Hope for Hubble?

Scientists Search for Options After NASA Cancels Mission

The young planetary nebula MyCn18, also called the "Hourglass Nebula."

The young planetary nebula MyCn18, also called the "Hourglass Nebula." R. Sahai, J. Trauger, the WFPC2 science team, NASA hide caption

itoggle caption R. Sahai, J. Trauger, the WFPC2 science team, NASA

Last month, NASA shocked the astronomy world by announcing that it would let the Hubble Space Telescope die a slow death in orbit.

The telescope has been in orbit since 1990, and during that time, it has solved some of the great mysteries of astronomy, and discovered new ones. Astronomers used Hubble to determine the age of the universe. They also discovered a mysterious force in the cosmos — called dark energy — that permeates space and could determine the fate of the universe.

But NASA, citing problems with safety and logistics, has canceled a space shuttle mission that would have extended Hubble's life beyond the year 2006. Since the February 2003 Columbia shuttle accident, NASA has found it difficult to satisfy new safety rules. The Hubble mission became even harder to plan when President Bush earlier this year called for retiring the space shuttles as soon as possible.

This decision has come as a particular shock to the scientists and engineers at Hubble's nerve center, the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md. As NPR's Richard Harris reports, the staff there isn't giving up on the beloved observatory.

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