Saturday, January 17, 2004

Misplaced Priorities in Space Research

I've just learnt that one casualty of America's ridiculous emphasis on manned spaceflight will be the Hubble Space Telescope, which NASA is to allow to fall into desrepair by ceasing all maintenance.

Why is Nasa abandoning one of the most productive scientific instruments of all time?

Safety first

The main reason is safety. It is said that the decision was made solely by Nasa's chief, Sean O'Keefe, and that it was not related to President George Bush's new space plan for a return to the Moon and missions to Mars. Money was not an issue.

Following the loss of the space shuttle Columbia in February last year, all shuttle fights will now be to the International Space Station (ISS).

This is so that the shuttle crew have a lifeboat in space if there are any problems.

But Hubble is not in an orbit from which it is possible to get to the ISS. New safety and inspection procedures would have had to be developed just for this one mission and it was deemed unfeasible.

Hubble's next servicing mission was due in 2005. During it two major instruments - the Wide Field Camera 3 and the Cosmic Origins Spectrometer - would have been installed. They would have been magnificent additions to Hubble, significantly boosting its performance.


Although some of Hubble's scientists are reported to be preparing job applications at other institutes, there is still a lot of science Hubble can do. But with the announcement that it will not be re-serviced, most of its science is now behind it and it could cease working altogether at any time.

Hubble has six gyroscopes which control its pointing. Only four are working. In normal circumstances it requires three for normal operations (though some science can be done with two). So if any more fail, as they are bound to do eventually, that could spell the end its life.

Oh well. Who cares that an invaluable source of scientific data is about to be lost, as long as we can send men into low earth orbit! And take pretty pictures of them silhoutted against the Earth! Woo hoo! What other justification do you need - fire up them thar dilithium crystals, Scotty!

There'll be no shortage of conservatives and "libertarians" to cheer on this rubbish, of course. What a ridiculous bunch of infantile scientific ignoramuses! A willigness to applaud either the ISS or Bush's new proposals is a surefire sign that one is an unprincipled, financially irresponsible, pseudo-science worshipping hack.