The Hubble Space Telescope: To fund or not to fund? That is the question.

Abstract

For the past 20 years Hubble Space Telescope has contributed in developing the advancement of astrology. At the present time, there is a controversy in funding economically large science projects such as the Hubble Telescope. It is important to continue funding the Hubble Space Telescope because of its benefit to the society and the scientific community. In order to continue the funding, there needs to be more publicity, advertisement, and support from universities and other space-related study organizations.


What Should Be Done?

In the past, main funding has been coming from the Congress and few investors. This controversy has been going on for a number of years and to continue receiving the fund, many actions have been taken. Astronomers themselves contributed large amount of their time to talk with the congressmen and senators. Much lobbying and large scale letter-writing campaigns have been done. Not much has been changed in the source of funding; Hubble Telescope will continue to ask for funding from the government and investors. In 2005, White House has cut the funding for Hubble Telescope. However, with the new administration with Obama, change in funding and perhaps a push for a higher funding can be done.

With the change in the Congress as Obama took place in the office, there may be a different perspective on funding of the Hubble Telescope. We can use his slogan “change” into getting the funding. We live in an era of change and the field of science has been a large part of this change. Astronomy is a developing area and will continue to be so for the next century and more. This area has yet to be discovered fully and it will be a primary determination of development in scientific field. Obama administration, pushing for change and modern advancement in society may not ignore this field. With this reasoning and other sources of support, funding needs to be requested.

Lobbying is another vital part of receiving funding. The administration of NASA lobbying is not enough. Like in the past, astronomers themselves need to spend time meeting individually with congressmen and senators in request of funding. This personal interaction and explanation would help tremendously in letting the congressmen and senators know more about the importance of funding for Hubble Telescope. Astronomy is not an every-day subject that people can understand and talk about. Therefore, lobbying and detailed information are much needed in persuading the government officials.
Not only is NASA responsible, but all the space-related organizations whether it is a club or university, is part of claiming the funding. Their desire and need for this funding need to be known to the government.

Another fundamental part of getting funding needs to come from a committee in NASA that was established in 1970 which is a committee that determines the scientific goals and missions. This committee has a huge responsibility in proposing goals and missions that the public would not only agree with but be impressed. Greater responsibility and pressure should be put on this committee. Not only coming up with the goals and missions, but successful delivery is needed. Educating these goals and missions to the other members of NASA including the astronomers is extremely important. With solid and persuading goals and missions, further approach can be made such as detailed proposal to the congress and advertisement and awareness for the public.

In case of failure in obtaining necessary amount of funding from the government, collaboration with other nations’ organizations such as European Space Agency can be done.


Contributions

The Hubble Space Telescope was not the first space telescope to be sent into orbit, but it is considered one of the largest and most versatile, and is well-known as both a public relations benefit for astronomy and a fundamental research tool. Moreover, the Hubble Space Telescope is not only an optical device; it’s also considered a space craft in its own right. Hubble is a telescope that orbits earth every 97 minutes and it is located about 600 kilometers above the ground. The fact that Hubble is located outside the atmosphere has many advantages because the atmosphere makes the images less visible or unclear and filters out electromagnetic radiation at certain wavelengths, mostly in the infrared.

The Hubble Space Telescope is one of NASA’s most successful missions. It was launched in 1990 and it was designed to operate for 15 years, but it will end up serving for 22 years. During its years of operation, it has sent hundreds of thousands of images back to earth and helped in determining the age of universe, the existence of dark energy, and the identity of quasars. In addition, the Hubble Space Telescope is able to take clear and detailed images of deep space phenomena because of its location in the outer atmosphere.

The Hubble Space Telescope is capable of showing the universe in unmatched detail which has turned astronomical assumptions into concrete certainties. It has also helped to solve some very old problems in astronomy, as well as providing explanations to a lot of new theories. Furthermore, Hubble’s discoveries have changed the way scientists look at the universe. For example, Hubble has discovered that the age of universe to be about 13 to 14 billion years which is much more accurate than the old range from 10 to 20 billion years. It has also discovered the dark energy which is a force that causes the expansion of the universe to accelerate. In the meantime, Hubble is helping scientists to understand how galaxies form by showing them galaxies in all stages of development, including toddler galaxies that were around when the universe was still young. Additionally, it has discovered that gamma-ray bursts which are incredibly powerful explosions of energy occur in far distant galaxies when massive stars collapse.

More than 6,000 scientific articles have been published based on the Hubble Space Telescope data which makes it one of history’s most important observatories. There are policies that govern the telescope such as the entire astronomical community has access to the Telescope which means any astronomer from any part of the world can submit a proposal and request time on the telescope. These polices have contributed to its great productivity.
The following are examples of what the Hubble Space Telescope has discovered:

  • Provided theatrical pictures of the collision of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 and Jupiter in 1994.
  • For the first time Hubble has provided evidences of planets surrounding stars other than the Sun.
  • Observations showed that the missing dark matter in our galaxy cannot consist exclusively of pale small stars.
  • Observations were performed using the Hubble space telescope to the current model of an accelerating universe.
  • Many observations have partially confirmed the theory that most galaxies host a black hole in their nucleus.
  • Hubble photographed the Hubble Deep Field in December 1995, which appeared to be a region covering one 30-millionth of the area of the sky and containing several thousand faint galaxies. Images of a similar area from the other side of sky was also taken and looked extremely similar, which strengthen the position that the universe is uniform over large scales, and that earth occupies a typical place in the universe.

There is no doubt that the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) has produced images and findings about space that have greatly furthered the human races knowledge. However, there is still the question “are the findings worth the cost of the Hubble’s creation and upkeep”. It is hard to understand if the findings are worth the cost based on opinions from the general public or the scientific society, due to the large difference in thought between the two groups. The best way to support that the HST is worth the cost would be to compare the economic statistics of the HST project versus other tax payer funded projects. In doing this we can show that the cost of the telescope is well worth the funding based upon its findings and the opportunities it has created.

First there should be some background added to the explanation of the economic impact that this project has created. The telescope is not paid for just with United States taxes, it is also paid with some money from European tax payers. It is true that the United States has put in the vast majority of the budget but there are other countries that find this project important enough to give money to it. Since its conception it has been under budget cuts, in one case the budget cuts put forth by the Bush administration almost caused the project to be scraped. Therefore, even though the amount spent on the Hubble telescope may seem to be a lot, the value has been spread out over the 20 years and has be already cut back great amounts.

There is no doubt that the HST is one of the most expensive pieces of scientific equipment ever built. The research and creation of the telescope in the 1980’s cost about two billion dollars and was the largest amount of money ever spent on a piece of equipment in the scientific community [1]. Over its 20 year span the HST has needed upgrades and repairs; one of the more universally known repairs was for the blurry pictures that it was taking. These repairs have cost about another eight billion dollars. Therefore, from the telescopes creation and operation time span the system has used approximately ten billion dollars [2].

Although this seems to be a large amount of money, it has been spread out over a period of 20 years and has been taken out in yearly budgets, not all at once. Ten billion dollars over 30 years is about three dollars a year from the tax payers each year.

Compared to the overall budget of the United States, the spending on the Hubble Telescope and all of its components it is a very small amount. For the year of 2010 NASA has a budget of about 18.7 billion dollars where other areas have a substantially larger budget: [3]

  • Defense - $666 billion.
  • Education - $122.2 billion.
  • Transportation - $118.6 billion.
  • Health and Human Services - $102.5 billion.
  • Energy - $65.1 billion.
  • Housing and Urban Development - $53.7 billion.

The meager amount of the budget that NASA receives, compared to the areas above, is one percent of the total discretionary spending throughout the government. From the 18.7 billion dollars for 2010, the section of NASA that operates and researches with the Hubble gets about 3.2 billion dollars [4], which is about seventeen percent of the total space agency’s budget. In comparison to the entire 2010 the budget for the Hubble and its successor, the James Webb telescope, it is less than 0.18 % of the total.

In an overall view, NASA is one of the few government funded departments that contributes back into the economy. Due to NASA’s need for new technology to advance there is a lot of technical work and research that goes on in the organization. From all that technical work and research comes the new technology needed, but, there is also opportunities gained to contribute back to the economy. The new technologies that came along from the research have brought in about ten times what was paid to create them. In a very practical sense for each dollar of NASA spending there would be ten dollars that would go back into the economy [3]. In one year NASA was estimated to have produced a 180 billion dollar contribution to the economy [3]. The only other government based spending area that could match his number would be that of the Department of Defense.


Future Possibilities

After 20 years in space and several repairs, the Hubble Space Telescope will soon meet its end. There are two main causes of the telescope’s demise, equipment failure and orbital decay. Last year in May of 2009, the Hubble Space Telescope underwent its last repair before the end of its service life. Equipment failure is inevitable and will continue to happen regardless of service repairs. Also, the Hubble Telescope is currently orbiting in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, so due to drag it orbit is slowly decaying. If the telescope continues to orbit freely with no interference, NASA predicts it will re-enter sometime between 2019 and 2032. NASA originally wanted to bring the telescope back with a shuttle, but they are now considering a controlled re-entry using an external propulsion module. However, as the Hubble Telescope’s service life draws to an end, several successors are beginning to come about.

The James Webb Space Telescope is planned to launch no earlier than June of 2014. This telescope uses infrared rather than visible light to observe stars in space. This lets it to see past much of the space dust that blocked the view of the Hubble Telescope. This allows the telescope to see stars that are much further away and can detect objects such as planets. It can also view highly red-shifted objects from the early days of the universe. The infrared makes it convenient for examining cores of universes that are covered in gas and dust. Its incorporation of microshutters creates a squinting motion much like the human eye which means it can see the faint light of stars and galaxies even if it is adjacent to other brighter objects. The James Webb Telescope has four major objectives: to search for light from the first stars and galaxies that formed after the Big Bang, to study the creation and evolution of galaxies, to understand the formation of stars and planetary systems and to study origins of life in planetary systems.

The Advanced Technology Large-Aperture Space Telescope is believed to be the true replacement for the Hubble Space Telescope. However, it has only been proposed as of now. If approved, built and launched, it will the ability to observe objects in space in ultraviolet, optical, and infrared wavelengths, but with much higher resolution than the Hubble Telescope and James Webb Telescope. This would allow for the detection of “biosignatures” such as oxygen, ozone, water, and methane which could be a major step towards discovering life on other planets. It can also reveal the underlying physics of star formation and trace the complex interactions between dark matter, galaxies, and the intergalactic medium. It is such an advancement in observing capabilities that it is impossible to fully anticipate what it may discover, much like when the Hubble Telescope was made.

There are also a few ground based telescopes that are currently in the making that exceed the abilities of the Hubble Telescope. The three that have yet to be finished but have funding are the European Extremely Large Telescope, the Thirty Meter Telescope, and the Giant Magellan Telescope. All of these contain mirrors with well over an aperture of twenty meters making it possible to view objects in space with better resolution that the Hubble Telescope.

Many of these successors are being built with assistance from other agencies world-wide. This means that NASA is not the only organization looking for advances in space exploration. Other agencies they are working alongside of include the European Space Agency, Canadian Space agency, and several others. NASA is merely a member of a team that is searching for answers to the world’s most important questions such as, “Is there life on other planets?” “How old is our universe?” and “How was our universe created?” The entire world, not just the US, relies on the contribution of this nation and without it, getting these answers could very likely be delayed for years. It is important for people to realize that by not funding agencies like NASA, they are not funding only national effort, but a global effort for exploration and discoveries in space.


Conclusion

The Hubble Space Telescope is a necessary piece of scientific equipment that should be kept up until a time where it can be replaced. Due to the Hubble we have learned so much about the universe that was previously unknown and unobtainable. Here are the facts that should be remembered and thought about.

Since the Hubble is mainly funded by the government and investors, recently working more towards the investor side, what needs to be done is make it a much more public concern and point of intrigue. There should be more press, more advertising, more recruiting, and more support for the telescope in its time of need. Space programs have recently been hit hard by the economic times and have lost a lot of the public's view due to their lack of understanding on how it affects them. This is when we need something like the Hubble to show that there is more out there and that we should all be working to achieve what is still not in our grasp of understanding.

The HST has brought the world images of space that were previously only dreamed of. Through its pictures the Hubble has made the area of astrology from an area of mostly assumptions into one that has hard facts and concrete evidence now. Due to the Hubble we now can say that dark matter exists, there is a center of the universe and that there are several hundred other galaxies that we can see now.

There is no doubt that the Hubble telescope cost a good deal and has gone through some hard times before it seemed that it was worth all the hassle. However, the Hubble has brought scientific marvels at a very small cost to the world. In comparison with budgets for other areas of the government the telescope has only cost fractions of a percent yet has been able to do so much. Through the Hubble we have also seen the advancement of many technologies that have intern helped our daily lives and put billions back into the economy.

The upkeep of the Hubble and it successor the James Webb Telescope is important goal for the future because it does not just mean advancements for the people who pay for it but everyone and anyone that has access to the information it provides. The future of space exploration is becoming more and more and international effort and being able to see what is around us will be something that is necessary and wanted.

In conclusion the Hubble Space Telescopes and it successor is a scientific advancement that has far outweighed its cost. This piece of equipment has given more than just information about the universe around us but a hope for more of what we have not seen.


Resources

[1]Dunar, Andrew, and Stephen Waring. "Chapter XII The Hubble Space Telescope." MSFC History Office. MSFC History Office, n.d. Web. 29 Jun 2010. <http://history.msfc.nasa.gov/book/chpttwelve.pdf>.

[2] Moskowitz, Clara. "Is the broken Hubble Telescope worth saving?." USA TODAY .com. Space.com, 10/1/2008. Web. 30 Jun 2010. <http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/space/2008-10-01-hubble_N.htm>.

[3] Amadeo, Kimberly. "How Much Does NASA Cost." About.com. About.com, NA. Web. 30 Jun 2010. <http://useconomy.about.com/od/usfederalbudget/p/nasa_budget_cost.htm>.

[4] "National Aeronautics and Space Administration." Office of Management and Budget. The White House, NA. Web. 1 Jul 2010. <http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/factsheet_department_nasa/>.

[5] John Matson (May 8, 2009). "Last Dance with the Shuttle: What's in Store for the Final Hubble Servicing Mission". Scientific American. Retrieved May 18, 2009.

[6] "What Will Astronomy Be Like in 35 Years?” Astronomy magazine. August 2008.

[7] Guardian. August 2005. < http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2006/aug/05/spaceexploration.universe>

[8] Fienberg, Rick (2007-09-14). "Sharpening the 200-inch (5,100 mm)". News. Sky and Telescope magazine. Retrieved 2008-07-01.

[9] Hubble Site. The Telescope Hubble Essentials, 2010. Web. 1 July 2010 <http://hubblesite.org/the_telescope/hubble_essentials/>

[10] Space Science. ESA, 2010. Web.1 July 2010 <http://www.esa.int/esaSC/120370_index_0_m.html>

[11] Armageddononline.org, Hubble Space Telescope, 2010. Web. 1 July 2010 <http://www.armageddononline.org/hubble_space_telescope.php>FUNDING COMPARISON


Joon Song

I’m going to play the devil’s advocate and deny funding for the Hubble Space Telescope. To say the Hubble is beneficial is an understatement; however, it doesn’t seem sensible or realistic to pour money into the project at the moment. External factors, such as the recession, will undoubtedly draw the community towards favoring other departments. While, $18.7 billion is paltry relative to other government segments, it is nonetheless an expensive one percent. Additionally, the content in the article seems to contradict the authors’ position. The satellite has already exceeded its expected age, so why continue service repairs if, and I’m quoting, “failure is inevitable”? My suggestion would be develop a new satellite, but that would require more than a meager $18.7 billion in funding. But apparently, NASA has taken my advice and successor telescopes are already scheduled for launch. Therefore, funding the depreciated Hubble doesn’t make much sense; it’s already being replaced, and to add to the onslaught, the Hubble hasn’t made new discoveries for over a decade. Momentarily, the age of the universe, dark energy, and quasar identification aren’t reason enough to deviate from more critical projects such as health care reform or defense. My recommendation to strengthen the article is to clarify and elaborate on how new technologies contribute to the economy. Only a snippet is mentioned, and I’m still waiting for the movie to start.


Robert Kania

I agree with Joon in not funding the Hubble anymore. If the new telescope is capable of taking infrared pictures, it will be much more accurate and provide much more detail, allowing more in depth analysis. Also, the author does seem to contradict him/herself a lot as Joon said. I still believe though that the hubble shouldn't be one of our worries right now. If replacements are already ready, why not spend the money (or save it) for a trip to the moon? If the money doesn't have to be used by NASA though, then it should be used by the government to fuel the economy, because at the moment we are looking at a possible double dip recession.

I definitely agree with the statements that the hubble program needs more support and publicity, but doesn't the whole space program in general need this kind of support? Right now Americans tend to find the space program a waste of money, and why wouldn't we? There hasn't been a major advancement in space travel since the 70s. Yes, we have nice satellites up there for telecommunications and a nice ISS, but none of that compares to landing on the moon (if we did :P). So I really believe that the space program in general needs to be promoted in a positive light.

In addition I have taken the time to fix several of your grammatical errors.

--Aunye' Boone

I believe that funding for the Hubble Space Telescope should only be focused upon de-orbiting the spacecraft and bringing it back to Earth. The HST has definitely served its purpose of bringing assumptions of outer space into “concrete evidence”, but its functions are slowly decaying. The James Webb Space Telescope digs far more into the depths of space, and as more successors are being established, the HST should be put to rest. In 2006, the White House cut the Hubble Servicing Mission from the budget request, leaving the money left for HST to work upon a propulsion mission to guide the telescope safely back to the Pacific Ocean. After a meeting between White House officials and NASA, and agreed that with the cost exceeding $1billion, NASA “simply could not afford to save Hubble given everything else it has on its agenda”. Currently in 2010, the HST remains in space and regarded to us Earthly citizens as a thing of the past. I admit that as a young adult, I had no idea of what the HST was or what its contribution were for not only the United States, but the world. By reading this wiki article it opened my eyes to advocating funding towards bringing the HST back on Earth and preserving significant artifacts or pictures that are found upon its return. This article was very informative as to why the HST has been allowed to roam around space for so long, but does not explain how the pictures and findings have contributed to the world around us. I recommend providing a youtube video that describes the images and information gathered from the HST and how it can be useful in our world today as it competes among its other telescope successors.
Source: http://www.space.com/news/hubble_budget_050121.html
Author: Brian Berger

Recommended Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mcBV-cXVWFw (Over 3,000 galaxies captured)
Describes the HST and its most important image taken ever, capturing the picture of our universe and the Earth’s place within it. The universe is a large place and telescopes only broaden our scope and allow humans to how much life and mystery is out there.


John Anderson

I agree that the Hubble Space Telescope has provided us with enough information to justify funding the Hubble, but I disagree with increased funding from the government. I believe that the Hubble is a great technology that will benefit mankind, but right now our country is facing much bigger problems. In an ideal world, the Hubble could be funded by various public sponsors. Unfortunately, funding the Hubble is not one of the nation’s top priorities right now, so funding the Hubble will remain a controversy until more important issues are solved. I am not saying that we do not need the Hubble in any way. The Hubble is a gateway for knowledge unattainable on Earth. I agree that increased advertising would benefit the Hubble controversy as well as the overall funding of science. The Hubble has provided us with so much useful information in the past, but how much new information can be obtained old technology? NASA is already funding new projects, so should we continue to fund an old project? The development and implementation of the Hubble will provide ways to build on this technology to develop a new telescope, the James Webb, in a more efficient manner. The article is well-organized and provides an example of the greater controversy of funding scientific research in general. I enjoyed learning more about the Hubble and the challenges that come with it.


Song Han

I completely agree with your point. The Hubble Space Telescope should be adequately funded for the interests of the mankind. However, I believe currently it will not be able to be funded properly. Here are a few reasons. First, let’s look at seeking findings from the Government. Congress is a very complicated system. Each congress person has his or her specific role to play, and every bill trying to pass involves not only personal political point of view but also that of certain special interests groups. Unfortunately, people do not care this proposal very much because it usually on the bottom of their priority list. In other words, supporting funding in the Hubble space telescope will not help them become the next president or a millionaire. That is why you hardly see any debating on the subject in Congress. Then, there are findings from private investors. From the position of cold-blooded businessmen, the only thing interested is the profit. Comparatively, they are more interested in next generation cell phone, bigger TV, or much advanced computers. A long term investment in the Hubble Space Telescope is just not in their to-do list. I hope in a distant future, when people start to look at the sky, they should finally realize the importance of this project.


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