US could leave hobbled Hubble to die natural death
The future of the Hubble Space Telescope hangs in the balance, after the White House declined to approve the necessary funding to repair and upgrade the apparatus, US media reported.
The White House, in consultation with NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe, eliminated the funding for the project — estimated at over one billion dollars — from NASA’s proposed budget for fiscal 2006, which begins on October 1, The Washington Post said on Saturday, citing anonymous sources.
NASA spokesman Robert Mirelson dismissed the reports as “pure speculation” and told AFP it would be “inappropriate” for him to discuss the matter “before the budget proposal on February 7.”
According to Space.com, NASA’s budget would include funding for a robotic vehicle that would steer the telescope into the ocean when its batteries or gyroscopes stop functioning. US astronauts conducted four shuttle missions to repair and upgrade the Hubble (in 1991, 1993, 1997 and 2002), and a fifth and final manned shuttle mission had been expected in 2006.
Since it entered into service in 1990, the Hubble has established the age of the Milky Way at between 13 billion and 14 billion years, helped gather evidence to support the Big Bang theory and provided the first convincing proof by an optical telescope of the existence of black holes. Hubble, built to last until the end of 2005, could still survive until 2007. Repairs would have kept the telescope in service until 2011.