How time flies

New York Times | As Clock Ticks for Hubble, Some Plead for a Reprieve

Since it was launched in 1989 with a flawed mirror and then repaired by spacewalking astronauts, the Hubble, floating above the murky atmosphere, has been a matchless time machine, providing astronomers with views of unprecedented clarity deep into space and time. “The Hubble is the single most important instrument ever made in astronomy,” said Dr. Sandra Faber, an astronomer at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

But its days (and nights) have always been numbered. NASA has long planned to end Hubble’s spectacular run and bring it down in 2010 to make way in the budget for the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to be launched in 2011.

Still, some astronomers are urging that Hubble’s life be extended. They argue that the telescope has grown even more productive in its years in orbit, thanks to periodic service calls by astronauts.

These astronomers say that killing Hubble in its prime makes little sense, either scientifically or from the standpoint of public relations. “Hubble is by far the best news NASA has now,” a senior astronomer said.

It will cost $600 million to keep Hubble up for a few more years. You know, in governmental terms… that’s still a lot of money. I’m afraid they are going to have to decide whether they want Hubble or Webb up there: Maintaining the one will delay the other. (I mean, I’m sure I could find $600 million worth of government spending I’d be willing to forego–why, that’s only just over one million dollars per congressman and senator–but that wouldn’t put any more cash in NASA’s budget anyway.)