BU Today

Science & Tech

BU and the Beyond: Getting the Hubble Out of Trouble

A five-part series on space exploration

Click on the slide show above to view a gallery of Hubble images and hear John Clarke talk about the Hubble's future.

In recent years, Boston University faculty and students have investigated the atmosphere of Mars, discovered new planets, and advanced the research of space weather. The University’s extraterrestrial expertise — from the College of Arts and Sciences astronomy department, the College of Engineering department of aerospace and mechanical engineering, and the Center for Space Physics — has contributed to NASA missions from Hubble to the International Space Station.

This week’s series features BU space research stories and expert commentary on the future of space exploration that appeared on BU Today in 2006 and 2007.

Getting the Hubble Out of Trouble
NASA expert John Clarke on what the giant telescope has revealed

When John Clarke, a CAS professor of astronomy, worked for NASA in the mid-1980s, he helped get the Hubble Space Telescope off the ground. So he was pleased when NASA administrator Michael Griffin announced 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 spring 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.

“Getting the Hubble Out of Trouble” originally appeared on
BU Today in November 2006.

Jessica Ullian can be reached at jullian@bu.edu. Chris Berdik can be reached at cberdik@bu.edu.