back to article Hubble’s cosmic science is mind-blowing, but its soul celebrates something surprising about us

As these words are written, the Hubble SpaceTelescope is out of commission, victim of a computer fault yet to be diagnosed. It still orbits 550km up, still automatically aiming itself at targets in this galaxy and others. But it is a zombie dance. Its instruments are blind and deaf, waiting for instructions from an onboard …

  1. Ozzard

    And just like Arecibo, it will eventually fall victim to budget cuts.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      It will fall - and, unfortunately maybe has fallen - victim to long term operation in a hostile environment combined with a lack of means to service it without the Shuttle.

      The end of the Shuttle programme may well have been in part due to budget cuts but also due to the fact that it had shown itself to be unsafe to an extent that was no longer acceptable.

    2. SundogUK Silver badge

      Nothing humans build will last forever. (Except the Pyramids at Giza; they'll outlast the human race for sure...) Stuff will fail. Blaming it on 'budget cuts' is pointlessly political given the immensity of what it has already accomplished.

  2. Potemkine! Silver badge

    1 Hubble, 18 KH-11. We see where the priorities are.

    1. Julz Silver badge

      Hum, not really true in anything but sentiment.

    2. SundogUK Silver badge

      We needed one Hubble and 11 spy satellites. I don't see the Russians or Chinese in any hurry to send up a replacement.

  3. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Beautiful piece which unfortunately almost reads like an obituary

    Thank you for this take on the technical history of Hubble.

    Now let us all cross our fingers that the boffins and engineers will once again wrest victory from the jaws of defeat.

    Here's hoping, against all odds, that Hubble will once again grace us with Science, and more beautiful pictures.

  4. David Harper 1

    Alas, ground-based astronomy is blighted by satellite mega-constellations

    "Some might say it’s time to move on. A lot of Hubble’s science can now be done from the ground, after 30 years of huge advances in observatory engineering."

    Except that ground-based astronomy is now being increasingly blighted by satellite mega-constellations such as Starlink. When the James Webb Space telescope is launched, it may be the only world-class telescope whose images are not filled with satellite trails.

  5. DrBobK

    Pale Blue Dot.

    You mentioned Earthrise and the Blue Marble, but the other image that bright a lump to my throat is Pale Blue Dot.

    BTW, I have no knowledge of these things, but I imagine the NSA could have many reasons to doing a bit of spectroscopy with a telescope aimed downwards.

    1. My-Handle Silver badge

      Re: Pale Blue Dot.

      I have "The Day the Earth Smiled" as my desktop background at work.

  6. cray74

    Correcting the Corrector?

    "Every picture you’ve seen that took your breath away is courtesy of COSTAR..."

    After 16 years of producing incredible pictures, COSTAR was removed from Hubble in 2009 during the STS-125 servicing mission. You can now see COSTAR in the National Air and Space Museum. Since 2009, all instruments in Hubble have their own, built-in corrective optics. COSTAR's bay is now occupied by the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph.

    1. ovation1357 Bronze badge

      Re: Correcting the Corrector?

      Wow! I completely missed this. I remember watching a documentary about the servicing mission where COSTAR was installed - I had a physics teacher who was a keen astronomer. It was a mind blowing piece of engineering and a teenage me was seriously impressed

      But I had no idea that they'd subsequently managed to remove it. Is the replacement spectrometer the same instrument they originally had to sacrifice in order to fit COSTAR?

      1. HammerOn1024

        Re: Correcting the Corrector?

        No. It's a more advanced system.

      2. cray74

        Re: Correcting the Corrector?

        Is the replacement spectrometer the same instrument they originally had to sacrifice in order to fit COSTAR?

        Nope. The original sacrificed for COSTAR was considered the least important of the main Hubble instruments. It was a photometer, not a spectrometer, meant to assess the brightness and polarity of celestial objects. This is useful if, say, you wanted to determine the distance of celestial object, spot transiting exoplanets, or estimate the rotational periods of stars. The replacement instrument COS was a spectrometer meant to figure out the "mass, distribution, motions, temperatures, and compositions of matter in the Universe."

  7. David Pearce

    Was the issue that the KH-11 mirror actually focused on the earth and not infinity?

    1. Red Ted Silver badge
      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Red Ted is correct. Hubble's mirror was ground to insanely precise specs. Slightly incorrect specs, to be sure, but still insanely precise.

        I suspect that the spy satellites had different optical requirements since they needed to focus on Earth's (much closer) surface, so I'd guess they wouldn't have the same error as Hubble's mirror.

  8. Arthur the cat Silver badge
    Thumb Up


    Wonderful word. If only I'd had a reliable supply of dewonkifiers, my life would have been a lot easier.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: "dewonkifier"

      You say that, but just you wait until "Wonko the sane" turns up to post a comment...

      1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

        Re: "dewonkifier"

        Presumably applying a dewonkifier would make him "O the sane".

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "dewonkifier"

      You could put it in your toolbox next to the dewokeifiers.

  9. Michael H.F. Wilkinson

    best of the best bodgerissimae

    A phrase to cherish. Fingers crossed someone has an uber-smart idea to fix Hubble one more time

    1. Lorribot Silver badge

      Re: best of the best bodgerissimae

      A bodger was actually a skilled craftsman who would turn chair legs and stretchers, often in the forrest on a human powered lathe, mostly from Beech. He would then take these to a chair maker. It has also been used more latterly to a travelling fixer of things made of wood, similar to a tinker who mainly worked metal. Which where the verbs to tinker and to bodge derive from.

      On this basis I suspect it was more a case of best tinkerissimae as I would imagine there was very little turning of wood involved.

      1. Chris G Silver badge

        Re: best of the best bodgerissimae

        Bodging is usually done with green (unseasoned) wood, including oak, willow, hazel, chestnut and others as well as beech, I have an acquaintance in the UK who is a Bodger.

        Though he makes his own seats and does the assembly.

      2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: best of the best bodgerissimae

        Please do not make such comments! You're giving me flashbacks to my primary school trip to the High Wycombe Chair Museum, when I was 6. The most boring school trip ever to be inflicted on innocent children. There were no interactive displays, buttons to press, animals to pet or even nice things to buy in the shop. Plus it was walking distance to the school, so not even a bus trip.

        I drew a sketch of an A frame lathe, such as was used by bodgers in the woods around the town to make chair legs. Even the trip to the dentists we did the same year was more interesting - where you had to brush your teeth after staining them red with disclosing tablets, to try and teach you how to brush properly.

        1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

          Re: best of the best bodgerissimae

          Oh god, I once spent a week in High Wycombe on a training course, sans transport. I asked both the hotel staff and the Symbolics people what there was to do in the place. To a man/woman/dog(delete as appropriate) they'd all say "I'm not from here, I just come here for work" followed by a long pause and then "well … there's the Furniture Museum". I didn't even get to see that as it closed at the same time my training course ended each day!

          1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

            Re: best of the best bodgerissimae

            In the 90s, High Wycombe had a tourist information office on the corner of the High Street. It should have just had a sign on the window saying "flee!". But was actually full of leaflets on racks with what were probably deeply unhelpful suggestions.

          2. Tom 7 Silver badge

            Re: best of the best bodgerissimae

            I'm not sure the furniture museum would be to everyone's taste but down my local brewery every weekend a group of people from a local furniture making residential course come for a few beers and they seem a lot more human and entertaining than a lot of keyboard warriors I've worked with. One thing about getting older is (if you're lucky) you drop the bigoted and limited views of youth and realise boredom is down to your inability to actually realise there's a vast amount of fun to be had in almost everything if you'd only let yourself. And you'd really think a group of people who spend half their fucking lives sitting on their arses would at least have an interest in chairs FFS. Talk about pissing in your chips.

      3. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: best of the best bodgerissimae

        I got a nice book on green woodworking and with ash dieback destroying a lot of my trees I thought I'd get it out and make the pole-lathe design in it. After lots of searching I realised I'd loaned it to my local Mens-Shed so have been waiting for that to re-open rather than buy a new one. And then Delta comes along! You know when you've been johnsoned!

  10. PBealo

    As I recall, The NRO sats are tested end-to-end. NASA elected to forego that testing to save money and test only components, not the entire system. That's where the screw up happened. Perkin Elmar had two test "rigs": one said the primary mirror was good, one said bad. They opted to believe the good...idiots.

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