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.
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 it 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.