|Volume: 03, Issue: 03||02/09/2005|
NASA Budget Casualties Include Hubble, Jupiter MissionNASA has released its 2006 budget, and while things look promising for the Return to Flight mission and a return to the moon, other programs, such as the Hubble Space Telescope and the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter (JIMO) mission, felt the heavy blow of the budget axe.
Since the Hubble Space Telescope was deployed in April 1990, it has been working to uncover the mysteries hidden in the universe. From its orbit 600 kilometers (375 miles) above Earth, Hubble uses state-of-the-art instruments and technologies to provide stunning details about our world and beyond.
Hubble was designed to undergo periodic servicing by astronauts, allowing scientists to upgrade instruments with the latest technology and repair or replace old equipment. But on Jan. 16, 2004, NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe decided to cancel Servicing Mission 4 (SM4), the last scheduled Shuttle flight to Hubble, due to new safety guidelines introduced after the Columbia tragedy.
Opponents of O’Keefe’s decision immediately banded together to protest the verdict, but the release of the new NASA budget seems to ignore those objections. Hubble has been budgeted only $93 million, $75 million of which will be used to create a robotic mission intended to capture the telescope and bring it out of orbit, landing in the ocean.
In addition to Hubble, the budget also drastically cut funding for the proposed JIMO mission. JIMO was to orbit three planet-sized moons of Jupiter – Callisto, Ganymede and Europa – which possibly harbor vast oceans beneath their icy surfaces. The program would have been the first NASA mission using nuclear electric propulsion, which would enable the spacecraft to orbit each icy world to perform extensive investigations of their composition, history, and potential for sustaining life. NASA instead included $320 million in the budget to develop less aggressive nuclear methods, rather than move forward with an undertaking as large as JIMO.
The budget does, however, make great strides toward the shuttle return to flight, the International Space Station, and human exploration of the moon. According to O’Keefe, President Bush’s 2006 budget request for the Science Mission Directorate projects a 23 percent increase in the total science budget by 2010.
"The budget proposal maintains the return-to-flight of the Space Shuttle fleet as our top priority, and it includes close to $2 billion for the Space Station. This level of funding will enable NASA to meet obligations to international partners,” O’Keefe said. “NASA will also proceed with plans to retire the Shuttle in 2010, while ensuring safe missions for the life of the fleet.”
NASA has been preparing Space Shuttle Discovery for its return to flight mission, slated for May or June 2005. The shuttle was recently outfitted with a new robotic arm equipped with a video camera and two laser systems to inspect the Thermal Protection System while in space, part of new safety measures introduced after the space shuttle Columbia tragedy.
For information about NASA, programs and the agency budget on the Web, visit http://www.nasa.gov .
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