Reprieve for a Beloved Space Observatory

Twenty years ago, Griffin worked as a project engineer on Hubble on a team designing a Fine Guidance Sensor for the space telescope.

Retired Shuttle Cmdr. Jim Wetherbee says the desire to save Hubble isn't just sentimental.

"Technically speaking, it is more risk. Is it worth taking that risk? I would say yes. If I were the administrator, I would go save Hubble. I can't even begin to tell you all the technological advances Hubble has given us. More importantly, think what we can gain in its future," Wetherbee said.

Brent Jett commanded the latest shuttle mission to the space station. He believes Hubble is one of the space shuttles' most important legacies because of the observatory's ability to inspire.

"When you see the excitement the images from Hubble generate, you don't know how many children are going to look at those images and be inspired to become scientists or astronomers," he said.

Hubble's pictures are so stunning because the space telescope observes wavelengths, which is what the human eye sees.

Therefore Hubble occupies a unique position among the great space observatories launched by NASA.

Chandra observes X-rays, SIRT observes the infrared band. Hubble's pictures are so spectacular they are some of most frequently downloaded photos on the Internet.

Astronauts have been training for spacewalks to service Hubble for months now in the neutral buoyancy lab at the Johnson Space Center, and also studying the guidelines for Hubble spacewalks written by veteran astronaut Bruce McCandless.

McCandless, who is now retired, helped deploy the space telescope in 1990.

"Hubble's contribution to our understanding of the universe," he said, "has earned it the right to be saved."

"The science is so outstanding. Hubble looks at objects in time -- in such a great amount of time -- and what we have learned has redefined so much of what we thought we knew about the universe."

Space Shuttle Program manager Wayne Hale was a flight director for earlier Hubble missions.

He has weighed the risk versus benefit of a shuttle mission to save Hubble for years. He recognizes Hubble's scientific importance.

"I think Hubble is the shuttle's crowning achievement, because it is the most important science instrument of the last century. I think the capability to keep Hubble going is a huge capability," he said.

But Hale also understands the drawbacks.

"We will take risks when we go fly that mission," he said.

Since the Columbia mission, NASA has only flown to the International Space Station.

If something goes wrong with the space shuttle, a crew could seek safe haven for about six weeks on the ISS until another shuttle could reach them.

But the space station and Hubble circle Earth in entirely different orbits, so a Hubble crew would have no refuge if it could not return home in its orbiter.

Astronaut Joe Tanner is one of NASA's most experienced spacewalkers.

He flew on the second Hubble servicing mission. "I'm a Hubble fan, even if I hadn't touched it with my gloved hands on an EVA, I would still be a Hubble fan. It's been rewriting the astronomy books and doing good science."

Tanner flew on the last shuttle mission, and he understands the risks a Hubble crew will take when it launches next year.

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