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Getting the Hubble Out of Trouble

NASA expert John Clarke on what the giant telescope has revealed

Click the slideshow above to view a gallery of Hubble images and hear Clarke on the Hubble’s future.

When John Clarke, a College of Arts and Sciences professor of astronomy, worked for NASA in the mid-1980s, he helped the Hubble Space Telescope get off the ground. So he was pleased to hear last week’s announcement by NASA administrator Michael Griffin that the space shuttle Discovery will be sent to repair the aging Hubble, which was launched in 1990 and needs new batteries, stabilizing equipment, and other repairs. The announcement reversed an earlier NASA decision to “de-orbit” the space telescope in 2007. 

“The Hubble telescope is one of the premier facilities that we have right now to do astronomy research,” says Clarke. In addition to snapping dramatic images of stars, nebulae, and solar systems, the Hubble has helped scientists discover new galaxies, observe black holes, and scan so deeply into space that they have, essentially, been able to look back in time billions of years. Clarke recalls “looking at a region of a sky where you could see almost nothing and really staring at that region to see what Hubble could find, and seeing literally hundreds of galaxies.”

The 11-day rehab mission is scheduled for the spring of 2008 and will cost an estimated $900 million. The repair crew will upgrade the telescope’s batteries and sensors and install two new camera instruments, all of which should keep the Hubble operational until 2013. There have been four other servicing missions during Hubble’s 16-year orbit, most recently in 2002.