Good news for anyone interested in the nature and content of our universe: NASA has reversed course and decided to repair the Hubble Space telescope. For many with an interest in astronomy, the idea that this fine instrument would be allowed to fall out of orbit seemed quite mad.
The refit, which should take place in 2008, should extend the life of the telescope until at least 2013. The primary objective will be to replace failing batteries and gyroscopes, though new instruments will also be installed.
The Hubble instrument has already generated some of the most important data in the history of astronomy and cosmology, including totally new information on very distant objects generated through the use of gravitational lenses: where the light-bending properties of galaxies are used on a massive scale to resolve extremely distant objects. Since the light being observed has been traveling for so long, such views are also a glimpse into a much earlier time in the development of the universe.
In contrast to manned space flight – which is inspirational but not always very scientifically useful – it is this kind of experimentation that we should be focusing our research dollars and efforts upon.