Dear discuss-hst,

and, in the words like those of the proverbial circus ringmaster, "students, teachers and life-long learners of all ages -- and nations"!

It's almost D(ecision)-Day... and we thank all of you for your hard work and input. As I sit typing early on a snowy East Coast morning (school just delayed for 2 hours) my computer pings to let me know of a new message from Russia, with a vote for Pluto. I just read Thomas Kraupe's news from Germany about interest in Uranus and Neptune. Yesterday I heard from a tele-educator in Brazil that they intend to use the Internet and a USIA satellite to see the upcoming March and April programs, and interact online. It's a tribute to all of YOU that you've made this project come alive with your interest and enthusiasm.

So how will the final decision be made? We've said from the beginning that this is not a planetary "beauty contest" in which the number of votes alone would carry the day... but behind the scenes we've been counting, and we know the tallies for individual planets. But we've been very glad to have the Planet Advocates, Alex Storrs from STScI and astronomy educator Bill Gutsch contribute relevant information about comparative image size, about just how far, and small, each of the planets are, and have all of them help flesh out a very current "mini-textbook" on what's known about each candidate planet. No matter the final choice, we hope you've enjoyed becoming some of the most up-to-date observers of the heavens down here on Earth. And we feel you've been provided with relevant data -- you know Jupiter would be big and bright, Pluto dim and dark, that the Uranus rings observation would use spectroscopy (Bill's "wiggly lines") and that Neptune is likely to have distinctive weather. With the images described in words in earlier postings to this list, or accessible online via the LFHST Home page and STScI's Web page, we don't think we'll be buying a "planet in a poke" (for international audiences, the phrase a "pig in a poke" (poke = bag, cover, blanket) means something acquired without full knowledge!)

Our final decision will bear in mind the following factors: are the observations technically achievable with 1, 2 or 3 orbits? (Alex Storrs from STScI believes all the PA's suggestions are feasible.) Do they contribute to the sum total of human knowledge, rather than just being an "exercise" -- no matter how well-intentioned -- for students? (GHS says nothing wrong with that, but IN FACT as far as planets are concerned, their changing weather (see Heidi Hammel's remarks in earlier postings) make any revisit potentially of value.) We do have the chance to make a genuine contribution with "our" orbits. What will we see of the image in "close-to-real-time", as the data comes down on March 14? (As you would expect, Jupiter is by far the largest target, and we might expect some detail, but with the other planets we'll be waiting for image processing to find out what we've got.) But ALL the images may be time-shifted and played back on tape -- though being received on Earth for the first time -- for reasons of the satellite connections from Hubble via TDRS (tee-dris) the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite -- which sends the signal on down to Earth (there'll be more on this in the Teacher's Guide and online.) How do observations of each planet fit with past or planned HST observations? (You know Heidi's group looked at Neptune last week, Reta posted Jupiter images from October, and has time assigned for February -- and is hoping for more next June. GHS thinks Uranus has not been looked at recently -- Carolyn, please correct me and the list, post-haste, if I am wrong -- and Pluto I think not for at least a couple of years.) But then again, just because "it's been done" recently is not an argument to rule out Neptune or Jupiter: in fact, another observation of the place where the Galileo probe plunged into Jupiter, 3 weeks after Reta's February observations, would generate some very useful scientific data allowing us to calculate wind speeds with much higher precision and relevance. Lastly, how can our choices reflect the informed interest of this group of students and teachers (rather than professional astronomers) and encourage them to continue to reach for the stars and the planets? (And here Roger Styker's comments about not just seeing small and blurry images echoes in my mind!) Those are the factors that we'll be considering over the next 2 days.

Who's "we"? Today the Planet Advocates, Alex, Bill, myself and some of the PASSPORT TO KNOWLEDGE team will gather on a teleconference to discuss your comments to date. We'll probe your reasoning, and discuss your interests. Since we hope ALL the Planet Advocates will continue in some way to assist your project, we'll be looking for a consensus there too. But, in the words of the Chinese curse, we expect it will be a very "interesting" discussion!

But that won't be the final word: tomorrow in Pittsburgh, a group of middle schoolers gather to use the same interactive technology cited by Thomas Kraupe, and we don't want to pre-empt their decision. In fact, we'll be contacting -- via e-mail -- certain teachers and classes around the nation to get their comments and input on what the LIVE FROM THE HUBBLE team come up with today. The most active of our international sites will also have a say. We aren't posting their addresses or names here: no electronic lobbying allowed in this end-game!

We'll also share some headlines from today's Planet Advocates discussion online for BRIEF last words from any and all of you (no individual student messages please this time, just class comments!!!) so you really will have been part of the process to the last moment.

So, by close of the school day Friday (or in the hours thereafter) we should have the decision, which we'll transmit to STScI to begin the NEXT stage of the process. After DECISION, it's DESIGN time for the specific spacecraft commands which will direct Hubble's telescope to "your" planets. Via online "Journals" from the astronomers and support group at STScI you'll be able to follow along as your observation goes through the planning pipeline. Our Web site and online lists will help you visit a kind of "virtual STScI" without ever leaving your modem and computer. And we'll add comments from the Planet Advocates and the many other people it takes to make HST the world-class facility it is -- we hope to include some of the astronauts who got their hands on Hubble during the first servicing mission, and many more.

Don't be surprised if we end up splitting the orbits 2 and 1, to mix planets, instruments, types of observations and "student appeal". Do know your comments simmer in our minds as we shepherd the decision to finality. Many thanks to one and all.

Onwards and Upwards... and stay cool and connected,

P.S. as last night's posting said, the archive of past messages to "discuss-hst" should be accessible through out Web site. We will also create an online and print digest AND WOULD VERY MUCH APPRECIATE POSTINGS FROM TEACHERS AND OTHERS ABOUT HOW THE DECISION PROCESS WORKED IN YOUR CLASS (see Marilyn Wall's remarks, and those of Jake Chaput for two rich anecdotal examples: thanks, guys!) AND WHAT WORKED OR DIDN'T. The Internet makes a more reflexive project possible than any other medium, and like Thomas Dewey we hope to learn by doing, and do by learning. YOUR INPUT OVER THE VACATION PERIOD PLEASE!