All Signs Point To A Hubble Repair Mission

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There will not be anything official until Tuesday when a "gala" press conference has been scheduled, but it looks very, very good for a shuttle mission to repair the Hubble telescope.

The decision rests with NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, who hasn't yet made up his mind, NASA spokesman Dean Acosta said Friday in an e-mail.

However, the space agency sent out a press release about a gala announcement ceremony for Tuesday at the Goddard Space Center in suburban Washington, which helps oversee the 16-year-old space telescope.

The NASA press release said the ceremony includes a "news conference with the astronauts who would carry out the mission" — if the agency decides to go ahead with a shuttle flight to rehab the telescope.

And Griffin has previously said, "If we can do it safely, we want to do it."

Griffin worked on Hubble earlier in his career and recently described it as "one of the great scientific instruments of all time."

Another good sign for fans of the space telescope is that U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., one of Capitol Hill's most prominent supporters of saving it, will join Griffin at Goddard, her office said.

"I think they've decided yes, but they haven't done it officially," said University of Wisconsin-Madison astronomer Jay Gallagher, who is a member of a science team responsible for one of Hubble's cameras. "Everything we've been hearing in our community is yes, so I'm hopeful that this is going to happen."

The issue that NASA officials had to wrestle with was shuttle safety. If the spacecraft heading to the aging telescope has a problem, there is no place to go for safe haven, unlike NASA's 14 remaining shuttle missions to the international space station. Former NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe 2 1/2 years ago canceled a repair mission amid the fallout from the 2003 Columbia accident that killed seven astronauts.

This would appear to be very good news for fans of the Hubble. With the new safety protocols, NASA would have to have a second shuttle on the launch pad ready to go in case a rescue was needed.

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