NASA Considering

Hubble Repair Options

* Wanted: A few good robots for a telescopic rescue mission.

NASA, the space agency, announced Tuesday that it is thinking about ways to save the Hubble telescope, which since 1990 has taken thousands of amazing pictures of outer space and sent them back to Earth.

For a while it looked as if the space shuttle Columbia tragedy might mean the end of Hubble as well. When Columbia broke apart in February 2003, all future shuttle missions were canceled. But Hubble needs shuttles to bring astronauts to it 360 miles above the Earth to replace parts and do other repair work.

This week Sean O'Keefe, who heads NASA, said "our confidence is growing that robots can do the job" of making Hubble repairs.

Still, some former astronauts and others say the best way to fix the Hubble is to send a crew to make the fixes. They say that robots can do a lot of things but not necessarily what Hubble needs.

The Hubble, which is about as long as a school bus and weighs as much as three elephants, has batteries to last through 2007. After that, the telescope would fall back to Earth.

Can Hubble-fixing astronauts be replaced by robots?