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Hubble Troubles Blamed on Scrimping by NASA

From Reuters

Sen. Albert Gore (D-Tenn.) today blamed troubles with the Hubble Space Telescope on NASA’s appetite for grandiose projects, charging that the U.S. space agency had scrimped on Hubble testing to fuel future missions to Mars and the Moon.

“I think that presently NASA’s eyes are bigger than its stomach,” said Gore, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee’s space subcommittee.

At a hearing into the problem-plagued Hubble project, Gore saluted NASA for feeding the American peoples’ dreams with project after project designed to unlock the secrets of outer space.

But he criticized the agency for its seeming inability to carry out these projects successfully.

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“As soon as NASA starts to actually implement one of these projects . . . it goes back and starts taking money away from the people who have been given the unglamorous task of screwing the nuts and bolts and making the project sound,” Gore said.

But NASA chief scientist Lennard Fisk denied that his agency had scrimped on Hubble testing and told Gore that the space agency remains capable of carrying out major new missions.

If anything, Fisk said, NASA had amply funded the Hubble project at the expense of other space science projects competing for the same limited funds.

Two private contractors, meanwhile, refused to appear at Gore’s hearings today, the senator said.

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These were Lockheed Corp., NASA’s principal contractor for the overall telescope project, and Hughes Danbury Optical Systems Inc., a subsidiary of Hughes Aircraft Co. and the subcontractor that built the flawed mirror blamed for the Hubble’s current troubles.

Gore said he had asked his subcommittee staff to draw up subpoenas for the two companies but said he hopes that it will not be necessary to use them before the next hearing.

NASA said earlier this week that it had found a flaw in one of the Hubble’s mirrors that would prevent the telescope from performing at least 40% of its planned experiments until repairs could be made by space shuttle astronauts during a mission planned for 1993.

Gore noted that the flawed mirror had been made a decade ago, at about the same time NASA was assembling the space shuttle Challenger that later blew up on launch in January, 1986, killing its seven-member crew.

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