Guest columnist David Belisle's article "Hubble trouble" (Seattle Times, April 3, 2004) questions why NASA is "so prepared for euthanasia" of the Hubble Space Telescope, and jumps hastily to the unsupported conclusions that it stems from Hubble's loss of political usefulness and ability to serve as a fundraising vehicle. Rarely have I seen a more irresponsible opinion cast more pointedly.
NASA is far from eager to end the Hubble program prematurely. NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe has stated unequivocally that the decision to cancel Service Mission 4 was primarily based on the new safety recommendations set forth by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, and has requested board chairman Admiral Harold Gehman, Jr. review those recommendations (he's agreed). These regulations require the shuttle to dock with the International Space Station for each mission, allowing for inspection of the shuttle before attempting re-entry, and facilitating an opportunity for a rescue and/or repair mission should it be deemed too dangerous to attempt to return the shuttle to Earth. Having (rightfully) committed the agency to implement the new regulations, what more is he supposed to do?
Belisle would have us accept by weight of inuendo alone that more than a decade of largely successful work by thousands of engineers, scientists, and skilled laborers from NASA, the Space Telescope Science Institute and myriad aerospace industry subcontractors was merely a premise for kickbacks from Republican administrations in exchange for campaign contributions. How convenient and timely to make this accusation in an election year, unencumbered by the need to supply factual evidence. Shame on the Times for not requiring it!
Furthermore, we are supposed to accept that our continuing efforts in support of the International Space Station (the first truly global space initiative) will result in the diversion of billions of dollars to Republican donors. Are there two separate groups of contractors involved here? I think it's safe to assume that U.S. companies involved in construction of the space station are the same ones that have been involved in construction for U.S. space programs spanning multiple administrations.
Mr. Belisle proceeds to use these bogus arguments as a springboard from which to espouse his theory that blame for the "decimation" of "social welfare" programs rests with current and previous Republican administrations, citing a nebulous conspiracy to undermine these ill-implemented, perenially raided programs through intentional mission inflation and underfunding. This is the point where Mr. Belisle reveals his true agenda. He states "we've seen this before" in "endless, undying projects" that divert funding from "real energy and defense research". Exactly what are his credentials for deciding what constitutes "real" research? Granted much space program research has proven to lend itself to defense applications, but what portion of the space program's budget does he propose we earmark for "energy" research?
The killing blow to any credibility Belisle's article attempts to claim is easily found by any middle school student with a computer. While he "laments" Hubble's early retirement with "nothing comparable set to replace it," the Space Telescope Science Institute's Hubble Newsdesk page clearly states that (prior) plans to construct and implement Hubble's vastly improved successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, slated for deployment in 2011, go forth as planned.
Do some research before you throw mud, sir.
Having avidly followed the scientific progress made possible by the Hubble Space Telescope and U.S. space program in general for more than 10 years, and having worked in the aerospace manufacturing industry, I'm personally offended by Belisle's comments. Agree or disagree with mission direction as you see fit, but don't demean the whole issue with petty political diatribes and stabs at the firms which made possible the work you supposedly value so highly.
President Bush should be commended for boldly stating a clear, diverse mission for future space research, and especially for committing much of the shuttle program's $4 billion budget to lift its antiquated technology into the 21st century.
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