NASA's Mission to Service Hubble in 2008 Will Cost $900 Million
With a photograph of the Hubble Space Telescope behind him, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin takes part in a news conference at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2006.
Credit: AP Photo/Charles Dharapak.

GREENBELT, Md. -- The shuttle mission to refurbish the Hubble Space Telescope one last time in May 2008 will cost about $900 million from "cradle to grave" and will have a slight impact on the development of the launcher NASA will use to replace the shuttle fleet, NASA Administrator Mike Griffin said today.

Speaking at Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Md., where the legendary space telescope was designed and built, Griffin emphasized that the decision to go ahead with the controversial Hubble servicing mission was made only after a lengthy analysis of the risks. That analysis led agency officials to conclude that Hubble's life can be extended to about 2013 without posing undo danger to the lives of the shuttle astronauts who will conduct the repairs and upgrades.

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"While there is an inherent risk in all spaceflight activities, the desire to preserve a truly international asset like the Hubble Space Telescope makes doing this mission the right course of action," Griffin said.

The cost includes about $500 million for keeping the Hubble team together from 2004 -- when Congress and many in the science community convinced former NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe to reconsider his decision to cancel the Hubble servicing mission --through completion of the mission in 2008.

O'Keefe initially canceled the mission in response to the February 2003 re-entry accident that destroyed the shuttle Columbia and killed its crew. Some of the $500 million already has been spent to pay for studies into the feasibility of a robotic servicing mission that would not require astronauts. Griffin said that option was rejected by NASA and advisory panels who all concluded that it was not feasible given the limited amount of time and money available.

The gyroscopes, batteries and instruments slated for Hubble will cost another $200 million, NASA said. In addition, the agency will need to spend $100 million for the extra shuttle external tanks and solid-rocket boosters that will have to be ordered to squeeze another mission into the shuttle manifest. Another $100 million will go to pay for processing another shuttle for launch.

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Between now and the time of the Hubble Servicing mission, NASA will launch about a half-dozen shuttles on assembly missions to the International Space Station, Griffin said. The agency said in an Oct. 31 press release that the mission will take place sometime between the spring and fall of 2008. Griffin said the agency hopes to conduct it as early as May of that year.

Griffin acknowledged that there will be a small downstream impact on the agency's effort to build a replacement system for the shuttle fleet, which is to be retired in 2010, because another shuttle will have to be placed on Kennedy Space Center's Pad 39-B ready to conduct a rescue mission should that become necessary.

All other shuttle missions are launched into an orbital trajectory that allows them to go to the international space station in the event of an emergency. That will not be possible during a Hubble repair mission because Hubble is in a different orbit, and the shuttle conducting the servicing mission will be out of range of the space station.

To make sure the crew can be rescued, Griffin said NASA will have two shuttles ready to launch. One will conduct the mission; the other will be on emergency standby.

Griffin said Scott J. Horowitz, NASA associate administrator for the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, and his team accepted the decision to keep Pad 39-B configured for shuttle launches longer than originally planned and that they are studying how to revise their test program for the first test flight of the Ares Crew Launch Vehicle.

Pad 39-B will eventually be turned over to the team developing the Ares 1 Crew Launch Vehicle, which will be used to launch the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle on missions to the space station, the Moon and possibly Mars.

Griffin said no major development milestones for Ares will slip, but he said keeping Pad 39-B configured for shuttle missions until 2008 could affect plans for the Ares 1-1 launch tentatively scheduled for April 2009. That mission is set to be the launch of an early prototype of the Ares main stage with an inert upper stage to prove the flightworthiness of the Ares 1 design.

The announcement that NASA is reversing O'Keefe's controversial cancellation of the servicing mission was followed by a standing ovation from the crowd at Goddard, where Griffin spoke.

"This is a great day for Maryland, a great day for science, a great day for discovery, great day for Goddard and a great day for science education," said U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), who for more than two years has led the charge to reverse the cancellation of the mission.

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Mikulski praised Griffin and NASA for making sure the astronauts conducting the Hubble refurbishing mission will be safe. "Your safety has always been No. 1 and your safety and your lives will continue to be No. 1," Mikulski said of the astronauts.

The astronaut crew will consist of Scott Altman, Gregory Johnson, Andrew Feustel, Michael Good, John Grunsfeld, Michael Massimino and Megan McArthur. Chuck Shaw will be the mission director.

NASA's relationship with Hubble has been long and storied. Initially considered a costly failure when it launched in late April 1990 with a flawed primary mirror, it has since been lauded as NASA's most successful scientific endeavor.

The first servicing mission repaired those damaged optics by installing what Mikulski called "the most expensive contact lens ever built." Four additional servicing missions were conducted over the years to add new instruments and replace parts like batteries and the gyroscopes used to orient the telescope.

But with the Columbia accident, in 2002, Sean O'Keefe announced there would be no further missions to repair Hubble, citing astronaut crew safety as a chief concern.

The announcement follows a commitment Griffin made at his confirmation hearing, in 2005, when he pledged to base his decision on whether to send an astronaut crew to repair Hubble on the completion of two successful shuttle missions and a professional review that the mission would be safe. Three post-Columbia shuttle missions later (one was not considered a total success), Griffin fulfilled that promise.

While shuttle missions to the International Space Station offer crews a safe haven if their shuttle is damaged, the Hubble repair mission offers no such security.

Griffin noted that the detailed studies conducted by NASA, including work done during recent shuttle missions, helped the agency conclude that an astronaut would be able to conduct some repairs of a shuttle that sustained heat-shield damage as Columbia did. During the STS-121 mission, Griffin said astronauts tested some rudimentary procedures to make small repairs to a heat shield damaged by external-tank foam debris or orbital debris.

And then there is the option of sending that second shuttle on a rescue mission.

While there was great excitement about the mission, which is intended to extend Hubble's operational life until about 2013, there also were acknowledgements that there is much work to be done.

"You never celebrate until you succeed; we all celebrated on the launch of Hubble in 1990 ... the champagne does not get opened until the servicing mission is over. I've learned that lesson too many times," said Ed Weiler, director of Goddard and a former Hubble program scientist at the time of the initial launch.

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