Space telescope project resurrected in budget reshuffling, Mikulski says.


May 20, 1991|By Marina Sarris and Frank D. RoylanceEvening Sun Staff

The Astro space telescope, which seemed doomed by budget cuts, will be revived and scheduled for a second space shuttle flight, officials said today.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said NASA's budget was "scrubbed down" to find the money to keep the program alive in the form of an Astro-2 mission expected to cost $30 million.

Astro was designed to explore some of the hottest and most violent regions of space, which generate radiation in the X-ray and ultraviolet wavelengths that cannot be observed from the ground.

Astro is scheduled to fly again in 1993, and "there's a good chance it will go on the brand new shuttle, the Endeavour," Mikulski said at a news conference at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

The Hopkins Ultraviolet Telescope, along with two telescopes from the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt and a fourth developed in Wisconsin, were part of the $148 million Astro Observatory launched on board the shuttle Columbia last Dec. 2.

Officials found the money for the second Astro mission by snipping small portions of the budget projects Mikulski described as "things that are just kind of out there." Mikulski chairs the appropriations subcommittee overseeing NASA's budget.

Hopkins stands to see as much as $5 million from the Astro-2 project, and its scientists will seek to correct some problems that developed during Astro's nine-day flight last December.

That flight was plagued by computer failures, telescope-pointing problems and a wastewater system failure. Scientists on board the shuttle and on the ground managed to work around most of the difficulties and completed about 135 of the planned 250 observations.

Early reports on the scientific results of the mission have been greeted enthusiastically by astronomers, increasing the clamor to preserve the telescopes for future flights.

Astro was designed to be flown repeatedly, with the telescopes riding in the shuttle's cargo bay instead of being released into orbit like the Hubble Space Telescope. Each mission was to have built upon the discoveries of the ones before.

Budget constraints prompted NASA administrators to cancel plans for future missions -- a decision that was reaffirmed by NASA officials as recently as mid-January.

Since then, NASA has been lobbied heavily to keep Astro alive, and the dismantling of the instruments at Cape Canaveral was halted this spring.

December's flight came after 12 years of planning and 4 1/2 years of flight delays caused by the loss of the shuttle Challenger, rescheduling and delays of subsequent shuttle flights.

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