The Hubble Space Telescope has been capturing incredible images from space for over 26 years and it's going to keep doing it for five more years.
NASA is contractually extending science operations for the iconic telescope until 2021, despite its intended 15 year lifespan. On Thursday, the agency awarded a sole source contract extension to the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy for continued Hubble science operations support at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, according to NASA.
This contract extension will allow the Hubble mission to continue the work its been doing since April 1990. Since the last of five servicing missions in 2009, Hubble has been outfitted with a docking space for a thruster. This attachment will take it out of Earth's orbit and let it burn up in the atmosphere before crashing somewhere on Earth's surface, according to Wired.
After the retirement of NASA's space shuttle program in 2011, repair missions have ceased, so keeping Hubble in space until 2021 will be a huge achievement. NASA expects that Hubble will continue to provide valuable data as its mission continues observing our solar system and beyond.
The telescope's successor, the James Webb Space Telescope is scheduled for launch in 2018 and will be able to gaze even farther back in time to the birth of the first stars.
We look forward to the out-of-this-world wonders Hubble and the James Webb telescopes will reveal to us in the decades to come.