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CHEAP TEST COULD HAVE FOUND HUBBLE FLAW

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Mirror flaws that are blurring the Hubble Space Telescope's view of the universe could have been detected by a simple, safe and inexpensive test, NASA Administrator Richard Truly admitted Friday.

"With hindsight, we can determine that a test could have been done that would not have had the potential of contaminating the mirror and would have found this aberration," Truly told a congressional committee.Previously, space agency officials had said they had not conducted a test of the $1.5 billion telescope as a whole, which could have detected the crippling mistake, because it would have been very expensive and risked contaminating the pristine mirror.

But during questioning by members of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology at a crowded hearing called to investigate the foul-up, officials said an inexpensive, safe and simple test probably was available.

It is unclear which would have been the best test to detect the flaw and why such a test was not conducted, they said. A panel investigating the blunder should determine exactly how the error occurred and why it was not detected before the telescope was placed into space April 25, they said.

"I don't have the answers for you this morning," Truly said.