By Ernie Tretkoff
In reaction to President Bush's proposed FY06 budget, the APS Executive Board has passed a resolution stating that servicing the Hubble Space Telescope should be one of NASA's highest priorities.
President Bush's budget, released on February 7, does not include funding for a mission to service the telescope. The resolution states that the Board "disagrees with the omission of funding for such a mission from the President's budget."
Under the President's proposal, NASA's total budget would increase by 2.4% to $16.46 billion, but no funds would be devoted to a repair mission for Hubble. NASA is shifting its priorities in order to carry out President Bush's vision for manned space exploration. The proposed budget includes money for returning the space shuttle to flight and operating the International Space Station.
The resolution states "the Board believes that Hubble's scientific potential is as promising as the remarkable past record it has achieved. It further believes that this potential provides a compelling, persuasive reason for adding money to the NASA science program to carry out the necessary servicing mission."
"Hubble is NASA's most successful scientific venture and one of the most successful scientific achievements in recorded history," said John Bahcall, APS President Elect.
Among its many accomplishments, he said, "It has revealed the formation of solar systems and the evolution of structure in the universe, helped to uncover what is driving the universe to expand, and it has given us awesome and beautiful pictures of stars in the process of forming."
"Its greatest achievements can lie in the future, if it is properly serviced," said Bahcall. Without a service mission Hubble would probably cease operations sometime in 2007, due to failing batteries and gyroscopes.
The President's budget allocates $93 million for the Hubble Space Telescope, but $75 million of that amount would go towards developing a robot to steer the telescope safely out of its orbit at the end of its lifetime, and the remaining $18 million would be devoted to trying to squeeze more observing time out of the telescope.
The Board resolution expresses agreement with the recommendation made last year by the National Research Council, which proposed a shuttle mission to repair the telescope, since a robotic mission to repair Hubble would be unlikely to succeed. The American Astronomical Society has also called for a manned service mission to Hubble.
A shuttle mission to Hubble would probably cost over $1 billion. The President's budget does include space shuttle flights to the International Space Station.
The Executive Board resolution also reiterates the Board's position on President Bush's Moon-Mars Initiative, which is funded in his FY06 budget. The resolution states that "The technical hurdles facing the Moon-Mars initiative are formidable, and the program's overall costs are still unknown. Further, the rapid pace currently envisioned for this program may require a wide redistribution of the science and technology budgets that could significantly alter the broad scientific priorities carefully defined for NASA and the other federal agencies. Launching such a massive program without broad consultation and a clear idea of its scope and budget may hurt rather than enhance, as intended, the scientific standing of the US and the training of its scientists and engineers."
Bahcall urged APS members to write to their members of Congress. Congress could restore funding to repair the Hubble, said Bahcall. "I think that can happen if members of APS let their congressional representatives know what they think. There's a good chance it will be reversed." He mentioned that the situation was similar in 1973, when the Hubble Space Telescope (then called the Large Space Telescope) was cut out of President Nixon's proposed budget, but aggressive lobbying pushed Congress to fund the telescope.