Anonymous yet personal, this Blog chronicles
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Monday, November 9, 2009

ISS versus Hubble

Perhaps you've been wondering how Jim weighs in on NASA's expenditures. Everyone should have an opinion about this, even modernist composers such as myself.

Construction on the International Space Station (ISS) began in 1998, and is expected to be completed in 2011 when the remaining Space Shuttles will be forced into retirement. The purpose of the ISS is to serve as a long-term research laboratory in space, but the projected life-expectancy of this project is not very long. By some accounts it will be retired in 2015 by crashing it into the ocean (remember Skylab?).

Researchers on the ISS perform experiments in biology, physics, astronomy, and meteorology that require a microgravity environment. But when you think about it, many of these experiments could probably be done less expensively on the "vomit comet" or other platforms. While there are many benefits derived from building and maintaining such a major installation with international support, the tangible scientific take aways come at a steep cost. Some have estimated that the ISS will cost up to a 100 billion dollars. That's $100,000,000,000.00

In contrast, the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) has been in orbit since April of 1990. It has performed as an amazing tool in the field of astronomy - changing what we know about the universe. Hubble was not inexpensive. It has cost around $10 billion dollars to design, build, launch, and maintain. It's most recent (and final) upgrade cost just over $1 billion.

In the end I think we will learn much more from Hubble than from the ISS. The ISS will end up costing ten times what Hubble has, but with fewer benefits.

A billion here, a billion there. Pretty soon we're talking about real money.

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