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Planning Progresses for Repair of Hubble

August 11, 2004|From Associated Press

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA said Tuesday it was moving ahead with plans to send a robot to the rescue of the aging Hubble Space Telescope.

The leading candidate is a clunky contraption named Dextre that bears little resemblance to movie-inspired visions of a robot.

A final decision is to be made next summer on whether to launch the two-armed Dextre -- short for dexterous -- or any other robot to Hubble's rescue in 3 1/2 years. But already, it looks as though the Canadian Space Agency's robot could accomplish most if not everything that spacewalking astronauts were meant to do.

Dextre was originally designed for handiwork at the International Space Station.

Normally, astronauts would work on Hubble, and there are many hurdles to relying on robots to fix all that ails the 14-year-old telescope.

But months ago NASA's chief, Sean O'Keefe, nixed an astronaut mission because of safety concerns with space shuttles since the Columbia disaster.

It appeared the Hubble would be doomed, unable to send back more of its dramatic pictures in a few years.

A groundswell of support from astronomers and scientists opened the door to considering robots.

Now, after months of engineering analysis, robots are clearly the space agency's favored approach.

On Monday, O'Keefe gave his strongest endorsement yet of a robotic mission, praising the preliminary work done by Hubble scientists and engineers at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and urging them to press ahead with fix-it plans minus astronauts.

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