Weighing Hubble's Future

Scientists Ponder What to Do with Aging Space Telescope

Star Birth

Since it first went into orbit in 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope has captured some phenomenal images, including this one of newborn stars in the Eagle nebula. NASA/STScI hide caption

itoggle caption NASA/STScI

The Hubble Space Telescope has produced phenomenal results since it first went into orbit in 1990. Using Hubble, astronomers determined the age of the universe and discovered that, contrary to theory, the universe is expanding at an accelerating pace. And, with periodic upgrades, Hubble has actually gotten better with age. It's still due to have one more upgrade a few years from now before heading for retirement in 2010.

Originally, NASA had planned to bring Hubble back to Earth in a space shuttle so that the telescope could hang in the Smithsonian. But in the wake of the Columbia accident, nobody wants to risk lives for a museum piece. As NPR's Richard Harris reports, the question of what NASA should do with Hubble has now become a contentious matter.

Many astronomers are urging NASA to keep Hubble in space until its successor, the Webb Space Telescope, is safely launched, an event planned for 2011. But NASA officials say maintaining the aging telescope until then would cost at least $700 million — a price the space agency may not be willing to pay.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.