The release of the Hubble Space Telescope presents an inspiring example of the knowledge that can be gathered through America's space shuttle program.
The deployment of the Hubble telescope, an accomplishment that has been compared with Galileo's first use of a telescope, was completed by the crew of the Discovery space shuttle Wednesday.
Sending the telescope off to search for new worlds didn't go entirely smoothly. The shuttle crew maneuvered for hours to get one of the solar wings that will power the telescope to unfurl. Two astronauts were already in their spacesuits and poised to take a spacewalk to fix the wing when another crew member finally was able to manipulate it into space. The shuttle then set itself in orbit behind the telescope so it would be available if any repairs or adjustments were needed. Technical problems continue to frustrate ground-controllers, but in each case the wisdom and ingenuity of these engineers have been able to overcome and correct these malfunctions.
During its 15-year mission, the Hubble telescope will give astronomers the clearest view they have ever had of the universe. Without the Earth's atmosphere to distort its images, the telescope will provide a clearer, longer view. Scientists will be able to verify and make adjustments to their previous measurements and observations as well as search for new bodies and new information about the universe.
The Voyager space probe sent back spectacular pictures as it hurtled to the outer reaches of the solar system. But the view provided by Voyager is only a fleeting blink compared to what scientists expect to be able to see from the Hubble telescope. Voyager traveled for 12 years to see what the telescope is expected to bring into view within a few days. And it will be available for 15 years, giving researchers a chance to observe planets and stars over a long period of time, see how they change and how they move.
Critics of manned space flight argue that the missions undertaken by the space shuttle could be done more efficiently and inexpensively by unmanned probes. But without the expertise of humans orbiting in space, the Hubble telescope probably couldn't have been successfully deployed, and Earthbound scientists might have had to wait many years before being able to get what they expect to be a glorious and informative view of the universe.