Press Release

Mikulski Questions NASA Administrator on Decision to Cancel Hubble Servicing Mission

By SpaceRef Editor
March 11, 2004
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Washington, D.C. – At today’s hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that funds NASA, Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD) questioned NASA Administrator O’Keefe about his decision, announced earlier this year, to cancel the final servicing mission for the Hubble Space Telescope. Without this mission to replace batteries and gyroscopes and install new equipment, Hubble will go out of service by 2007. Senator Mikulski is leading the effort to have experts in science and engineering conduct a thorough analysis of the planned servicing mission before any final decision is made.

“When we spoke in January, I told Administrator O’Keefe – when you are told you need major surgery that is irrevocable, any prudent person would get a second opinion. Canceling the final servicing mission for Hubble is major surgery. It is extreme. It is irreversible. That kind of decision should not be made by one person alone. We need the best advice from the scientific and engineering community to determine Hubble’s future,” said Mikulski.

At today’s hearing, Mikulski released an initial review of the safety issues related to a servicing mission prepared by Admiral Harold Gehman, chair of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB). Administrator O’Keefe asked Admiral Gehman for this review at the request of Senator Mikulski. Admiral Gehman’s findings are contained in a five page letter (attached). Key points of the letter are:

“Shuttle flights are dangerous and we should fly the minimum number necessary. Almost all the risk is concentrated in the front and back of the mission, where one goes on orbit makes little difference.”

“In our view, missions to the ISS [International Space Station] allowed a more complete and robust inspection and repair capability to be developed. However, knowing that there are situations where docking to the ISS may not occur, we [the CAIB] required that ultimately NASA must develop an autonomous on orbit inspection and repair capability. Very frankly, we called for a less technically challenging inspection and repair capability, by stating: “For non-Station missions, develop a comprehensive autonomous (independent of Station) inspection and repair capability to cover the widest possible range of damage scenarios.”

“The CAIB allowed more latitude in complying with our recommendations for non-missions, which may be slightly more risky, taking into account only the debris shedding threat to the Orbiter.”

“I suggest only a deep and rich study of the entire gain/risk equation can answer the question of whether an extension of the life of the wonderful Hubble telescope is worth the risks involved, and that is beyond the scope of this letter.”

In response to this analysis, Senator Mikulski is requesting additional research and analysis from the National Academy of Sciences and the General Accounting Office (letters attached).

“I want to thank Administrator O’Keefe for agreeing to seek a second opinion. I also want to thank Admiral Gehman for his efforts. While he finds that a shuttle mission to Hubble is “slightly riskier” than a mission to the Space Station, he also notes that “only a deep and rich study of the entire gain/risk equation can answer the question of whether an extension of the life of the wonderful Hubble telescope is worth the risks involved.” I wholeheartedly agree. That’s why I am asking the National Academy of Sciences and General Accounting Office for further study and analysis,” said Mikulski

“As the oversight committee, our responsibility is to be prudent stewards of the space program and taxpayer dollars. To make a prudent decision, we need the best information,” continued Mikulski. “Let me be clear – I want to stand up for Hubble. I always stand up for astronaut safety. I want the best minds to tell us what the risks are how can we reduce them. We also need to look at the costs – both the costs of moving ahead with a servicing mission and the costs of canceling.”

Senator Mikulski is senior Democrat on the Veterans, Housing, and Independent Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee which funds NASA.

Click here to view Admiral Gehman’s Review

Click here to view the response from Senators Barbara Mikulski and Christopher Bond

SpaceRef staff editor.