NASA Director: This could be the worst disaster NASA’s ever faced.
Gene Kranz: With all due respect, sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour.
The above quote was part of the blockbuster film Apollo 13, but it could have been easily applied to the Hubble space telescope. Launched in April 24th of 1990, the mission started out as a huge embarrassment for NASA and their partners in the European space agency (ESA), when it was realized their $2.5 billion baby had been born with myopia, due to a faulty mirror –that mistake was even exploited as a conspiracy plot in the 1996 sci-fi film The Arrival, starring Charlie Sheen.
After a one-week repair mission in 1993, the Hubble was finally able to open its eyes to the Universe, and during its 25 years of service not only has it managed to become one NASA’s most successful projects, but thanks to the spectacular images it has captured many cosmological theories have been completely revolutionized in the span of a single generation, rightly turning it into one of the greatest technological achievements in the history of our species.
Because of all this, the two agencies have launched a webpage to celebrate Hubble’s 25th anniversary next week, and many other events are being planned to commemorate its fruitful career. At the same time, many scientists are already looking to the future, and starting to envision the space telescope’s replacements: Instruments so sophisticated and powerful, they might be able to detect biological activity on faraway exoplanets.
No doubt Hubble’s successors will pose a challenge as great or even greater to NASA than the venerable telescope, especially considering how science-driven missions are “less sexy” than manned exploration, and thus harder to sell to the public. In a time when contenders are starting to get ready for presidencial race, here’s hoping the American public will force them to make a serious commitment to support Astrophotography; that we may be able to continue looking far, far away, in order to contemplate ourselves from a different perspective.
In the meantime, feast your eyes –and you imagination– with some of Hubble’s best pictures, as chosen by the scientists who’ve worked on the project:
The Butterfly Nebula
“The Butterfly Nebula shows what happens to a star at the end of its life, when it loses all of its gas and dust to its surroundings. Not only is this a reminder to the eventual fate of our own Sun and Solar System, but Hubble’s unique ability to witness this event in a star’s long life cycle sheds light on how stars evolve.” ~Jason Kalirai, project scientist, James Webb Space Telescope, Space Telescope Science Institute
The Helix Nebula
“These shells expelled by dying stars are fragmenting in tight knots of condensed gas. To me that’s fascinating because it means this material going out into the interstellar medium, the material from which new generations of stars form, already has this condensation, this tantalizing possibility of being seeds for planetary formation.” ~Robert O’Dell, astronomer, Vanderbilt University
The Pillars of Creation
“This is one of the iconic images. You see the columns of gas that signify a region where stars have recently formed and are still forming. We have a marvellous newer image with a newer camera, which gave us a visual clue as to how young stars that have recently formed are interacting with the dense gas remaining behind.” ~Jennifer Wiseman, senior project scientist, Hubble, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center