Monday, May 18, 2009

Hubble's long, lonely goodbye

As some of you may know, I'm a bit of a spacehead. Make that a major spacehead. If it flies, I'm fascinated by it. If it flies above the atmosphere, so much the better.

So I've been watching NASA's latest mission, STS-125, with great interest. As I write this, spacewalking astronauts from the Space Shuttle Atlantis are conducting a final inventory of tools in the cargo bay before they head back inside the cabin for good (footage available on NASA-TV here.) This particular spacewalk is significant in that it is the last one of the last servicing mission. This is the last time humans will touch the Hubble Space Telescope before the shuttle cuts it loose for its final few years of service.

Yes, it's just a machine, and yes, I'm probably making too much of a big deal of this. But this one spacecraft has almost singlehandedly rewritten everything we know about astronomy in its 19 years aloft. And NASA's decision to greenlight a final servicing mission and the astronauts' own devotion to the cause reinforce just how important Hubble's science capabilities have become to the rest of us on the ground.

Anytime we spend huge sums of money on space, we inevitably hear the whining from folks who say money spent in outer space would be better spent feeding the poor at home. My simple response: The society that fails to shoot for the stars is forever doomed to remain on the ground.

Your turn: How does all of this matter? To us? To you?

(We are indeed still talking about humanity. Click here for more Thematic Photographic, or here for this week's Caption This.)


invisible said...

the wifey will miss her hubble
their love existed in a bubble astronomers could see them grope
throught the lens of a telescope
if caught, there would be trouble

If you want to see my home planet, I have posted an image on my blog

srp said...

Perhaps it is time to build a station on the moon with a moonbased telescope... much easier to maintain. I agree... being the age I am, I have grown up with the space exploration. I remember the first flight... suborbital... and the first orbital flight and the horrible fire on the launchpad and the incredible moon landing. So many advances and so many uses we have made of the technology here on earth. Continue onward and upward... the money is certainly better spent for space than for some of the pork barrel spending they attach now.

Daniel said...

I'm inclined to agree with srp. Not only would it be easier to maintain, but it's possible we'd actually find natural resources (minerals of some kind, perhaps?) on the moon. Hubble has done many great things for us (according to Newsy, it has provided NASA with 33% of their information at 2% of their budget), but how many of them have really been practical?

Pamela said...

many of the technical advances over the past 50 years have come from space exploration - so the money hasn't been ill wasted.

as far as the moon? It might be more stable - but much more difficult to make a day trip to fix it.

Nikky said...

as sad as i am about the eventual demise of the hubble telescope i am looking forward to the future with the launch of the James Webb telescope. As much as hubble has done for us, it is time for her to retire. The James Webb telescope will be able to pick out planets around distant stars! So here's to you hubble! We thank you for your years of service and all that you taught us!

Mojo said...

One of my co-workers actually worked on the Hubble project back in the day. Not in an engineering capacity, but in a support function. (And yes, she's heard every Hubble joke ever written. Even a few I hadn't heard myself.) Space exploration has fascinated me since I was old enough to realize that there was something beyond the back yard. I remember watching the fuzzy black and white images from Apollo 11 on my grandmother's fuzzy black and white TV. And the 45rpm recording of Hugh Downs narrating the story of the first time an Earthling set foot on a non-Earthbound rock. The 40th anniversary of that mission will happen in just a few months. Think of everything that's happened on Earth in that time, and then contrast it with everything that's happened in the Sea of Tranquility. That alone should put the timeless patience of the universe in perspective. So what's not to be fascinated with?

My final two offerings for the week are simply terrestrial however.

Thematic Photographic 49: "Human" v.6.0Thematic Photographic 49: "Human" v.7.0

Carleen said...

The Hubble has opened the universe to us in countless unexpected ways, and I will surely be sorry to see it go. From someone who is old enough to remember watching on TV the Apollo missions and whose dad worked on the project for the "first lunar module" mentioned on NASA's page about Apollo 9, Hubble has significantly rocked my world!