The decision from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, announced Friday, is something the space agency had been considering but became official after President Bush unveiled a space initiative to start developing spacecraft and equipment to send people back to the moon and eventually on to Mars.
The president’s plan calls for the retirement of the space shuttles used to service the Hubble telescope by 2010.
John Grunsfeld, NASA’s chief scientist, said the agency’s chief Sean O’Keefe made the decision to cancel the fourth servicing mission to Hubble, which had been scheduled for next year, when it became clear there was not time to conduct it before the shuttle is retired, the Associated Press reported.
“This is a sad day,” Grunsfeld said, but “is the best thing for the space community.”
Alphonso Diaz, director of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, which operates Hubble, said he and other workers were disappointed by the decision, according to The Washington Post.
“In terms of my own personal reaction, I think it was similar to that of most employees. I was disappointed,” Diaz said. “But I think, given the rationale that the administrator gave us, I understand 100 percent and agree with his conclusion.”
Hubble orbits about 350 miles above the Earth, enabling it to take images about ten times clearer than ground-based telescopes. The dust and gas in the Earth’s atmosphere obscures visible light and absorbs other wavelengths such as infrared and ultraviolet light.
Information gathered from Hubble has helped scientists determine the age of the universe and see galaxies at various stages of evolution, some 10 billion light-years away.
NASA has already begun working on the next generation of space-based telescopes, starting with the James Webb Space Telescope, which will capture images of the universe in the infrared portion of the spectrum with instruments more powerful than Hubble.
The agency had been considering continuing to operate Hubble until the launch of Webb, which is planned for 2011.