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Senator Calls on NASA to Service Hubble

WASHINGTON -In a sternly worded letter to acting NASA Administrator Frederick D. Gregory,Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said she expects theU.S. space agency to heed the will of the Congress and keep preparations for aHubble Space Telescope servicing mission on track.

Congress, inpassing an omnibus spending bill late last year, directed NASA to set aside$291 million of its 2005 budget to spend planning and preparing for a servicingmission to Hubble by 2008. When NASA informed Congress just weeks later that itintended to spend only $175 million of that amount on the Hubble repair effort,some saw the move as an indication that the agency was preparing to abandonplans to service Hubble robotically and rely instead on a space shuttle crew tofix the telescope.

Many Hubblebackers, including Mikulski, were shocked and angered when NASA announced inearly February that it would not make any effort to service the telescopebeyond attaching a propulsion module that can be used to drop Hubble into theocean once it goes dark.

Mikulski, aninfluential member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, told Gregory in herMarch 2 letter that Congress will consider this year including money in NASA's2006 budget for a Hubble servicing mission. In the meantime, she said, sheexpects NASA to spend every penny of the $291 million included in the 2005budget for Hubble servicing.

"I expectNASA to carry out Congress' intent and spend the entire amount appropriatedthis year so there will be no interruption in the planning, preparation andengineering work that will be necessary for a servicing mission to Hubble," shewrote. "The funding that I included in the Omnibus Appropriations Act is toensure that the workforce at Goddard, the Space Telescope Science Institute andtheir associated contractors remain fully engaged in all aspects of a servicingmission. Any attempt to cancel, terminate or suspend servicing activity wouldbe a violation of the law unless it has the approvalof the House and Senate Appropriations Committees."

Governmentagencies are required to seek permission from congressional appropriatorsbefore using money for purposes other than which it was originally approved.Although the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2005 gives NASA "unrestrainedtransfer authority" to move money between accounts, it also says that theauthority should be used primarily to help the agency complete its transitionto full-cost accounting.

NASA has not canceled contracts it awarded to LockheedMartin and Canada's MDA Robotics last year to help engineers at Goddard SpaceFlight Center in Greenbelt, Md., design a robotic servicing mission. NASAofficials have said the agency intends to let that work continue at least untila preliminary design review planned this month.

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