Schoolchildren everywhere know about the Hubble Space Telescope and its amazing pictures of the universe, and also how it’s slowly decaying and will probably be abandoned someday soon. But fear not, space enthusiasts, don’t be sad, Time has some good news for you:
The National Science Foundation has just revealed the existence of not one but two pristine, Hubble-class space telescopes still in their original wrappings in a warehouse in Rochester, N.Y. The pair was originally built for the National Reconnaissance Office, the agency in charge of spy satellites, to look down at Earth rather than up into space. But the NRO has moved on to bigger and better instruments, and decided to hand the telescopes over. “It just blew me away when I heard about this,” says Princeton astrophysicist David Spergel, a member of the National Academy of Science’s Committee on Astrophysics and Astronomy. “I knew nothing about it.”
I suppose that’s a good view of the relative size of the military/intelligence budget compared to the science budget in this country. NASA has been stressing out for years now over the fate of Hubble, alternately canceling it and giving it another year or two. Their Mars rovers, landed in 2004, were supposed to last for 90 days; one finally died in 2010 while the other is still going today. Contrast that with the NRO, which apparently has so many telescopes it can’t even get them all deployed before some are obsolete. “You guys want this thing? We got like 50 of them, somewhere.”
But what the heck, I’ll take it anyway. Still a spot of good news in the midst of the Eurodämmerung.
Ryan Cooper is the Monthly handyman. Follow him on Twitter @RyanLouisCooper.