In the first week of June, I went once more to Charm City Baltimore to attend the Hubble Space Telescope Time Allocation Committee meeting. This exclusive event takes place once a year at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), and is meant to sort the wheat from the chaff among the many, many applications for observing time on the Hubble Space Telescope (HST).
Since HST is NASA’s flagship satellite and since it’s by far the most successful and powerful telescope available to professional astronomers, demand for observing time is >10 times higher than there’s actually time available (about 5500 orbits of HST around earth per year). To decide who gets to observe with HST, STScI makes a call for proposals once a year. This time we’re in Cycle 22 of this process, and demand is higher than ever (only one year has seen slightly more proposals). After receiving the 1135 applications, STScI invited about 150 American and European astronomers to review and rank them. I’ve been on one out of 14 panels in total, and each panel got to review about 70-80 proposals, i.e. a lot of work.
But STScI treats you well. Participants stay in a comfortable hotel close by the institute, they get fed well, and there’s a nice social dinner. Also, you get to meet many people from all across astronomy – new acquaintances as well as old friends. It’s an experience and I’d do it again anytime. Let’s hope HST gets to live another couple of years. But according to the exclusive update on HST’s status we got after the welcome reception, HST will stay in operation until its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), is in orbit and fully operational – rumor is that it may even get to see the next decade!