Posted tagged ‘Observatories’

HUBBLE HISTORY: A Belated Tribute

May 1, 2011

BLOG NOTE: The following is a reprise of an Op Ed piece I submitted to the “Christian Science Monitor” during the public action to support the upgrade of the Hubble Space Telescope to keep it alive and well. I repeat it here as history and in tribute to our astronauts who stepped up and reached out to keep Hubble sharp-eyed as ever.

Growing up in the mountainous regions of Arizona meant that on any clear night I could step outside, lie back, look up and wander the universe. Now, many years later, I am a city dweller blinded by light pollution, but still longing for those starry, starry nights.

Enter the Hubble Space Telescope and I am home again. Using Hubble’s discoveries, I go deep into the universe. Galaxies and nebulae are not simply bright whirls of light, they are each a universe unto themselves and all equally awesome and compelling. The telescope also takes me to places never conceived or seen by anyone, and I then know just how Galileo felt. The instrument is also a time machine taking me back millions of years, and close to the beginning of everything. In wonderment, I guide my computer through these Hubble moments, and I become choked with emotion, as I realize I am traveling deep back into time to our beginnings.

Darkness is again on the horizon. They, our government, are talking about letting the Hubble die. The telescope requires regular upkeep and upgrading. Our astronauts using the space shuttle have successfully done this four times in the past. Now, as most of us have read or heard, Hubble is due another upkeep. Without this upkeep it will soon run out of energy and its probing eye on the universe will close forever.

Thirty astronauts, of which twenty-seven have flown Hubble servicing missions signed a petition to President Bush saying they will willingly go again. This was said, in spite of NASA’s timidity about safely launching a shuttle to support the Hubble. These heroic men and women stated in their petition that, ”we, the real risk takers, believe the attendant risks of the Hubble servicing mission are no more than the 90 previous manned missions to similar orbits, and are justified by the Hubble Space Telescope’s immense contributions to the space sciences.”

Claiming anxiety over the dangers of a shuttle flight to the telescope NASA’s leadership continues to stonewall everyone including Nobel Laureate scientists who advocate saving the Hubble. Today, both scientists and politicians twist and turn in efforts to either defend NASA’s decision or argue for full restoration of the budget and the servicing mission. Costs ranging as high as I billion dollars have been reported in committees and in the press, but the real incremental costs for the mission remain as originally budgeted, between 300 million to 400 million dollars spread over four years. Most importantly, the money is there, it has just been pulled out of the Hubble account.

So, why all the worry and fuss? There are certainly many powerful new telescopes in the works that can see as well or better than the Hubble. This is true, but there are several key factors to consider. Those other powerful eyes are on the horizon. They are not yet fully in place and at work. Hubble is on station and at work. Many of the other telescopes are far more exclusive with respect to shared information than the space telescope program.. The very manner in which The Space Telescope Science Institute manages Hubble’s discoveries have made it the “people’s eye on the universe.” These people are from all over the world and they are both novices and experts and all treasure the space telescope’s astounding revelations.

Some politicians and scientists say Hubble has completed an astounding job with amazing discoveries implying that it is finished. This is not so. It is not what we already know, but what Hubble is yet to tell us that is so critical, and the universe won’t wait while we ponder the telescope’s future. There are many reasons why the Hubble must be kept alive and on station, but for me, the words of our astronauts who put this instrument in place and have kept it alive say it best.

Sacrificing the Hubble Space Telescope at this stage of the initiative’s development would be putting a damper on some of the greatest advances made to date in our understanding of the universe. Mr. President, each of us have risked our lives to bring about many of those advances, including twenty-seven individuals who have flown in direct support of the Hubble Space Telescope. We, therefore, cannot accept that all our efforts and risks taken were for naught…”

We must keep this eye on the universe. Save the Hubble.

UPDATE NOTE: Fortunately, as we all know, the upgrade mission was approved and STS125 carried those dedicated and courageous astronauts up to keep Hubble alive and well. If you would like to view that petition to President Bush you may do so here. As you read over it, look up and send best wishes to our esteemed eye in the sky, and send both cheers and applause to all those astronauts who stood tall for Hubble.