The Hubble Space telescope is a really really good telescope which was designed to be serviced by astronauts instead of robots. It has seen something like four separate servicing missions since its launch, which is like 900 servicing missions in astronaut time. It's sort of decaying in space. Two missions within its time-frame suffered explosions, it has cost NASA about $3 billion to date, and never in the same mission can a shuttle visit it and the International Space Station, meaning that at any given time it's a toss-up between having rollercoaster fun with fluid physics and replacing faulty shell/shield replacement fabric.
Then in 2006 NASA announced that another servicing mission would be undertaken to do things like install new software, and, seriously, replace its batteries. The only catch was that the mission was scheduled for this month, October 2008. And now, after its command and data-handling system broke down, it's being pushed back to February 2009 at the earliest. The internet told me this morning that all of its current functioning is relying on its 486 back-up system, which hasn't been used since 1990, the year it was deployed into orbit by space shuttle Discovery. In that much time you could have made a baby who can smoke cigarettes.
So things aren't looking good.
Which is why it sort of makes sense that the James Webb Space Telescope has been scheduled to replace Hubble in 2013. But that's fucked up: Hubble can see ultraviolet and visible wavelengths, and JWST can only see infrared. INFRARED. 'Hey guys, Commando is being re-released on IMAX, let's go RIGHT NOW.' 'Nah, I'm just gonna put on this Virtual Boy I found in my garage. Have fun though." Also, the JWST is going to find the earliest galaxies, contextualising our galaxy with the Big Bang. And that's going to open a can of Evangelical Creationist worms that I am certainly not prepared for.
Who knows what will happen in the next five years. McCain might be entering his second term. Dogs might walk people. But I think regardless, something just doesn't ring right about Hubble fading into disuse, only to be replaced by something "sexy" and "functioning." It behooves NASA to have an underdog. It makes its short-comings due to massive underfunding seem quaint and lovable, like a nephew with a speech impediment, rather than tragic and dangerous, like a nephew with a really really bad speech impediment. And certainly Hubble, like so many 486 back-up systems covered in the hopeful patina of 1990, is long overdue for a revival.