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Nasa to decide Hubble's fate

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Nasa to decide Hubble's fate

The US space agency (Nasa) is to debate whether to send astronauts on a mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope.

Without another servicing call by shuttle astronauts, Hubble is expected to last another two to three years.

At the crux of this is whether to risk flying astronauts on the shuttle without the International Space Station available as an emergency shelter.

Nasa set up the station as an orbital safe haven after the Columbia shuttle broke apart on re-entry in 2003.

Columbia's heat shield was damaged unknowingly during launch.

The shuttles cannot fly from Hubble's orbit to reach the station, so if a Hubble repair crew's ship was too damaged to safely fly home, Nasa has little time to mount a rescue before the shuttle's power runs out.

'Do-able thing'

"A lot of things are lining up that says Hubble is going to be a do-able kind of thing," said deputy shuttle program manager John Shannon.

"The real question on Hubble is going to be the launch-on-need. You just don't have the orbital lifetime on a Hubble mission to be able to get another vehicle launched. It's going to be very tough."

"We're going to have to go into the Hubble decision not counting on the launch-on-need vehicle," Mr Shannon added. "That's the difficult question the agency's going to have."

If the mission is approved, astronauts will add two new science instruments and replace the telescope's batteries and gyroscopes, which are used to point and position the observatory.

The improvements and upgrades should extend Hubble's orbital lifetime to at least 2013, Nasa says.

Since the accident, Nasa has made three shuttle flights to test post-Columbia safety and design changes and to resume space station assembly.

The tests bode well for a Hubble flight, with astronauts successfully demonstrating how the shuttle's robot arm and a new extension boom could be used for thorough heat shield inspections during flight.

_41818428_hubble_nasa_203.jpg

I won't be impressed if they decide not to give Hubble more life........

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