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06 July 2004 12:17:51

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Future Hubble Servicing Missions Cancelled


On Friday 16 January, 2004 NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe announced his decision to cancel the fifth servicing mission (SM4) to the Hubble Space Telescope.

Message from JHU Physics & Astronomy Department Chairman Prof. Jonathan Bagger

Dear Friends and Colleagues --

I am writing to ask that you email or fax Senators Mikulski and Sarbanes to express your support for the Hubble Space Telescope. When you write to Senator Mikulski, please thank her for the strong support she is giving to continuing Hubble through the end of the decade.

As background, on January 16, 2004, NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe announced his decision to cancel future servicing missions to the Hubble Space Telescope. He based the decision on the risk of servicing missions under the shuttle safety constraints imposed by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, coupled with the cost of assuring that servicing the Hubble telescope is as safe as traveling to the International Space Station. On January 21, Senator Mikulski sent a letter to Administrator O'Keefe asking that he convene an independent panel to review the cancellation decision. The following day, the American Astronomical Society, the largest professional scientific association for astronomers and astrophysicists, endorsed the congressional call to review the decision.

I believe it is important to buttress this support for Hubble by writing our elected representatives. If we do not write, they may conclude that prematurely ending Hubble's life does not matter to us.

Some points that you might make are:

  1. Canceling the SM4 the servicing mission will cost several hundred jobs (many in Baltimore).
  2. Astronomers will lose five or more years of a preeminent observatory that has revolutionized our view of the Universe. As one colleague put it, "prematurely ending Hubble is like shooting a race horse that is about to win the Triple Crown."
  3. NASA and the nation as a whole will lose a national treasure with a value of several billion dollars that inspires the public and the next generation of scientists.
  4. The decision about the cost and safety of a shuttle mission to Hubble was made behind closed doors. Decisions involving national treasures should be made in the open with wide input from scientists, engineers, Congress and the American people.
  5. Shuttle launches will not resume until the foam breakaway problem is solved. Only then can one compare the risk of going to Hubble versus going to the International Space Station.
  6. The cost of robotically attaching a booster module to Hubble for a controlled reentry may equal or exceed the cost of a final servicing mission. NASA should take a broader view of the future of Hubble.

The addresses and fax numbers for our Senators are:

The Honorable Barbara A. Mikulski
709 Senate Hart Office Building
The United States Senate
Washington DC 20510-2003
FAX NUMBER: 202-224-8858
Paul S. Sarbanes
Washington Office 1-202-224-4524
309 Hart Building
US Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
Fax Number: 202-224-1651

Please be respectful in your letter.

The future of the Space Telescope affects the future of astronomy in America and the future of astronomy at the Johns Hopkins University. We must all stand together in times like these.

Jonathan Bagger