The American Astronomical Society (AAS), a Member Society of the American Institute of Physics, has issued a statement expressing "considerable disappointment" in NASA's decision not to service the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). The March 9 statement praises the past accomplishments of the Hubble and its future potential. However, it also cautions that, "should a HST servicing mission have adverse budget consequences" to other space science programs, then NASA should seek the views of the space science communities on the relative merits of servicing the Hubble versus other projects.
As discussed at a February 2 House Science Committee hearing (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/024.html), the costs of a Hubble servicing mission could have a significant impact on other current and planned NASA science missions. The astronomy and astrophysics community is noted for its process of developing decadal reports that prioritize projects within the community. The most recent decadal survey (Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium, see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2000/fyi00.062.htm), based on the assumption that the originally-planned SM-4 shuttle mission to upgrade the Hubble would take place, was prepared prior to the Columbia shuttle tragedy. Several witnesses at the hearing indicated that the prioritization should be reevaluated to take into consideration the current Hubble situation.
"I am personally very disappointed with NASA's current plan not to service HST," said AAS President Robert Kirshner in a press release accompanying the statement. "You can be sure we will work with them to help realize the goals of astronomers as carefully worked out through our decade plan. We know that NASA is committed to doing the world's best astronomy and servicing Hubble with the Shuttle is part of the best program."
The text of the March 9 AAS statement follows:
"AAS Statement on Hubble Space Telescope Servicing
"The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) has been the crown jewel in NASA's science programs for over a decade. Its accomplishments have revolutionized our understanding of the universe in which we live, and it has inspired a new generation of students and the public at large with its discoveries. This remarkable performance can be expected to continue if HST is serviced. NASA's recently announced decision to forego any option to service the HST is therefore viewed with considerable disappointment by the American Astronomical Society and the astronomical community. While we recognize that HST's mission must end at some time, the fact that a servicing mission was a part of NASA's planned activity, and that two key replacement science instruments are already developed to enable important and exciting new science, makes this decision particularly unfortunate and difficult to accept.
"Much of the success of NASA's space science program is due to strong community involvement in planning and setting priorities based upon scientific merit and relevance to a coherent science program. Therefore, the AAS strongly concurs with the view advocated by the recently released report of the NRC Committee to Assess Progress Toward the Decadal Vision in Astronomy and Astrophysics. Specifically, that NASA should continue with the missions and programs as prioritized in the NRC report ‘Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium.' In particular, should a HST servicing mission have adverse budget consequences, the AAS urges NASA to include the space science communities in an assessment of the relative scientific merits of all impacted missions, in line with the decadal survey process.
"Finally, the AAS notes that HST is a component of a dynamic, exciting, and evolving set of astronomy and space science missions. We applaud NASA's continuing commitment to maintaining a ‘world-class astronomy program,' as expressed in Acting Administrator Gregory's testimony on February 17, 2005 to the House Science Committee. This commitment is an essential element of the Vision for Space Exploration, and the AAS stands ready to work with NASA to assure that strong programs in space science continue as NASA implements the Vision."
The full text of AAS's March 9 statement and related press release can be found at http://www.aas.org/policy/PR/2005/hstservicing2.html .
This latest statement follows a January 18 statement in which AAS supported the conclusion of a National Research Council panel that NASA should pursue a shuttle servicing mission to the Hubble (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/008.html).