It is hard to exaggerate the scientific, cultural and historic significance of the Hubble Space Telescope. It is one of the finest human achievements of all time. It is nothing less than children of the Universe being able to see the world from which they came, the Universe itself verifying it is there. In a time where events are measured in nanoseconds, Hubble assures us the expanding Universe has another thirty billion years to go.
The staff of life, water and carbon, have been detected on planets as far away as the imagination of the men that invented, launched and support Hubble. The exotics of "dark energy", exploding stars, super novas and the collision of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 are daily fare served up by the Hubble.
Hubble defines cool and vision, in every sense of the word, yet it is threatened by lesser men blinded by information and data.
On Saturday, The Advanced Camera for Surveys, or ACS, an instrument installed by space shuttle astronauts in 2002, failed. The ACS had greatly expanded the telescope's visual reach into the universe and has taken the sharpest pictures of the birth of galaxies. The birth of these galaxies is measured in billions of years in the past.
The ACS's power supply failed, shutting the instrument off. At the same time, the observatory entered a protective mode, automatically turning off the other instruments, too. NASA engineers turned Hubble on Sunday, but the space agency says two of the three functions of the ACS instrument may never be restored. As a result, it has lost its unique ability to take extremely deep views of the universe to detect the most distant and oldest objects. It can no longer help us understand who we are and what we are part of, nor can it peer into the inner reaches of other galaxies, neighboring stars, planets or planets being formed.
Space shuttle astronauts are scheduled to upgrade Hubble for the fifth and last time around May or June of next year. They will install other new instruments and renew its batteries and the gyroscopes that stabilize it in orbit. The mission is expected to extend Hubble's life. We should expect and demand no less.