This week marks the fifteenth anniversary of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope. As we watched Hubble lift off the launch pad, we had great hopes for Hubble and great hopes for science. Hubble was to usher in a new era in astronomy and science. And it has done just that.
Hubble has exceeded all expectations. Hubble is the greatest tool for studying the universe since Galileo’s invented the telescope. Because of the Hubble Telescope, we are now living in what astronomers are calling the “Golden Age” of astronomy. How incredible. How spectacular.
It has been America’s gift to the world. It has been one of the greatest acts of public diplomacy in history. Hubble has become a symbol of America’s generosity of spirit. It has become the very symbol of science for our children – and their parents. Hubble even has its own website. It gets e-mail messages from children and families. E-mails such as: ‘Did you see God today? Have you met an angel? Is there another universe? What does it look like?’ They actually talk to Hubble.
It’s become our very own science advisor. It’s not surprising. Just look at it accomplishments. Hubble has accounted for 35% of all NASA discoveries for the past 30 years. Hubble has seen farther and sharper than any telescope in history. It has observed more than 14,000 objects in the universe. It sends back enough data every day to fill an encyclopedia. It has been the Number 1 producer of science for NASA for the past 10 years.
Astronomers have published 2,651 scientific papers on Hubble results. It has dramatically improved our understanding of the atmosphere of planets, the size of galaxies, the birth, life and death of stars, the existence of Black Holes, the age of the universe and how the universe expands.
The Ultra Deep Field, taken last year, shows the universe as it existed 12 billion years ago. This one photograph will keep astronomers busy for almost decade. Hubble has re-written science textbooks almost every year. It has exceeded our wildest expectations. But it did not start out that way.
When it was launched, NASA soon discovered that Hubble had a cataract. It needed surgery and a new contact lens. Now, I never saw myself as a space ophthalmologist. But working with my dear friend, Jake Garn, we took a risk that Hubble was worth it. We took the risk because we believed in Hubble’s potential. We believed in the engineers and scientists at NASA, at Goddard and the Space Telescope Institute. We believed in our astronauts, that they could fly to Hubble, fix it and return safely to Earth. Thanks to those astronauts and engineers, Hubble was saved.
Each servicing mission renewed, refreshed and reinvigorated Hubble. New scientific instruments increased Hubble’s power by a factor of 10 after every servicing mission.
Hubble is an American success story, from the brink of failure to extraordinary success. Hubble is a triumph of American engineering and a symbol of discovery and exploration in space. It has been our gift to the world. It has given us a legacy of science, discovery and international cooperation. What better symbol of America’s spirit?
Last year, NASA announced it was terminating the final servicing mission for Hubble. Without one more servicing mission, Hubble would shut down in four years. I was shocked by this decision, and I asked for second opinion. NASA’s stated reason for terminating the final servicing mission was concern over astronaut safety. I absolutely agree that astronaut safety must be the single most important guiding principle for human space flight. As our astronauts prepare to return to space next month, our hearts and prayers are with Colonel Collins and her entire crew.
But the more I looked at NASA’s decision about Hubble, the more questions I had. That’s why I asked for a second opinion. I asked the National Academy of Sciences to look at all the issues surrounding a Hubble servicing mission. The study was led by Dr. Lou Lanzerotti and a blue chip group of engineers and scientists. They concluded that a servicing mission was no more riskier than going to the space station.
Once the Shuttle starts flying again, it will be time to take a another look at using the Space Shuttle for a Hubble servicing mission. I know that NASA Administrator Griffin intends to conduct a thorough review of Hubble after the Shuttle returns to flight. I welcome this decision. I have been fighting for Hubble for over a decade. I am going to keep fighting for Hubble today and tomorrow.
It is an American success story – American technology, American engineering, and American scientific achievement. But maybe Hubble’s greatest gift has been the inspiration and excitement it has generated for our children.
One of the greatest challenges our nation faces is the need to produce more engineers and scientists. Hubble has created excitement and interest in science- much the same way that Apollo did over three decades ago. If we are going to maintain our lead in science, we need Hubble. The best is yet to come for Hubble.
I hope that NASA will service Hubble one last time so that another generation will see what we can only now imagine.