Tuesday, August 12, 2008

One Hundred Thousand Time's a Charm.

Despite 18 years of orbit and 2.72 million miles traveled, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope continues to dutifully make its way around the Earth.

Yesterday, the Hubble completed its 100,000 orbit in space. To celebrate, scientists aimed the telescope at part of a nebula near the star cluster NGC 2074 (about 170,000 light-years away from the Earth), capturing the dazzling display (see picture on left) on camera.

The Hubble as been around well, almost as long as I've been alive. In fact, many if not all of the pictures of space I saw growing up in the nineties were taken by the Hubble. It is no doubt an icon of American space exploration!

What is so remarkable about the telescope isn't just its nearly two decades of orbit, but the countless scientific discoveries it has made possible; including confirming the existence of black holes and finding evidence for an expanding universe.

Aside from a few dents here and there, the Hubble is still sturdy and functioning. That's quite a feat, considering its orbiting hardware has only been repaired four times since its launch in 1990. A fifth repair mission was scheduled for 2003, but was terminated after the space shuttle Columbia tragedy that brought seven astronauts to their deaths.

The fifth and last Hubble repair mission is now scheduled for October 2008, when space shuttle Atlantis carries astronauts up to install new equipment and repair broken instruments. The repair should prolong Hubble's life for another 5 years, until 2013.

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