Last year NASA announced the Hubble Space Telescope would not receive any further maintenance, effectively ending the mission. The public outcry was so immense that the decision was reversed. Now it seems again as though it will be lights out for the Hubble relatively soon, as the Bush administration will not fund the project anymore.
Thursday The Washington Post reported the Bush administration was scrapping its plans to come up with the needed funding, which could exceed $1 billion. The Post also stated that NASA’s overall budget is expected to be increased to $17 billion, a hike of 4.6 percent. But the increase is mainly intended for other projects, such as the proposed missions to Mars and Earth’s moon.
When the Hubble was lifted into Earth’s orbit in 1990 as part of a joint venture between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), problems arose with the telescope’s lens. Soon the public began voicing concerns that the project was too costly. But once the problems were repaired, the telescope started sending images down to Earth that were of such breathtaking clarity and beauty that it soon became a sensation with the general public.
Orbiting outside the Earth’s atmosphere, which usually limits the resolution of telescopes, the Hubble has made countless scientific breakthroughs. It successfully photographed colliding galaxies, formerly unknown planetoids and has been useful in the exploration of background radiation found in our galaxy that gave insightful clues about early stages of the universe’s development.
When NASA first announced plans to scrap the heavily publicized telescope, it reversed its decision primarily based on the obvious public support the telescope had. It is clearly one of the most widely known active NASA programs. And who could blame the public? The images it has taken over the years are easily appreciated for their beauty alone.
NASA and the Bush administration should therefore reconsider. The Hubble not only has at least several years (if serviced) left to do scientific research, it also gives NASA something that may very well be as valuable to garner support for future mission: public approval. Sometimes a picture is indeed worth more than a thousand words.