Today, NASA announced that it will continue to maintain the Hubble Telescope, a remarkable window on far outer space that was only recently relegated to the “endangered species” list of visionary projects abandoned in the post-9/11 world of more immediate governmental priorities.
Call me a hopeless romantic for “The Right Stuff” days, a “space junkie” who once fantasized about learning to fly and becoming an astronaut. Ok, so I was dreaming of all that in the third grade in 1962 when John Glenn went into orbit in a Mercury space capsule, and girls weren’t suppposed to have dreams like that — Sally Ride was also still in grade school, but she acted on her dreams of space flight, ultimately becoming the first woman in orbit 20 years after John Glenn’s famous ride.
Over the years, America’s space exploration program had triumphs and tragedies, and a full measure of controversy over its utility and effectiveness. But the space program also reaped tremendous advances for modern life — and not just Tang! From teflon to advanced medical imaging devices and cordless power tools and new materials for fighting fires or skiing down mountains — and Dish TV, anyone? — the inventions first used in space exploration have become part of our contemporary world.But even more than such tangible benefits, images from the space program made us all explorers, intrepid adventurers beyond the visible sky toward distant stars and galaxies. For the last 16 years, the Hubble Telescope has provided an even more remarkable vision of worlds once beyond our wildest imagination. With its powerful lenses, Hubble has shared photographs of distant galaxies (available to download on the NASA website) with the inhabitants of Planet Earth, opening new perspectives on our place in this great universe. So, when the possibility arose a few years ago that the Hubble program would end due to budget constraints, astronomers were not the only ones alarmed by the prospect of ending this extraordinary window into outer space. Teachers, philosophers, spiritual leaders and ordinary citizens all need Hubble’s eye on the universe streaming a profoundly moving visual meditation on our small place in God’s vast creation.
So, I’m glad and grateful that the leadership at NASA found a way to keep Hubble going — for the scientists who can learn so much more from the data it returns to NASA, and for all the third grade girls out there who will look at Hubble’s pictures of nebulae and distant planets and imagine their own future expeditions beyond the stars they know today.