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Why is NASA shutting down the Hubble Space Telescope?

Why is NASA shutting down the Hubble Telescope? Or in other words, why aren't they going to send people up to the Hubble Telescope anymore?

NASA is not shutting down the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). However, the lifetime of the instrument has now been shortened. Since the telescope was put into orbit in the early 1990's, it has been upgraded during several servicing missions conducted by NASA astronauts. In the wake of the Columbia space shuttle incident upon re-entry on February 1, 2003, NASA has reconsidered its priorities in planning shuttle mission and objectives. Exploring space is one of the most fascinating and complex endeavors that humanity has ever embarked on. The pros and cons are being weighed in determining whether another servicing mission is worth the risk of the space shuttle and astronaut crew. With President Bush's new inititave and policy on space exploration announced in January 2004, NASA has issued the statement that all future servicing missions have been cancelled, and that the primary objective of the space shuttle fleet will be to complete all obligations with the International Space Station (ISS). The next servicing mission would have replaced some of the ailing gyroscopes (which allow for the maneuvering and pointing of the telescope), and new scientific instrumentation. Without these improvements, HST will not last beyond 2007-2008. In addition, if the telescope is not to be serviced, it will require a visit from an unmanned robotic probe, which will guide to a safe re-entry over the ocean. The successor of HST, the James Webb Space Telescope, is not scheduled to be launched until 2011. HST has been one of the most productive astronomical instruments even built. It is used to study a wide range of phenomena ranging including the planets of our own solar system, gaseous nebulae and stars in the Galaxy, and distant quasars.

This announcement has created much debate in the scientific community. Statements issued by members of congress and groups of astronomers have asked for the reasoning behind this decision. Due to the large amount of concern over this decision, the director of NASA, Sean O'Keefe, has stated that the decision will be examined, but that ultimately the decision is his. You can read about reactions to this new policy statement from different groups of astronomers at the American Astronomical Society's Hubble Servicing Cancellation Page.

February 2004, Brian Kent (more by Brian Kent) (Like this Answer)

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