ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR news, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
It looks as if the Hubble space telescope will be receiving some visitors in 2008. Today NASA chief Michael Griffin announced plans for a special space shuttle mission to Hubble so that astronauts can replace batteries, gyroscopes and install two new instruments. The decision officially reverses the policy of Griffin's predecessor, who felt that such a mission was too risky.
NPR's David Kestenbaum reports.
DAVID KESTENBAUM: Today's announcement was actually a reversal of a reversal of a reversal of a reversal of fortune for the telescope. First, Hubble was going to get repairs but the mission was canceled after the Columbia space shuttle accident - reversal number one.
Then, scientists, the public and lawmakers cried foul and Shawn O'Keefe, who led NASA, at the time, reconsidered. He said he would investigate sending a robotic spacecraft of. That was reversal number two. The robotic mission received a poor review and was killed, reversal number three. Last year, Michael Griffin took over NASA leading to today, reversal number four.
Mr. MICHAEL GRIFFIN (Director, NASA): We are going to add a shuttle servicing mission to the Hubble space telescope to the shuttle's manifest to be flow before it retires. We anticipate -
(Soundbite of applause)
KESTENBAUM: Griffin who had once worked on Hubble made the announcement of NASA's Goddard Space Flights Center in Maryland, which helps managed the project.
Mr. GRIFFIN: So I could either quit with that or I -
(Soundbite of Laughter)
KESTENBAUM: Griffin has long said that he would support a shuttle mission to Hubble if he felt the risks were acceptable. The concern about going to Hubble has been that it's been in a different orbit from the space station, so if problems arise on the shuttle, the astronauts will have nowhere to take shelter.
But Griffin pointed out that the shuttle now has cameras that can be used to inspect its heat shields for damage and astronauts have tested various methods for repairing cracks. So even if the shuttle sustains damage during lift off, problems could be fixed in orbit.
Griffin also said that during the mission a second rescue shuttle will sit ready on the launch pad. The Hubble flight is currently scheduled for early 2008. One of the astronauts picked for the mission has been to Hubble twice.
Mr. GRIFFIN: Dr. John Grunsfield, one of the very most experienced Hubble astronauts we have. John received his PhD from University of Chicago in Physics but has somehow been converted to an orbiting repair technician. But he's good at it.
KESTENBAUM: The astronauts will have to undo 111 screws. Senator Barbara Mikulski, Democrat from Maryland, had a front row seat for the announcement. Mikulski is a longtime Hubble supporter and once described herself as the checkbook lady. She's clearly happy with the decision and said others would be, too.
Senator BARBARA MIKULSKI (Democrat, Maryland): Children send the Hubble questions like do you have a picture of God? And could you send it to me? Have you seen an angel today? Can you find my cat? We may not be able to find your cat but we are going to find a way for the Hubble to go on to the year 2013.
KESTENBAUM: Sean O'Keefe, the NASA administrator who cancelled the original mission, says he is happy the mission is now going forward. But he stands by the decision he made at the time.
Mr. SEAN O'KEEFE (NASA Administrator): You know, you can't be driven by your emotional gut feelings on these things. You have to be driven by what you believe on the analysis of the data at the time. It was all a judgment call.
KESTENBAUM: Hubble does inspire strong emotions. It has been orbiting the earth for 16 years now, sending extraordinary images back home. And this won't be the first time humans have flown to its rescue. Senator Barbara Milkuski remembers what happened shortly after launch in 1990.
Senator MIKULSKI: All of a sudden, there was Hubble in space. The cameras opened, everything was go and we found out that the lens didn't work in Hubble. The word came back that Hubble couldn't see and it needed the most expensive contact lens in world history.
KESTENBAUM: Michael Griffin says this servicing mission will cost around $900 million.
David Kestenbaum, NPR News.
SIEGEL: And you can see a collection of Hubble's greatest views of space, shots of nebulae, star nurseries, planets at NPR.org.