WASHINGTON -- The announcement Wednesday by the National Academy of Sciences that NASA scrap its plan to robotically repair the Hubble Space Telescope and instead plan a manned shuttle mission for the endeavor was met by by congressional leaders with both support and reservations.
Rep. Bart Gordon (Tenn.), the ranking Democrat on the House Science Committee, endorsed the report's central recommendation and urged NASA to follow the committee's advice and conduct a shuttle-based servicing mission.
"Their central recommendation is unambiguous: NASA should pursue a Shuttle servicing mission to Hubble," Gordon said in a statement. "I hope that NASA will heed the Academies' assessment and move forward to implement its recommendations so that Hubble can continue its program of scientific exploration and discovery for years to come."
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (Md.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations VA-HUD subcommittee and one of Hubble's staunchest defenders in Congress, praised the academy panel but stopped short of embracing the report's call for using the shuttle to service Hubble. She said she and Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond (R-Mo.),will hold a hearing in February to delve into the academy panel's recommendations.
"I commend the National Academy of Sciences on this outstanding report. I fought to add $300 million to NASA's budget for a Hubble servicing mission and I will continue to advocate for a mission to take place," Mikulski said in a statement. NASA has the experience, the technology and now it has the money. "It's time to fix Hubble -- Congress and the American people expect nothing less."
House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) also avoided endorsing the recommendation and said that he too would be holding hearings next year.
"The National Academy of Sciences panel, after a thorough study, has reached conclusions that are diametrically opposite to those reached by NASA," he said in a statement. "The Science Committee will hold hearings early next year to review the Academy's conclusions and all the options to see whether and how the Hubble Space Telescope might continue its path-breaking work."
NASA's associate administrator for science, Al Diaz, in an unrelated interview after the report's release, declined to address the panel's findings and recommendations.
NASA spokesman Robert "Doc" Mirelson said that NASA would "require some time to study the [panel's] recommendations" and in the mean time would continue planning for a robotic mission. He also said that NASA would not do anything to preclude a shuttle mission.