-initiatives canceled in recent years, who is tosay the shuttles replacement isn't delayed and they can put SM4 back inthe rotation sometime in the next 6 years.

But if not, it is better to have a sacrifice of waiting four years, oreven ten years, for Hubble like data in exchange for a jump start of amanned program that will yield even more scientific data even fasterthen the status quo allows.

I am finding it interesting that those political figures that have lambasted NASA and its sub-contractors, sometimes appropriately, for failing to take adequate safety measures during Space Shuttle missions, will now be willing to deviate from the CAIB's report in order to perform a servicing mission on the aging Hubble Telescope, could bring unwarranted detrimental factors into a mission that at this point, are not operational, but experimental. Political maneuvering at its worst at the expense of human lives.

I do hope that NASA reverses its decision to discontinue servicing the Hubble. Obviously this is one of the greatest scientific tools ever created and its work will never be done. President Bush's grand plansfor moon colonization and Mars manned exploration will be a waste of money. Unmanned tools are where we should be devoting our investment andresearch since we will get much more bang-for-the-bucks. The Hubble and the Mars rovers are just an example of what can be accomplished. This idea of putting man far out in space is pointless.

Can I do anything to help save the Hubble?

Mr O'Keefe, Adm. Gehman,

I'm a homebuilt flyer/builder along the Sierra Nevada foothills of Northern California. Managing risk comes at many levels for my passion.

Judgement, planning, execution encompass every flight in my experimental aircraft.

I understand Mr. O'Keefe you are following Admiral Gehman's report guidelines for Shuttle return to flight. But Hubble's last upgrade mission is worth any percieved risk based on CAIB findings.

I understand choices based on financial budget constrains. President Bush's Moon-Mars initiative will force delays, cancellation, and reorganization of NASA to meet the Presidents goals.

But the final last mission is worth BOTH CAIB's risk assessment exception AND financially, a bargain for the science returned to humanity.

It seems very strange to me that this whole issue to repair HST with the Shuttle hasn't blow wide open. What's happened to your ability to get at the truth? Why are just a few people at the top able to make this decision to terminate the Shuttle HST mission? I am worried that the same exclusive mentality and arrogance that brought down Columbia is still alive and well in the Shuttle Program management. In my opinion, nothing has changed. I don't think they realize it but the new management is still sending the wrong signals to the workforce.At first I had hope that things would change and get better. But now I doubt it.I say let's go back and repair HST so the Shuttle Program can be proud of its mission and the HST can fulfill its destiny.

Why does O'Keefe have the authority to make this decision? Hubble belongs to all of us. It is not just another piece of NASA hardware. President Bush's directive should not mean abandoning all that has come before. What a dumb and thoughtless decision.

Here are just two of the many ways that the Hubble can be saved.

what would be needed is a slightly modified version of the shuttle C. Meaning with an update cargo module; one that has a return safety capsule (CEV), a grapping section to latch onto the Hubble from the cargo container bay. Which would then have a follow up mission from the space shuttle with necessary hardware with a minimal staff to accomplish the task of retro fitting it with all the upgrades. Since the earlier shuttle C module is in place you now have a safe haven retreat should anything go wrong as well as a return module in the CEV capsule. I assume that it needs to remain in it's current orbital alignment and altitude. Other wise use the shuttle C module once docked to tow it to the space stations orbital alignment and altitude for a later repair by the usual missions to supply the station.

If it is possible to stow a Soyuz capsule less launch and orbital stuff inside the cargo bay of the shuttle.

This would satisfy the safe haven requirement for return from orbit if the shuttle were damaged and not repairable at that time.

If is not needed then you have it for the next time that one is required. Of course there must be also room left over for all the upgrades that would be made on such a mission.


I apologize if I am sending this to the wrong place, but I couldn't find Sean O'Keefe's email address or phone number. Please forward this to the person in charge of the Hubble maintenance team if possible.

I have never sent a message to NASA and if I have a complaint about government I call my senator or representative, so this is a first. I do not know anyone personally working in the space or defense industries.

I am a 40 year old woman, a molecular biologist at a private biotech company. When I was a child, I spent hours glued to the black and white TV watching the astronauts landing on the moon. Gene Kranz and the gang are some of my heroes. My husband and I have no children. Like the rest of America, I cried for Columbia and Challenger and cheered for Spirit.

Unlike many in America, I initially welcomed President Bush's new commitment to space colonization, though like everyone else wondered where the money would come from. PLEASE rethink the plan to not maintain the Hubble telescope. I can't believe that with all the maintenance equipment already built and ready to fly, and with all that the Hubble has already contributed, that there is not another way. I understand the shuttle safety concerns and do not want to see the astronauts take on any more risk than they already do, but the Hubble is working so well and showing us such wonders that it seems an incredible waste to not take the opportunity to extend the telescope's wonderful life and let it continue to make contributions. As someone whose tax dollars help to pay for NASA, it seems to me reasonable to continue with a jewel of a program and put off the moon base for a few years. A bird in the hand is worth two on the moon?

I'll not take up your time or mailbox any longer. But I would love to see the Hubble keep flying into the next decade, with the famous NASA know-how.

Why not send Robonaut to HST for simple repair and replacement of Gyros to allow the telescope to go as long as possible? It would make a great use of telerobotics techniques already used in labs and would be a great dry run for any future EVA required activity with the James Webb Telescope. Dust off the Interim Control Module mate Robonaut and the spares on it and put this existing technology on an Atlas 5 and go for it in a few years. We keep forgetting that we have the technology.

Dear Mr. Cowing,

The decision to cancel the next Hubble service mission was a judgement call on O'Keefe's part, and even though I don't agree with it personally I can see why he made the choice he did. NASA needs all the budget authority it can to start on the new manned vehicle, and SM-4 was the mission least related to its current duties of returning Shuttle to flight and finishing Station, which duties are currently crowding that budget authority. So he decided to cut SM-4. I doubt it was an easy choice, and I think some of the flack he's taking is a bit unfair, but making difficult choices and taking flak for them are what executives are supposed to do. At least O'Keefe is doing these things, which far too many career NASA managers seem unwilling or unable to do. For this, I think, his decision deserves at least some approval.

However, I can hardly disapprove of the current uproar over SM-4 cancellation, as it may prompt Congress to find some extra budget authority for NASA to bring back SM-4. I can't imagine O'Keefe being averse to carrying out the mission under those circumstances, nor can I imagine him having been blind to this possible outcome when he made his decision.

But I will not predict any particular outcome, as the auguries have failed us rather notoriously of late. Instead I will say that, if we get additional money for SM-4, that would be great; but if we don't, that is acceptable--provided this sacrifice does indeed produce a reinvigorated manned American space program.

Hi Keith To save the Hubble Telescope all that is needed would be a slightly modified shuttle C with an update cargo module; one that has a return safety capsule (CEV), a grapping section to latch onto the Hubble and a follow up mission from the space shuttle with necessary hardware with a minimal staff to accomplish the task of retro fitting it with all the upgrades. I assume that it needs to remain in it's current orbital alignment and altitude. Other wise use the shuttle C module once docked to tow it to the space stations orbital alignment and altitude for a later repair by the usual missions to supply the station.

Don't waste what has already been paid for.

Since the Hubble will require the development of a robotic mission todeorbit it safely that same mission could be altered to boost the Hubbleinto a long term storage orbit where it could await the development of amission that would restore it to operation. It would in fact be safer tokeep Hubble in orbit that to try to guide it to a splashdown. The proposedCEV will make it possible to service the Hubble again though the parts forservicing might have to be launched separately from the manned CEV itself,we only need to be able to save the Hubble long enough to make such amission possible.

People seem to be taking great pains to be defensive about how this decisionis not related to the new space policy. But in fact, it is. Here's howit's linked. By not flying SM-4, it will take one fewer Shuttle flights tocomplete ISS, meaning that more $$ will be available to support the "newvision." If I were in Code T, I'd want as much budget available as soon aspossible to make progress towards the Administration's new milestones. Thisis pressure on the Administrator from Codes T, not S. In making thisdecision, the Administrator is freeing up more $$ for the president's "newvision". If the "new vision" didn't exist, then it's not clear at all thatthe same pressure would exist.

Make sense? So this is the kind of decision that gets made in this kind of environment.

Hi Keith, If the Shuttle is so unsafe that it can't visit HST, it's never going to be able to visit Station safely, either. In fact, the whole story about "safe haven" requirements appears to admit just that...and fix it with a band-aid that doesn't address many of the risks. Let's either accept the risks and use the Shuttle to do some good work to accompany the "man in a can" stunts (which is what the Station has degraded to with such limited capability...almost no science, no satellite servicing, no assembly base...I could go on and on) or dump the thing altogether, ride on Russian rockets for the foreseeable future, and use the money saved to develop a system that provides assured, affordable access to low earth orbit.

If we are not willing to "risk" the Shuttle flight to repair HST what makesus think we can risk going to the Moon or Mars?

Despite my previous messages urging O'Keef to reconsider the SM4 servicing mission, I think the idea of using a space tug to reposition the Hubble and park it near the ISS is medium cool. In fact, it's got legs. As previously mentioned, it furthers the cause of space development as well as serves science. What a concept! No only that, it fits within the president's plan of using robots and manned missions to achieve a single goal. As far as I am concerned, we all need to back to the president's plan and include Hubble within that plan. It can be done with the right creative thinking.

The rationale for cancelling the last Hubble servicing mission seems flawed. Safety?!! Is it safer to land a man on the moon or Mars than to perform the next Hubble mission? I don't see the logic. We're willing to risk human life to send a man to Mars but not to repair Hubble. We're willing to risk human life to finish a scientifically questionable space station but not to repair Hubble. This is a brilliant political move however. No one seems to be comparing the two risks. O'Keefe can cling to the CAIB report because there is no CAIB report-equivalent for a lunar/Mars mission. What a colossal blunder...

Posted to sci.astro.hubble

Subject: RE: Daily 3536

Newsgroups: sci.astro.hubble
Date: 2004-01-23 09:52:35 PST
Dear HST friends and colleagues...

On behalf of the MOD team members here at JSC that have had the privilege ofworking with you on past missions, I'd like to express our regrets that theagency will apparently not be pursuing the planned SM4. The Hubble SpaceTelescope represents a cornerstone of achievement on so many levels withinthis agency. It is truly a "gem" for us all to celebrate. One couldsuccessfully argue that our success in building ISS in orbit began with thegroundbreaking work in methods, techniques and tools that flowed fromServicing Mission 1 in 1993... which demonstrated that ambitious orbitalassembly and maintenance by EVA was possible.

I have been fortunate enough to be part of every HST mission the SpaceShuttle Program has flown, from deployment in 1990 through four verysuccessful servicing missions. I've carried away from that experiencepersonal and professional relationships with many of you that I will alwaystreasure, and I count the time spent working on HST as some of the mostpersonally satisfying of my career.

The HST team has much to contribute to the future of this agency - not theleast of which is keeping HST productive through the next several years. Weare all proud of your team's accomplishments... and look forward to yet morediscoveries in the years to come.

Jeff Hanley
Flight Director Office
NASA Johnson Space Center
281-244-0202 mob. 832-287-6871

When the initial Bush space initiative was announced I thought to myself - FINALLY, something to shoot for. I have to admit that what worries me now is that this is nothing but a political ploy to end NASA or severely curtail the agency. Part of the plan is to retire shuttle in 2010. What happens if we get that far, retire shuttle then the administration of the day decides for budget reasons to cancel work on the new Crewed vehicle? The manned space program ends. Nice clean and simple.

Now we have Hubble being cancelled with a stroke of the pen. The timing is absolutely suspect coming so shortly after this announcement. Using the CAIB report and the difficulty in developing an on orbit repair capability to me is a cowardly way out. NASA has flown 112 missions successfully with no need of in flight repair. The odds to me seem in favour of going as is to do the Hubble mission. If necessary, have a second shuttle in the process queue ready to fly if needed, and if not needed it is ready for a station mission soon after. I would bet my mortgage that you would have a lineup of volunteers willing and able to fly in order to do the Hubble m

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on January 20, 2004 1:06 PM.

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