Everybody is super nervous about possible hiccups or, goodness forbid, failure modes of the telescope. It is a fairly complicated machine.

The telescope will be at the second Lagrange point, several light seconds away from Earth, about five times as far as the Moon. But then L2 is not a gravity well so that no descend vehicle is needed; all that is needed is a launch system and a spacecraft that have enough capacity for the crew, material and fuel needed to stop and return, and that can keep the crew alive long enough for a return trip.

Is there a theoretical possibility for a manned mission to reach that point with existing launch systems and spacecraft, possibly after ad-hoc modifications? (I'm aware that NASA says it is not an option but we are more agile and inventive than that, right?)

I suppose StarShip, potentially with minor modifications, could do the job hands down; anything before that?

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    $\begingroup$ Putting people on an untested mission profile has much worse options for failure. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 15, 2021 at 13:48
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    $\begingroup$ It boils down to: is it worth it? If it fails prematurely, I bet that a replacement will cost less, takes less time to build (and use more state-of-the-art technologies) than a platform designed 20 years ago. $\endgroup$
    – Ng Ph
    Commented Dec 15, 2021 at 13:58
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    $\begingroup$ Orion doesn't have an airlock or an arm. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 15, 2021 at 14:16
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    $\begingroup$ @ikrase A list is here and an account of Moon and "transearth" EVAs here. Apparently, an EVA was necessary to retrieve film: "In order for the exposed photographic film from these cameras to be returned to Earth for processing and analysis, an EVA had to be performed to remove them from the SIM and stow them inside of the CM with the crew." $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 16, 2021 at 7:52
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    $\begingroup$ @ikrase if by 'significant' you mean Hubble-like repairs with multi-day multi-EVA on a satellite that was rndz'd with and captured by the repair vehicle - then no. Skylab was a space station, lunar EVAs are hardly comparable. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 16, 2021 at 12:38

1 Answer 1


On Christmas day, the New York Times reported that indeed NASA officials were thinking about service missions, which could be robotic rather than manned:

But should a problem arise that would require repair, a robotic spacecraft could be sent to get the job done, Pam Melroy, NASA’s deputy administrator, said in an interview.

“Have we talked about it? Oh yes we have talked about it,” said Ms. Melroy, whose previous job leading the tactical technology office at DARPA, the Pentagon’s research and development agency, made her a “big fan of robotic servicing.”

“I think we could actually put something together that would allow us to send a refueler or a servicer out there,” she said. “It might take a few years to pull all that together.”

  • $\begingroup$ Now IF ONLY the JWST had been designed with serviceability in mind. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 25, 2021 at 16:30
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    $\begingroup$ @CuteKItty_pleaseStopBArking Well, an additional feature, even if it is maintainability, will add complexity and must be balanced against other design goals. A laser sharp focus to get one single thing right may improve your odds to succeed. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 25, 2021 at 19:37
  • $\begingroup$ That is a (false) argument that can be used to claim that all redundancy, spares, fallbacks and failsafes are to be avoided. Designing for serviceablility would not make the project more likely to fail. It would necessarily add some mass to the end product. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 26, 2021 at 8:23
  • $\begingroup$ @CuteKItty_pleaseStopBArking I think it's an argument that Elon Musk makes. Maybe he is focusing more on weight, but I think reduced complexity also plays a role in hie design principle of simplicity. My partner sitting next to me, designing pacemakers, nods: If you can simply weld things together it's one failure mode less compared to screwing or snapping. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 26, 2021 at 15:57
  • $\begingroup$ As of about 4 years ago, the plan was to have a docking point on JWST, in case of a future servicing capability. I haven't otherwise since. $\endgroup$
    – Vince 49
    Commented Dec 27, 2021 at 8:38

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