As we debated the policy and politics of health care reform here on Earth this week, NASA released stunning new images from the Hubble Space Telescope – reminding us that stars are beginning and ending their own life cycles millions of light years away.
Especially majestic were the colorful multi-wavelength pictures of a purple-toned butterfly-shaped nebula surrounding a dying star, a galactic clash (resembling the chatty guardian angels from It’s a Wonderful Life), a spread of stars with countless colors, and a star birth erupting from greenish-colored clouds.
These images were only made possible thanks to a maintenance overhaul of the Hubble telescope by the Space Shuttle Atlantis crew last May. On Point devoted an hour to the mission, the most daring repair job in the history of space flight. We heard from several NASA experts, including former astronaut Joe Tanner, who himself flew to the Hubble and performed spacewalks in 1997.
Tanner’s remarks about the importance of the Atlantis mission resonate even more powerfully after seeing the pictures this week. “The mission was a huge success,” he told us. “Nobody thought it could possibly be done in one mission. And now they’ve done it. The telescope is really, for the first time in its 19-year history, up to full science capability.”
Alas, the Hubble images weren’t the only news from NASA this week. A committee on U.S. human space flight convened by the White House released a summary of its findings on Tuesday, and the news wasn’t good for anyone who hopes to see Americans on Mars: NASA’s manned space flight program is underfunded by $3 billion, the panel reports.