NASA Doesn't Want Random Billionaires Messing Up The Hubble Space Telescope

Photo: PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP (Getty Images), NASA (Getty Images)
Photo: PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP (Getty Images), NASA (Getty Images)

Billionaires are having a moment with space right now. Elon Musk with SpaceX, Jeff Bezos with Blue Origin, even Richard Branson with Virgin Galactic — all the rich folks are building rockets so they can go look at space. But one billionaire isn’t satisfied with just looking at space: He wants to go touch it. Specifically, touch the Hubble Space Telescope.

Jared Isaacman, a guy who made a payment processor once, has offered NASA funding for a maintenance mission to the Hubble. Isaacman doesn’t own a space company himself, but is offering to fund a SpaceX mission to the aging, beleaguered piece of orbital scientific equipment. There’s just one problem, according to NPR: NASA thinks he may do more harm than good.

Internal NASA emails obtained by NPR through a Freedom of Information Act request show that about a year ago, longtime Hubble experts were asked to weigh in. They expressed concerns about the risks of what was being proposed.


In a best-case scenario, a successful private mission could improve Hubble’s ability to point at celestial objects and, by boosting its orbit, extend its life by years.

In a worst-case scenario, however, an accident could leave the multibillion-dollar telescope broken — or, even more tragically, tethered to the dead bodies of the astronauts sent to repair it.


Isaacman, for his part, doesn’t seem concerned about the risk. To his mind, NASA’s objections — which, it’s worth noting, have not yet resulted in a conclusive denial of the proposal — are all about gatekeeping space. Again from NPR:

“Up until now, there’s only been, you know, one group that would ever touch Hubble. And I think that they have an opinion of whether — of who should or shouldn’t be allowed to touch it,” Isaacman said. “I think a lot would say, ‘I’d rather it burn up’ than, you know, go down a slippery slope of, you know, the space community growing. So I think that’s a factor now, unfortunately.”

If there’s one thing NASA classically wants, it’s to maintain complete control of space as a concept and ban anyone else from entering. It’s why the agency has installations at museums across the country, and often works with outside parties to promote space enthusiasm — it’s all a big misdirect, to keep other folks from ever leaving the atmosphere. Four-dimensional chess.

Isaacman isn’t a scientist by trade, but hopes to be one of the first civilians to participate in a spacewalk using SpaceX’s new EVA suit (which has yet to go to space, but that’s fine). He does, however, run a company that maintains and operates a private fleet of military aircraft. If that sounds dystopian and mildly terrifying, that Some Guy can own and and operate approximately “150 tactical fighter aircraft” without any kind of electoral process to keep him in check, that’s because it is.

NASA has yet to announce whether it intends to allow a Bond villain to start plugging things into the Hubble, but the agency has taken the proposal very seriously. If an unproven spacewalk could boost the telescope’s orbit, that would be a massive boon to astronomers worldwide — it just may cost humanity our very own Hank Scorpio.

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