Hubble is saved. NASA has just announced that it will run a servicing mission to the ageing space telescope after more than two years of speculation about its fate.
NASA administrator Michael Griffin said the last three shuttle missions have provided convincing data that a mission to Hubble can be run safely.
"While there is an inherent risk in all spaceflight activities, the desire to preserve a truly international asset like the Hubble Space Telescope makes doing this mission the right course of action," he said.
As well as replacing failing parts and attempting repairs, the crew will install two new instruments, the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) and the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3). COS is designed to probe the large scale structure of the universe, while WFC3 will photograph our own solar system and peer into galaxies currently beyond Hubble's reach.
Hubble's future was thrown into doubt when the Shuttle Columbia was lost, with all hands, in 2003.
When falling debris was identified as the cause of the disaster, NASA drafted new stringent safety procedures that meant sending a repair crew to the space telescope would be impossible. It ruled that all manned flights had to be able to get to the International Space Station in the event of any problems.
Various courses of action were proposed, from sending robotic servicing missions to simply allowing the telescope to crash into the ocean.
Details of the mission are still sketchy, but it is pencilled in for some time in 2008. Although the spacecraft and launch date are still undecided, the crew has been announced.
"Veteran astronaut Scott D Altman will command the final space shuttle mission to Hubble. Navy Reserve Capt Gregory C Johnson will serve as pilot. Mission specialists include veteran spacewalkers John M Grunsfeld and Michael J Massimino and first-time space fliers Andrew J Feustel, Michael T Good and K Megan McArthur," NASA said in a statement.
Altman commanded the last servicing mission to Hubble, STS-109, back in 2002. Grunsfeld is another repeat visitor. He has been to Hubble on two previous occasions. ®