NASA’s decision last Friday to scrap the last shuttle mission to the Hubble Space Telescope has generated its fair share of controversy, and now a degree of political attention. On Wednesday Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) sent a letter to NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe, asking him to appoint an independent panel to review his decision to cancel the servicing mission, SPACE.com reported. (While Mikulski is a staunch supporter of NASA, she has some practical interests here: Hubble is controlled by the Goddard Space Flight Center with scientific operations based out of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), both located in Maryland.) She also plans to meet Monday with the staff of STScI in Baltimore.
Even the White House has been dragged into the controversy about the decision. In a press briefing Friday, White House press secretary Scott McClellan was asked why NASA had cancelled the SM4 servicing mission. “I think NASA can probably address those matters… I think NASA can talk to you more about some of the specific details within that,” he answered, unwilling or (more likely) simply unable to provide specific information.
Hubble supporters aren’t giving up, but in an effort to come up with alternatives to keep the telescope operating they do appear to be grasping at straws. SPACE.com reported that STScI officials are looking at everything from working with Russia on a Soyuz-based servicing mission to accepting donations to pay for a servicing mission. It would seem very difficult—and thus expensive, even for Russia—to adapt a Soyuz to perform a servicing mission on a spacecraft designed to be worked on only by the shuttle. Moreover, donations by private citizens can’t be transferred into federal coffers for specific programs. Sky & Telescope does have some useful suggestions for what the public can do, including writing their members of Congress. At the very least you can also sign an online petition, although the effectiveness of such a step may be limited, at best.