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Weighing Hubble's Future

The Hubble Space Telescope has produced phenomenal results since it first went into orbit in 1990. Using Hubble, astronomers determined the age of the universe and discovered that, contrary to theory, the universe is expanding at an accelerating pace. And, with periodic upgrades, Hubble has actually gotten better with age. It's still due to have one more upgrade a few years from now before heading for retirement in 2010.

Originally, NASA had planned to bring Hubble back to Earth in a space shuttle so that the telescope could hang in the Smithsonian. But in the wake of the Columbia accident, nobody wants to risk lives for a museum piece. As NPR's Richard Harris reports, the question of what NASA should do with Hubble has now become a contentious matter.

Many astronomers are urging NASA to keep Hubble in space until its successor, the Webb Space Telescope, is safely launched, an event planned for 2011. But NASA officials say maintaining the aging telescope until then would cost at least $700 million -- a price the space agency may not be willing to pay.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Award-winning journalist Richard Harris has reported on a wide range of topics in science, medicine and the environment since he joined NPR in 1986. In early 2014, his focus shifted from an emphasis on climate change and the environment to biomedical research.