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Space telescopes keep improving

A View From the Edge

The images are pretty amazing (oh, yes, and beautiful). The Hubble images astound us still, even after 32 years! Now we have The James Webb Space Telescope sending back astounding images, broadening our concept of the vastness, yet exciting contents, of space. And in case you have not heard, now NASA has another priority project: the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope set to launch in five years. Why another?

Space exploration is all about frequencies of radiation and light. Hubble is great at infra-red detection, Roman will be 200 times greater. It has a silver coated mirror reflector (Hubble’s is gold) allowing greater spectroscopy. What for you ask? If you want to find another Earth out there, you need to be able to “read” the spectral analysis of distant solar systems to accurately know the composition of planets’ make up. Is there enough water? Is there an atmosphere to breathe in? What, exactly are the temperatures on the surface?

Roman can’t do this on its own. It needs both Hubble and Webb. It’s kind of like going to the doctor for an X-ray, a sonogram, and an MRI… together they give your doctor a better clue what’s going on. Each on their own can indicate what is maybe there, but only together can they provide an accurate picture.

The problem for NASA is that Hubble is on a very high orbit that is deteriorating. It will, in the next 10 years or so, start to impact with the atmosphere and eventually fall to Earth. It needs a boost (and servicing, as astronauts on the Shuttle did several times before). Its gyroscopes and instruments are starting to fail. 32 years of hard work are taking their toll.

In comes private astronaut Isaacman who bankrolled and flew in a SpaceX Dragon flight last year. He wants, and NASA seems likely to award the contract for, a flight to Hubble’s high orbit of 332 miles to boost, well, dock and push, Hubble higher. There’s discussion on whether a space walk will be allowed by the private flight to service Hubble, that decision will come down next year after careful study and perhaps the Dragon next test flight where Isaacman promises to do a first-ever private spacewalk. Isaacman’s flights are being renamed Polaris missions. Keep an eye out for them.

The thing that’s really going to make a difference for your kids and grandkids’ futures? When three instruments are in orbit and focus in on and identify habitable planets, the next “go West young man” fever will commence.


Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now lives in New Mexico.

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