Hubble Telescope Upgrade

Hubble Telescope Upgrade
Artist’s concept; not to scale.

While NASA spends most of its budget producing exciting, life-threatening spectacles in competition with Robbie Knievel, the next NASA Humans-In-Space Stunt actually has a scientifically-defensible aim: updating the Hubble Space Telescope, greatest space observatory in the history of Astronomy. 

On October 8, 2008, seven astronauts are scheduled to blast through the atmosphere in the aging, creaky, Atlantis Space Shuttle to make a service call on Hubble, 350 miles above Earth, repairing seventeen years of wear-and-tear from vibration and space dust and installing state-of-the-art instrumentation, including Wide Field Camera 3, the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, and one of those newfangled digital TV converter boxes.

Since it was launched in 1993, information from the Hubble Space Telescope has led to astounding discoveries in physics, astrophysics, and astronomy.  New discoveries from Hubble data average 12 a week, generating thousands of original research papers so significant that you and I will never understand them.

In contrast, the trillion-dollar NASA manned space effort has led to the development of Tang, freeze-dried ice cream, ballpoint pens that write upside-down, and the zero-gravity toilet. You can see why George W. Bush, Space-Cadet-in-Chief, wants to risk American lives by sending humans to Mars; although this will cost zillions of dollars and require oil drilling in the ANWR Alaskan  wilderness preserve, it will be well worth it.

Exciting life-or-death manned space missions now blast off and land on weekends so the whole family can enjoy them on ABC Wide World of Sports and ESPN. Cheap unmanned satellites, space probes, and earth telemetry provide a constant stream of zillions of facts during their decades of life, merely helping change our entire concept of the universe and its creation. B-O-R-I-N-G.

The wealth of scientific discovery generated by the unmanned space effort does have some direct impact on your life, though. It helps newspaper editors slap 400 words in the weekly science column on those rare Mondays when tomatoes are safe and no one claims that some common foodstuff prevents cancer.

Image: Mike Licht. Download a copy here (mind the retro-rockets). Creative Commons license; credit Mike Licht,

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