As you may have heard, a key control system on the Hubble Space Telescope failed Saturday. It may be possible, though laborious, to switch to a redundant backup that's been turned off for the past 18 years. However, switching to the backup means you don't have a backup anymore, and you know how NASA likes redundancy. As a result, NASA has delayed the Hubble repair mission from Oct 14 to mid-February 2009 at the earliest.
Some of that delay is for the engineers to figure out how to repair/replace the failed unit. (Apparently there's a spare in a closet.) Some of that delay is to train astronauts in the new repair (Go John Grunsfeld, go!) But most is because of two strange, crazy notions in which NASA, despite all the evidence, still believes. They are:
- The International Space Station is NOT a colossal boondoggle we'll dump in the ocean as soon as it's done. Rather, it is vitally important to prove that humans can build pointless space stations in space. Even if it delays fixing Hubble, the one shining achievement of manned spaceflight in the last 20 yrs.
- Keeping a backup shuttle ready on the launchpad makes the Space Shuttle safer. One Shuttle: one-in-fifty chance of catastrophe. Two Shuttle: safe.
Links: NYT article; Steinn's wrap-up; Julianne's take