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The end might be near: The Hubble Space Telescope went into safe mode this weekend when one of its three working gyroscopes failed.
Hubble has six gyroscopes, all of which were replaced by spacewalking astronauts during a servicing mission in May 2009. The telescope needs three working gyroscopes to “ensure optimal efficiency,” mission team members have written, and the failure brings that number down to two (if the “problematic” one that had been off can’t be brought back online).
But that doesn’t mean it’s time to panic. Hubble can do good science with two gyroscopes, or even one, astrophysicist Grant Tremblay, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said via Twitter Sunday.
While it is true that Hubble can do science on one or two gyroscopes, in that mode it will no longer be able to take the sharp spectacular pictures that represent its great glory.
Hubble was launched in 1990, fixed in 1993, and has been the most successful science robot ever launched. Scientists had hoped, when they made the James Webb Space Telescope their priority in the very early 2000s that both would be in space and operating to provide top notch science data, with Hubble working in visible wavelengths and Webb in the infrared. Webb’s endless delays and cost overruns has now probably made that impossible.
Worse, there are no plans to build a replacement for Hubble. For the first time since 1993, the human race will no longer be able to see, with our own eyes, the universe sharply.