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Blueshift ponders… should Hubble go in a museum?

We’re starting a new feature here at Blueshift, and we want you to talk back!  We’re going to bring up some hot topics that are related to the things we do here at the Astrophysics Science Division, offer our own opinions, and then ask for yours! Here is our first question:

Blueshift Ponders: Should the Hubble Space Telescope go in a Museum?

Everyone loves Hubble. As evidenced by recent pop culture events, the ultimate fate of Hubble has been on a lot of minds. It’s understandable. We just completed a high-profile, against-the-odds servicing mission, for one thing. And despite its early optics issues, the magnificent pictures it has since produced have turned it into the “little satellite that could” (never mind the fact that it’s as big as a bus!).

We know that the public has developed strong emotions about Hubble.  The thought that it won’t be serviced again, and will one day be “replaced,” has caused strong reactions.  Once a low-Earth orbiting satellite’s mission has ended, it isn’t just left up there as dangerous space junk –  these old satellites are typically de-orbited and burned up as they re-enter the atmosphere.  But is this the fate that should await Hubble?


Maggie’s Take: As I’ve mentioned several times, I work on the James Webb Space Telescope. Webb is going to be the successor to Hubble – and the project has tried to be very clear that it isn’t a replacement. The fact is, it really isn’t a replacement. Webb is primarily infrared, Hubble is primarily optical (though it also does some infrared and UV). No matter what you’ve heard, Webb will take pretty pictures. But there are still plenty of differences between the two telescopes and their science goals.

Despite how cool Webb will be, the questions remain – why aren’t we going to service Hubble again? And if we don’t, what happens to it? What should happen to it? These are complicated questions to be sure because of science and politics and money, as well as new technology vs old.

At any rate, my work makes me privy to lots of comments from the public about Hubble, and it’s almost a little surprising how many people seem to support the idea of retrieving Hubble to put it in the Smithsonian. It’s a nice thought – but the realities of the situation make this seem impractical. For one thing, no more Shuttle. Even if shuttles were still flying, according to NASA Kennedy each Shuttle flight costs $450 million. Should that much money (and I don’t know if that figure even includes the cost to plan and prep for a mission) be spent on a museum exhibit? Is it worth putting astronaut’s lives in danger? Or is Hubble really that important as a national treasure?

Next up to bat, Sara!

Sara’s Take: Though I get a little jealous sometimes that Hubble gets more attention than some of our other satellites (you get some gorgeous images in other wavelengths, too!), I respect the enormous scientific and cultural impact that it has had over the past two decades.  Hubble has shaped our understanding of the Universe – not just within the academic community, but for everyone.  Images like the “Pillars of Creation” have turned astronomy into something accessible, and even into art.  I understand the love of Hubble.

I agree with Maggie – if retrieving Hubble will require significant expense and danger, it doesn’t seem worth it to me to put the satellite in the Smithsonian.  However, Hubble’s final days should be quite a few years away (so Milky J doesn’t need to start mourning yet), and we’ll have a while to decide what we’re going to do with the satellite. Technology moves fast, and NASA is exploring new manned spaceflight options as well as robotic exploration technology.  Perhaps there will be a cheaper, safer way to bring back the Hubble.  It could serve as the test of new technology and pave the way for future servicing and retrieval of orbiting satellites.  Remember, we don’t usually visit any of our satellites after launch – Hubble is very special in this way, too!

So I suppose my take is that we should wait and see.  New options may open up, and we can examine all of the risks and benefits to make the best decision about Hubble’s fate.

Here’s your chance to sound off – what are your thoughts on these issues? What do you think should happen once Hubble’s mission is over?

Comment and let us know what you think!   Comments are moderated and we ask that you be respectful. No profanity please!  Any comments with non-NASA links may be edited or removed.

Disclaimer:  All opinions in this blog entry are that of specific individuals and do not represent those of NASA, Goddard Space Flight Center, or Blueshift.



  • Nick says:

    I think hubble should go to a museum to show its years of working in orbit to help us get close to the big bang.

  • Pete says:

    I would think that if we where to try and bring it back one of two things would need to happen:

    1) the cost would have to drop dramatically, or
    2) it would have to be privately funded.

    Keep in mind that privately funded can mean a Save the Hubble Trust, not just a few very wealthy hubble huggers.

    By the same token, I wouldn’t worry too much about people vs robots. I’m 100% sure that there are people out there who would volunteer to do it (I certainly would!)

    Of course, as cost goes down, it may end up being cost effective to put something up there who’s purpose it to attach to Hubble and push it higher up to be dealt with at a later date, but personally I think that’s pushing it (no pun intended, yet noted ;) ).

    Now my personal thoughts, as much as we all love Hubble, I think that when it’s time to go, it’s best to just let go. We have models (someone needs to remind the @airandspace folks theirs has the wrong solar panels), mockups, and test pieces to remind us (not to mention the pictures!), but there are and will be other space telescopes to wow us, and after a while we’ll just be cluttering up our planet, and we do that just fine with the stuff still down here. ;)

  • pushkar says:

    I want hubble to be service again … why not service it again his fantastic machine if we can

  • Jeff Sayre says:

    In my opinion, Hubble has transcended the domain of National Treasure, becoming a globally-important artifact in humanity’s understanding of the cosmos and its place in it. Does that lofty ascension justify spending half a billion $US to retrieve an artifact that still has a useful life?

    Whereas I would be one of the first people to come to an exhibit showcasing the real Hubble, I propose considering some alternative options that attempt to keep Hubble alive and productive. Although Hubble’s primary infrastructure is outdated, some of its key technology is upgradeable—as the four STS service missions have demonstrated.

    Through a properly constructed and targeted Web-based social networking campaign, it may be possible to privatize the telescope. Think XPrize-like challenge. However, instead of offering a prize to competing teams, this alternate approach would utilize the Web to create teams of fundraisers, each “racing” to be the first to reach a particular funding goal. The combined fundraising efforts of all teams would then be pooled to fund a private NGO charged with keeping the Hubble alive indefinitely.

    Of course, the sheer amount of money required to make this approach successful would eclipse just about all other NGO funding goals. The logistical issues are immense: launch vehicles, private astronauts, command and control facilities, personnel, etcetera. It is more than likely that, due to these considerations, this idea is simply not practical.

    The real issues with such an approach are the economical feasibility and usefulness. Would the costs incurred be less than the required investment in creating, launching, and managing a new breed of space telescope? Are there crucial services and abilities that the Hubble provides that will be lost and not offered by the new space telescopes currently under construction?

    If the answer to both of these broad questions is yes, then finding some mechanism to retain Hubble’s service is desirable.

  • Lilly says:

    If Hubble can’t be serviced again, for whatever reason, PLEASE retrieve him and place him in a museum so we can visit this marvelous creation. I am head-over-heels in love with this telescope and would be heart-broken to know it was allowed to burn up into a charred wreck! I feel quite sure that there are many thousands (if not millions) of people who feel the same.

  • Dappa says:

    I’d like to see STS-144 happen, a Space Shuttle mission to bring Hubble back to earth.

  • the rev says:

    I would like to see it working in conjunction with the James Webb if possible, or if not, then brought back to earth for others to see .

  • Sid Dunnebacke says:

    Hubble is such a national – no, world – treasure that I just don’t see destroying it. I see three options:

    1. Spend the money to bring it back safely. How many of us would pay $5 to see/touch it in exhibit? After a few years of hundreds of thousands of visitors, the exhibit starts to pay for itself. Starts to.

    2. Burn it up in a fiery reentry, but don’t tell us you did it. Create a life-size model of Hubble and put it on exhibit. Wouldn’t be the first government hoax/secret/dishonesty, would it?

    3. Give it a different (higher?) orbit, awaiting the day when the space-faring public can visit it in its natural habitat. This is the option I prefer, actually.

  • Albert says:

    No doubt – Hubble should be brought back down. Personally I would love to see him and I’m sure there are millions of people around the world that feel the same way.

    I have no clue how much it would cost or if a world tour exibition would be able to fund the operation but it’s definitely a great idea.

    Did any of you see the “earth from the air” exhibition? I would love to see a similar exhibition with the photos from the telescope along with the Hubble. What an amazing inspiration for people and especially kids from all over the world.

  • Morné from South Africa says:

    Hubble must go into a museum. This telecope is somthing to presurve. Something the citizens of the USA, and other countries, can be proud off.

  • KM Douglas says:

    Once it’s retired, if it’s feasible, why not? For all it’s done for us, I think it’d be a fitting tribute….and someday, far in the future, a silent commentary on technology of the past.


    It changed my life; now i understand how small and, sometimes, ridiculous we are…

  • Denise says:

    Wow…I found two very good friends who’s fathers worked at NASA durning the 70’s. It just amazes me over and over again how lucky we are to have a great and hard working team on our planet to explore and reach out into space. Thanks..

  • Rob says:

    I say attach a few of those new ion test engines to it. Get some experimenting in and boost it to a higher orbit with low fuel cost. Hell, strap a rocket on it deposit it in a lunar orbit. With no atmospheric pressure to speak of, it will be ‘visible’ from Earth skies for hundreds of thousands of years. What better place to place our sacred relics to survive long after we’re gone?

  • J. Joseph says:

    I see from the comments above that almost everyone wants Hubble to be preserved. Either bringing it safely back to earth, or pushing it further up into a higher orbit. Or as Rob says, taking it to a lunar orbit where we could get glimpses of it from the earth. School teachers would then take the kids to the open yard, and show them Hubble through a telescope, and they would all be inspired to believe, “It’s possible!”

    Or even consider the idea of giving Hubble a safe landing on the moon. At least we would all be happy that it’s somewhere up there. And maybe someday, someone, a few generations down the line would get it back here as one of the most valuable relics of the exploratory spirit of our human race.

  • pwewa says:

    Or even consider the idea of giving Hubble a safe landing on the moon. At least we would all be happy that it’s somewhere up there. And maybe someday, someone, a few generations down the line would get it back here as one of the most valuable relics of the exploratory spirit of our human race.

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