September 9, 2005

Hubble Future Is Cloudier After Katrina

BALTIMORE (AP) - Hurricane damage to NASA space shuttle facilities has further clouded the future of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Katrina damaged the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, where the shuttle's fuel tanks are built, and the Mississippi-based Stennis Space Center, where shuttle engines are tested, NASA officials said.

Before the hurricane struck last week, NASA had hoped to launch Discovery in March. The space agency is now reassessing its launch plans.

A servicing mission is needed to keep the orbiting space telescope operating, but has not been scheduled by NASA.

"We're not panicking yet, but we are concerned," said Mattias Mountain, the new director of the Space Telescope Science Institute, which coordinates use of Hubble.

NASA administrator Michael Griffin has ordered work to begin on a servicing mission, but it is dependent on the success of the next two missions. Griffin's predecessor, Sean O'Keefe, ruled out Hubble visits by astronauts because of safety concerns following the Columbia disaster.

"To be honest, we really don't know what the impact will be," said Preston M. Burch, Hubble program manager at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, which oversees Hubble's day-to-day operations.