Hubble in Trouble
January 22, 2005 2:14 AM   Subscribe

Hubble doomed again (more inside)
posted by kyrademon (10 comments total)
After initial plans to scrap it were met with a storm of protest, plans to save the Hubble telescope were on the drawing board. But now word has come down from the White House – the plans are to be scrapped, and the Hubble is to be deorbited when it ceases to work. The instrument, if unserviced, is likely to break down completely in 2008.

Some still believe this may be the opening sally in the yearly battle over NASA’s budget, but those of us who are passionate about the Hubble’s extraordinary contributions to both science and our own sense of the beauty of the universe cannot help but feel nervous now that the fate of the telescope is once again in question.

Some argue that the infrared James Webb Space Telescope, which will have image resolution comparable to that of Hubble, is due to go up in 2011 anyway, and the Terrestrial Planet Finder somewhere between 2012 and 2015. Others believe that ground-based adaptive optics technology is the wave of the future, and will eventually match current space-based telescopes in image quality.

However, right now, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of instruments designed for Hubble are lying useless on the ground (PDF), already representing years of wasted effort. And, right now, the Hubble being used to make important and breathtaking discoveries. And when it goes dark, it may be years before something that matches it becomes operational.

Previously discussed here and here.
posted by kyrademon at 2:18 AM on January 22, 2005

Will this be:

Good Bye Hubble or Hello Funding Troubles Redux?

Lets watch and see! The show ain't over yet. The sentimental value card may be played once again.
posted by TwelveTwo at 2:48 AM on January 22, 2005

Also, good post!
posted by TwelveTwo at 2:51 AM on January 22, 2005

A few things:

First, the Hubble doesn't already have deorbit capabilities (as mentioned in one of the links). The cost for installing a deorbit propulsion system would be about the same as just fixing the damned thing.

Second, the White House doesn't get to choose how money is spent. That's Congress's job. I have a feeling that this doom and gloom is merely a ploy to garner support for the inevitable funding requests the Hubble will recieve before the cyanide is dropped into the water. So to speak.

Third, (I apologize for the politics, but...) the Iraqi debacle is costing us how many billion dollars? Just to put things in perspective. But as the post mentions, there are terrestrial systems--including the much-vaulted binocular system--that would be far easier to fix since they're ground-based. That's hoping they're really as good as they say at filtering out environmental light pollution.

Finally, note that the JWST is not a replacement for Hubble; it was designed as a complementary telescope, since they "see" completely different spectrums of light.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:35 AM on January 22, 2005

Honestly, I think Hubble is pretty much a lost cause. This administration couldn't give a wet rat's ass about science unless it kills or makes their cronies some money.

It wouldn't surprise me to see them discard Hubble, then cancel JWST in a year or two.
posted by QuestionableSwami at 9:58 AM on January 22, 2005

I know that plenty of other Metafliter denizens will be as upset by this as I am. I really, really hope Twelve Two is right that this represents some kind of odious political game within the administration, or that someone leaked this for the purpose of upsetting Congress and/or Hubble stakeholders into action. The Hubble is one of the greatest human achievements of the last century, if not beyond and is one of the few useful and interesting things NASA has done since the cancellation of Apollo Applications ( and the associated Saturn hardware (which was rather more useful and, I think, cheaper to use than the crap Shuttle). I bet more useful science comes out of the Hubble in a week than has in the entire life of the flying irrelevance that is the ISS. The whole ‘safety’ debate around the Shuttle is pathetic – it is an inherently unsafe, hopelessly expensive solution compared to the old Apollo technology (and arguably the robust, cheap Russian Soyuz programme). If the Astronauts involved are willing to take the risk, the trivial $1bn (what is that, like 10 crap Hollywood blockbusters? One B-2?) should be spent straight away to get more service out of this remarkable instrument for all of mankind. As others have said, the JWST is a complementary instrument and in no way a replacement. If only ESA or somebody would help stump up the cash!
posted by The Salaryman at 11:27 AM on January 22, 2005

If only ESA or somebody would help stump up the cash!

Unfortunately, a cool $billion would represent something like half of the ESA's budget. Maybe the Chinese will just take it over themselves. Finders... keepers, and all that.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:44 AM on January 22, 2005

Yes, let us just blind the eye that dares to look upon the faces of heaven. We are too busy with our dogmas, and schemes to be bothered with views of celestial reality. Let us not be troubled with the joy that this fine viewer has brought to millions of school children everywhere, and in fact to the child of wonder in each of us. The crime of the Hubble, was to become the domain of the imagination of the people of the world at large.

I say that the United States, should give the Hubble and all its parts to the ESA, or to a consortium of international astronomers, to service. Let it become the property of the world at large. Let it become a monument to world peaceful endeavor.

The idea that such a beloved instrument, should be come a flaming, discarded beer can, falling out of space, is preposterous.

Hurry and save it before it is used for target practice.
posted by Oyéah at 9:14 AM on January 23, 2005

If only ESA or somebody would help stump up the cash!

Actually, the ESA is a partner in running the operations of the telescope.

one of the few useful and interesting things NASA has done since the cancellation of Apollo Applications and the associated Saturn hardware (which was rather more useful and, I think, cheaper to use than the crap Shuttle).

The Wikipedia entry for the Saturn V mentions that the ISS could have been completed in a handful of launches if they had re-funded the Saturn V program. It has twice the payload capacity of the Delta IV Heavy.
posted by QuestionableSwami at 10:14 AM on January 23, 2005

This is so stupid. With the world going the way it is, I will be AMAZED if the JWST goes up, to say nothing of the Terrestrial Planet Finder. Bush or his successor will can the project to pretend to fund a half-assed attempt to go to Mars, then can that project to blow up people (err... 'terrorists') in some third world oil hellhole. We'll never have the likes of the Hubble again, at least not within my lifetime.

1 Billion dollars sounds like a lot, but it's a pitiful little piece of the government's budget. If I remember correctly, that's less than half what a stealth bomber costs.
posted by Mitrovarr at 3:51 PM on January 24, 2005

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