NASA has done well to decide not to abandon the Hubble Space Telescope after all. It would have been a shame if such a magnificent instrument was discarded while it still has so much science left to do. Nasa had earlier reasoned that after the Columbia disaster, it couldn’t spare shuttles to service the telescope any more. With shuttle flights resumed, however, the finest eye in the sky need not be adrift any more.
To fix the 16-year-old Hubble, astronauts will have to grapple their way over its massive frame and use a robotic arm to fit new batteries and cameras, and replace broken gyroscopes that control its position in orbit. A crucial spectrograph must also be repaired to restore Hubble’s ability to take high-resolution images of stars and distant galaxies in visible and ultraviolet light.
The Hubble’s mirror (itself an engineering marvel) and instruments need to be maintained with great care and this is only possible when shuttle crews drop in on their infrequent visits. Hubble has already run up an amazing list of cosmic discoveries. At one point, when Hubble was ‘losing its vision’, a mission refurbished its instruments to rid it of its myopia. What followed was Hubble making one of the most important discoveries in cosmology: the farthest supernova ever detected, validating the idea of an accelerating universe. Hubble also threw light on the mysterious ‘dark energy,’ which is believed to be responsible for the acceleration. So to pull the plug on Hubble would have been an act of blindness. And missing the stars for the balance-sheet.