End of road for NASA’s Spitzer space telescope

Washington: Faced with a budget crunch, NASA is likely to shutter its Spitzer space telescope, an infrared space observatory, the fourth and final of NASA’s Great Observatories.

The decision may help the US space agency to pump in the saved money to fund the functioning of Hubble, Kepler, Chandra and other orbiting observatories, the US space agency said in a statement.

NASA took stock of its fleet of orbiting astrophysics telescopes and decided which to save and which to shutter based on the findings of an independent review panel and turned down the Spitzer space telescope’s request for an extension.

“To me it is really sad that this country can not find just a few million bucks more to throw into this to keep these things active and running as they should be,” senior review panel chair Ben R. Oppenheimer, an astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, was quoted as saying.

However, for many, the end of road for Spitzer do not appear as abrupt as they could see it coming.

Spitzer was launched in 2003 as a multipurpose observatory targeted at the low-energy infrared wavelengths of light blocked by earth’s atmosphere.

Spitzer finished its prime mission in 2009 when it exhausted its supply of liquid helium coolant used to chill the instruments.

The loss of the coolant left two of Spitzer’s three instruments unusable, but two of the four wavelength bands on its main camera continued to operate as the Spitzer Warm Mission, Nature reported.

“Right now it can take images in a couple wavebands at tremendous sensitivity, but compared to what it used to do, its capabilities are far reduced,” Oppenheimer said.

“The committee felt that instead of chopping off a bunch of money from other missions, if we end that one large mission we can save everything else,” he explained.

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