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WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 25, 2006
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EDITORIAL

Hubble maintenance a worthwhile investment

If there is a safe way to do so, NASA should refurbish the Hubble Space telescope before it becomes a 12-ton mountain of space junk in about three years then crashes back into Earth's atmosphere.

NASA officials took a lot of heat after deploying the state-of-the-art telescope in April 1990. A spherical aberration in the telescope's main mirror made images fuzzy and out of focus.

But a 1993 servicing mission corrected the malfunction and the Hubble has been sending amazing images and information back to Earth since then.

The Hubble is a window to the deepest parts of the universe ever observed. It helps scientists better understand astrophysics and the nature of the universe. It enables direct observation of the universe as it was 12 billion years ago, discovers black holes in the center of many galaxies, provides measurements that help establish the size, shape and age of the universe and offers evidence that expansion of the universe is accelerating rather than slowing.

NASA has the technology and funds to accomplish another service mission to replace aging batteries, guidance sensors and gyroscopes on the 16-year-old Hubble that would maintain its usefulness until at least 2013. But time and safety are two concerns that could scrap a service mission.

NASA needs the 14 scheduled space shuttle flights to complete the International Space Station before grounding the shuttle fleet in 2010. The space agency would have to squeeze a Hubble mission into the schedule, probably in 2008.

NASA Administer Sean O'Keefe scrubbed the last Hubble repair mission after the shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003. He said the risk to astronauts was too great.

But, with another shuttle on the ground and available for an emergency rescue mission if something goes wrong, NASA should move ahead with a Hubble maintenance mission.

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