(Washington, DC)  The House Science Committee today considered the future of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST).  Last year, the NASA Administrator cancelled the SM-4 Shuttle-based Hubble servicing mission.  It is now being reported that NASA will eliminate all funds for Hubble servicing in its FY 2006 budget request, which, if true, would all but ensure its demise in the next few years.

Hubble – one of the “crown jewels” of America’s space science enterprise – has proven a powerful scientific and educational tool over its lifetime, earning accolades from both the science community and the general public.  A distinguished committee of the National Academies, with several Nobel laureates on its roster, has lauded Hubble, saying, “Astronomical discoveries with Hubble from the solar system to the edge of the universe are among the most significant intellectual achievements of the space science program.”

In early 2004, the National Research Council (NRC) was asked by Congress and NASA to examine the issues surrounding the cancellation of the final servicing mission (SM-4) for the Hubble Space Telescope and to consider both the value of preserving Hubble and the potential methods for doing so.  Dr. Louis Lanzerotti, chair of the NRC panel and a witness before the committee today, presented the report’s conclusion that NASA should commit to a Shuttle-based Hubble servicing mission, allowing the telescope to continue its highly productive scientific mission.

Science Committee Ranking Member Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN) noted, “It was clear from the testimony of the witnesses at today’s hearing that there is consensus on the high scientific importance of Hubble.  One had to come away impressed by the unambiguous consensus findings of a National Academies committee that included such noted space authorities from such diverse viewpoints.  Hence, the burden of proof when it comes to saving Hubble must be placed on anyone who markedly disagrees with the National Academies’ conclusions.”

Another important issue put to rest at today’s hearing was whether a Shuttle mission to service Hubble would be safe.  Here again, the National Academies committee was quite clear in its findings, noting that “the shuttle crew safety risks of a single mission to ISS and a single HST mission are similar and the relative risks are extremely small.”

“Thus, the question of whether or not NASA continues Hubble’s good work comes down to matters of budgetary priorities and who pays the bill,” added Gordon.  “NASA Administrator O’Keefe pledged to our Committee in 2002 that NASA’s space science program would not have to absorb shuttle-related costs of the SM-4 Shuttle servicing mission.  Assuming NASA honors its word, I can foresee a successful rescue of Hubble that does not damage other important science priorities.  All it will take is for the Administration’s soon-to-be-released FY06 budget priorities to reflect the near-universal acceptance of the importance of keeping Hubble healthy and scientifically productive.  We will be watching closely to see what the Administration chooses to do.”

“In my view, the best news of last year for Hubble was when the National Research Council report called it ‘the most powerful astronomical facility ever built,’ and recommended that NASA commit to a shuttle servicing mission to Hubble, one that would accomplish the objectives planned for the original mission, including the installation of the two new instruments,” added Hubble advocate Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO).  “I have great concerns about NASA’s apparent plans to zero out funding for a repair mission in 2006.  After all that we have learned from the Hubble assessment report and all that we know about Hubble’s potential to produce even more spectacular science for years to come, it is incomprehensible to me that the Bush Administration would so hastily ignore the panel’s scientific recommendations and shut down the planned repair mission.”