The Hubble Space Telescope was saved from an early ignominious shutdown after public opinion forced NASA to reconsider a mission to repair the Hubble. NASA had not wanted to carry out the mission because a flight profile to the Hubble would mean that if the shuttle were damaged during liftoff there was no way for the shuttle crew to seek refuge at the international space station while a replacement shuttle was sent up to rescue the crew.
It's a good thing that the Hubble was repaired and improved with new technologies, because the new images being beamed back to Earth are positively gorgeous.
The ultraviolet and infrared images of galaxies and nebulas are sharper than previous photos taken of the by Hubble before the upgrades.More images are here. There's much science to be done before the telescope is replaced in 2013, when a new space telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope is placed in orbit.
"We couldn't be more thrilled with the quality of the images," said Keith Noll, leader of a team at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, which planned the early release observations. "The targets we've selected to showcase the telescope reveal the great range of capabilities in our newly upgraded Hubble."
Hubble has beamed amazing images back to Earth before. Earlier this summer, the telescope snapped pictures of the planet Jupiter when an asteroid smashed into it.
NASA said it plans to keep the powerful telescope in operation until 2013.