Image: Hubble
NASA via AP
This picture of the Hubble Space Telescope was snapped from the shuttle Discovery during a 1997 servicing mission. NASA has decided to discontinue such servicing missions due to safety concerns.
By Space News Staff Writer
updated 1/29/2004 5:00:49 PM ET 2004-01-29T22:00:49

Retired U.S. Navy Adm. Harold Gehman, the chairman of the now-disbanded Columbia Accident Investigation Board, will be taking a second look at NASA's decision to curtail the use of the space shuttle for any further servicing of the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe said Thursday.

O'Keefe said he has asked Gehman to review the decision to cancel what would have been the fifth and final Hubble servicing mission, to satisfy a request by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., that NASA not scrap the mission without getting a second opinion. Mikulski wrote O'Keefe last week to say she was "shocked and surprised" by the decision and urged him to reconsider.

The two have spoken about the matter several times since then, according to O'Keefe, and the decision to ask Gehman to weigh in was made out of respect for the senator.

O'Keefe said he did not set a deadline for Gehman to report back, but that he would "expect a pretty expeditious answer." He also said that he has not reversed orders that the Hubble team wind down preparations for the servicing mission and transfer personnel to other activities.

Hubble scientists and engineers have said that the 14-year-old space telescope could last another three or 3Ā½ years without the servicing mission. The purpose of the mission was to change out Hubble's failing gyroscopes and other components in order to improve the chances of the observatory staying in service at least until the James Webb Space Telescope is launched in 2011.

O'Keefe told reporters here that he is unlikely to change his judgment that sending a shuttle to Hubble is too risky, given the restrictions imposed on the shuttle program by the Gehman Board in the aftermath of the Columbia disaster a year ago Feb. 1.

The Gehman Board did not issue any recommendations that would specifically preclude a Hubble servicing mission, but did advise NASA to postpone any space shuttle mission not bound for the international space station until itĀ developed the means for a shuttle crew to inspect and repair any damage that might occur to the orbiter during launch.

NASA is working on the means to inspect and repair a shuttle docked to the station and has to have those capabilities in place in time to fly again this fall. O'Keefe said that even with onboard capabilities to inspect and repair a shuttle, the mission would still be much riskier than flying a shuttle to the station.

"In the end of the day, it's still a judgment call, and my judgment is this is a real leap of faith," O'Keefe said.

Mikulski, meanwhile, is scheduled to speak to Hubble scientists and engineers at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore on Friday. She had planned to go there on Monday, but a winter storm that hit the East Coast prompted her to postpone her visit.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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