NASA and White House decide to let the Hubble go dark

Even though the Hubble Space Telescope has been one of the most popular NASA missions ever, NASA administrators and President Bush have made the hard decision to let the telescope fail.

What's special about the Hubble Telescope? Clouds and light pollution—the brightening of the night sky by human activities—affect what we can see from Earth. A telescope in outer space doesn't have those limitations.

And NASA designed the Hubble Space Telescope to be easily serviced by astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle—a good decision, because when it was initially launched, in 1990, a bad reflecting mirror caused blurry images. Before and after image from HubbleAstronauts repaired the telescope in 1993, and it returned some of the more stunning images of our universe ever seen. Two other Space Shuttle missions in 1997 and 1999 provided repairs and improvements to the telescope.

But the telescope needs more repairs. Both the batteries and the gyroscopes, which help to point the telescope and keep it from spinning out of control, are getting old. No one knows when they will fail, but NASA and the White House have decided that it's too dangerous and expensive to try and fix the telescope. Hubble will still send back images over the next couple of years, but eventually it will have to be taken down.

The White House has approved $78 million for a mission to safely de-orbit the telescope. Once Hubble starts to fail, this mission will use robots to attach a rocket to the telescope, intentionally crashing it into the ocean.

Hubble Highlights

  • Using imaging technology developed by the Hubble Mission, doctors pioneered a new technique that allowed them to better pinpoint possibly cancerous lumps in women's breasts. Because of this technique, biopsies can now be taken with a needle instead of a scalpel.
  • 1994 - Images from the Hubble of the Orion Nebula confirmed the birth of planets near newborn stars.
  • 1996 - By looking into very deep space, Hubble is able to see nearly 10 billion years back in time. Its images have shown us nearly 1500 galaxies at various stages of development.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

BARB W's picture
BARB W says:

It may be the reality. I hope it lasts way longer than projected. Is there not another new "second generation" telescope that may be on par with Hubble?

posted on Wed, 02/09/2005 - 3:26pm
bryan kennedy's picture

I am not sure if there are any plans for another telescope with similar power and function as Hubble. But Hubble is part of NASA's "Great Observatory" of space telescopes, which include:

  • Chandra X-Ray Observatory - According to NASA "Chandra is designed to observe X-rays from high-energy regions of the universe, such as the remnants of exploded stars".
  • Spitzer Space Telescope - Spitzer is an infrared telescope which allows us to view regions of space not visible to visible light telescopes like Hubble.
  • Compton Gamma Ray Observatory - Compton allowed us to detect high-energy radiation in the universe called gamma rays. This satellite was allowed to fail and fell back to earth's orbit in 2000 after one of its gyroscopes failed. It operated for nine years.
posted on Fri, 02/11/2005 - 12:36pm
bryan kennedy's picture

Hubble just returned some exciting new images. They prove the existence of something called a "light echo". A long time ago, one star exploded, and now another star is illuminating the dust from this old star. Discovery news has more.

posted on Fri, 02/11/2005 - 12:41pm
bryan kennedy's picture

While NASA still isn't planning on servicing the Hubble Space Telescope, congress might have other plans. Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and some other members of congress are interested in passing legislation that would require NASA to fix the telescope. Nothing is certain right now but this might be good news for Hubble fans.

bryan kennedy
Science Buzz Site Admin

posted on Tue, 03/22/2005 - 6:48pm
bryan kennedy's picture

I just read an interesting story called, "Space Debris: Assessing The Risk", from Science Daily. It's about space debris and the risk it poses to spacecraft. One example they showed was a cool photo of an old solar panel from the Hubble Telescope. A tiny bit of dust was able to pound a hole clear through the solar panel because it was traveling so fast when it hit the satellite. Photo of the hole .
bryan kennedy
Science Buzz Site Admin

posted on Mon, 03/28/2005 - 9:56am
Liza's picture
Liza says:

NASA Administrator nominee Mike Griffin has promised to give the Hubble program a second look.

For more, click here.

posted on Wed, 04/13/2005 - 4:56pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

NASA Administrator Mike Griffin has reversed the decision of the previous NASA Administrator to stop servicing the Hubble Space Telescope in the wake of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, and is planning a new shuttle mission to the telescope. He says that a proposed robotic mission to fix the telescope is not feasible given the available time and money. The manned mission will proceed assuming that the remaining space shuttles are cleared for flight.

posted on Fri, 05/06/2005 - 9:52am
bryan kennedy's picture

Hubble is back in the news. NASA predicts that the Hubble telescope only has about 2-3 working years left but this time there is also some good news. However, the team at NASA now seems more hopeful about the possibility of a shuttle trip to repair the ailing telescope.

Since the Columbia disaster NASA has been cautious about shuttle flights and wants to make sure they can move forward on construction of the International Space Station. However people at NASA think a Hubble repair mission might be more viable now that astronauts demonstrated the ability to examine and repair the shuttle's heat shield during flight using its robotic arm.

"A lot of things are lining up that says Hubble is going to be a do-able kind of thing," said John Shannon, NASA's deputy shuttle program manager.

Were all keeping our fingers crossed that this amazing astronomy resource doesn't have to go dark.

posted on Thu, 10/26/2006 - 11:23am
EricClap's picture
EricClap says:

Funny because that crazy astronaut chick with the murder case just gives the Space program a bad name. Hahaha

posted on Wed, 02/14/2007 - 3:07pm
bryan kennedy's picture

Well, yes, many people do seem to think this. But I fail to see how one person's actions reflect on the space program at all. Alas, popular media likes to latch on to a "man bites dog" type of event like this. And to be clear she is only accused of attempted murder.

posted on Wed, 02/14/2007 - 3:45pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

wut's a hubble?

posted on Fri, 04/20/2007 - 12:44pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

i dunno either

posted on Fri, 04/20/2007 - 12:51pm

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