Committee chosen for Hubble review

Nobel winners, astronauts among those on panel to study NASA project

April 17, 2004|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

Two Nobel laureates and three former astronauts are among 20 distinguished scientists and engineers named to the committee that will conduct an independent review of NASA's decision to let the Hubble Space Telescope slip to an early demise.

The list, announced yesterday by the National Academy of Science, got approval from scientists at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

"I think everybody who saw the announcement was very, very pleased with the level of this committee," said Mario Livio, an astronomer who heads the institute's science division.

"It includes astronomers, who can speak to the benefits side of what Hubble can achieve; very high-level engineers that can look at technical aspects; risk experts that can explore the risk aspects in a very thorough way," Livio said.

NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe announced several months ago that a servicing mission that had been planned to upgrade the orbiting observatory's instruments and replace its batteries and failing gyroscopes would not be flown.

The decision, made in response to the difficulties posed by tougher safety standards set by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, meant that Hubble would likely fail by 2007, at least four years before its planned retirement.

Scientists protested, and politicians led by Maryland Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski pressed O'Keefe to reconsider. He ordered a review by retired Adm. Harold W. Gehman Jr., who chaired the Columbia accident commission. Gehman in turn called for a review by a committee to be named by the National Academy of Science.

The panel has been dubbed the "Committee on Assessment of Options for Extending the Life of the Hubble Space Telescope."

Its chairman will be Louis J. Lanzerotti, a professor of solar-terrestrial technology at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and former chairman of the National Academy's Solar and Space Physics Decadal Survey.

Others on the panel include:

Former astronauts Charles F. Bolden, Jr., Richard H. Truly and Greg J. Harbaugh, who flew on one of Hubble's previous servicing missions.

Former Space Telescope Science Institute director and Nobel laureate Riccardo Giacconi, who is now president of the Associated Universities Inc., and a research professor at Johns Hopkins University.

Astronomer and Nobel laureate Joseph H. Taylor Jr., a former dean of faculty at Princeton University.

Steven Battel, former president of Battel Engineering, who previously managed the Lockheed Palo Alto Research Laboratory and the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary laboratory.

Rodney A. Brooks, director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The panel's charge from the National Academy includes answering whether a Hubble servicing mission can be flown in compliance with the safety standards set by the Columbia accident commission and whether a flight to the space telescope would be appreciably riskier than one to the International Space Station.

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