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False Positives Adventures in Technology, SciFi and Culture from Toronto

Saturday, January 31, 2004

Save Hubble

Via wired news : Scientists Clamor to Save Hubble

I was very distressed hearing about plans to de-orbit the Hubble space telescope. I understand the difficulty in the servicing mission and the concerns about a uncontrolled reentry.

But on hearing about the decision I got a very strong felling of deja vu and remember what happened in '79 when Skylab fell out of sky. " In my gut I got a strong feeling that it was the end. Yes we needed to be able to get there and back, but as a working asset, a place to go, Skylab was incredibly valuable, even if it had to be mothball for a few years. "No problem, they said. Soon we'll have the space shuttle, and space launch will be so cheap we'll have a dozen space stations and then we'll start building O'Neill's... " Well it didn't happen, if fact it wasn't happening well before the Challenger accident of '86. '79 is when my dreams of being part of manned space program died. 86 only confirmed that there wasn't going to be much of a manned space program for me to watch. So, for want of a mission to boost Skylab, it has taken 25 year to get Skylab-lite (the ISS). Joy.

Now we have a decision to ditch a working space telescope which has provided data and images beyond compare, and hold our breath for a couple of years until, if we are lucky, the next generation of large space telescope is launched. What they should be doing, instead, 1) see if the orbit be shaped to make it easy to service 2) do the service mission to upgrade the instruments and replace the wonky gyro's 3) Make sure the capacity exists to maintain its orbit indefinitely, beyond the launch of the Webb ST (see 1). Astronomers are lucky that they have ground based and small space based instruments, otherwise it would be the end of improving our understanding the universe. I'm very glad they are putting up a stink about this. How about the rest of us. Is it important? No, it will not feed any staving children. But the US spends twice as much as on Pet food as on the current space program. Pet Food! Feed the kids that!. See this to better address that issue. I'll tell you why it 2 small reasons why it's important:

1) Dark Energy & Dark Matter. By current estimates the matter and energy we understand make up 4 % of the universe. 4 F**king percent. It?s figured that Dark Matter makes up around 26% and stops the galaxies from falling about. And 70% of the ?verse is Dark Energy which keeps the universe expanding, or at minimum from having collapsed long ago. You, Me and everything we See and think we understand are just the cream on a very large glass of milk. If you think the revolution in physic over the last 100 to 150 years (I'll include Electromagnetism as well as Relativity and Quantum Mechanics), which has made all our toys and tools possible, you haven?t see nothing yet!
2) Searching for Life bearing planets. In only the last 5 years we have been able to determine if and how common planet circling other planets are. Not very. Currently we are only able to indirectly measure very larger (super- Jovan) gas planet. The next generation will allow us to detect smaller, rocky, planet like earth and maybe even see some of the light from some, which would tell us about the chemical composition of the atmosphere and might tell us if there is life there (oxygen is a likely sign). Think what kind of impact it would have to know that there a no neighbors for a 100 light years ( we really are special, better take care of ourselves and our home) or that 30 light year away there is somewhere to visit (colonize), someone to talk to.

But before we can re-write the rules, or scout the galactic neighbor until we have better instruments. And don?t throwaway tools until you have better ones in your hands, and maybe not even then.

Skylab was a canary in the mine, so is the Hubble.

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