Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Hubble versus the aliens

Prepared Statement of Michael Griffin before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science

NASA Administrator Michael Griffen is looking to service the Hubble Space Telescope, reversing the decision made by his predecessor to crash the satellite to Earth. This alone would be great news, because the HST is one of the most significant pieces of scientific equipment ever invented in the history of science. It has revolutionized our understanding of astronomy and physics and can continue to do so if it can stick around to do it.

But the news is mixed, because funding a Hubble servicing mission means pushing back two other groundbreaking missions, the Space Interferometry Mission and the Terrestrial Planet Finder. These two telescopes will definitively and unequivocally answer the question of how common Earthlike planets are in the galaxy, and go a long way toward characterizing those they find. We would know what the neighborhood looks like, and in many cases even be able to detect the chemical signs of life. They would have been launched in 2011 and 2014, respectively. Now, who knows?

Of course, this is ironically good for science fiction writers, because the longer it is before we know what's really out there, the longer they can keep making up whatever they want!


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