Big news in the astronomy world. There will be another servicing mission for the Hubble Space Telescope. This reverses the previous decision not to return to Hubble after the Columbia accident, which reverses the previous decision to have a fifth servicing mission to replace instruments and gyroscopes.
The Hubble has a fascinating history. Many don’t know that it was actually built to be serviced, with instruments and gyroscopes (engineering parts that essentially help to balance the telescope and aim it remotely) replaced every 250,000,000 miles or so (really!). Every few years, astronauts go up in the shuttle, replace any instruments that have stopped working or are scheduled to be replaced, and install new instruments with capabilities far beyond the state-of-the-art that existed at Hubble’s launch in 1990. Amazingly, this telescope that was built with 1980’s technology is still one of NASA’s greatest assets. This telescope has captured over 750,000 images in its lifetime, many among the most breathtaking ever released by NASA. Over 6,300 scientific papers have been published using Hubble’s results, and the images are publicly available for all.
What can we tell the kids about this? Well, even the very youngest children will appreciate the well-focused pictures of planets, stars, galaxies, and deep space. We can tell them that Hubble is only the size of a school bus, it weighs as much as two elephants, and it was developed by scientists and engineers who were once little girls and boys just like they are. We can listen to cool songs about Hubble, written by a group of singers from Goddard Space Flight Center known as The Chromatics. We can take them to see models of the Hubble and its primary mirror at the Goddard Visitor Center in Maryland or the National Air and Space Museum when visiting Washington, D.C. We can visit web pages set up just for kids to learn about Hubble.
Most importantly, we can bundle our kids up, take them outside just after dark, and show them the beauty and majesty of the stars at night. No special knowledge is required for this, and anyone can do it. The wonder of astronomy is shared best on a cold night, holding a warm hand, while we let ourselves step back and enjoy the wonder of the skies.