Al Diaz, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, told reporters that NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe had visited Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland Monday night and told engineers to begin work to put the robotic mission in space in 2007, the Washington Post reported.
Without future servicing missions, Hubble was expected to fail by the end of 2007.
Normally astronauts would have maintained the 14-year-old telescope, but with the grounding of the space shuttle fleet following the shuttle Columbia’s February 2003 crash, O’Keefe determined that future Hubble repair missions would not be possible before the shuttles’ phaseout.
The decision, announced in January, prompted an outcry from scientists, astronomers and the general public. For years, the orbital observatory has been sending to Earth spectacular images of galaxies, quasars and other celestial phenomena.
“Everybody says, ‘We want to save the Hubble’ — well, let’s go save the Hubble,” O’Keefe said in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel.
O’Keefe said he plans to request the needed funding from Congress. He estimates it will cost about $1 billion to $1.6 billion to develop and launch a robot to make the needed upgrades to the telescope and get the robot out of orbit once its work is done, the Associated Press reported.
Diaz said engineers will work for the next nine months on details of the mission to see if it can be done. Then, the agency will decide whether to commit the money to send the mission. A successful mission will extend the life of Hubble for at least five years, Diaz said, according to the Post.
The leading candidate to fix the telescope is the Canadian Space Agency’s robot named Dextre — short for dexterous. Dextre has two 10-foot arms that pivot around a central “torso.”
The robot was originally designed to conduct work at the International Space Station starting in 2005.
Although other robots were proposed to fix Hubble, including NASA’s own Robonaut, Dextre holds the most promise for being ready in time, Diaz said.