Since its launch in 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope has been an unprecedented success. The telescope has generated some hundreds of thousands of extraordinary images and accompanying spectrograms that allowed scientists to trace the origins of stars, galaxies, and the universe itself. However, the loss of the space shuttle Columbia in 2003 prompted NASA to cancel the fifth and final manned mission to service the telescope. News of the decision was met with a groundswell of criticism from astronomers, who argued that the telescope was too valuable not to repair. Without this mission, the Hubble would have lost its ability to provide useful images and data.
In July 2004, the Research Council released its report Assessment of Options for Extending the Life of the Hubble Space Telescope, which strongly urged NASA to "take no actions that would preclude a space shuttle servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope." The report galvanized support for the mission among members of Congress and the public. In 2006, the mission received the go-ahead from NASA. The repairs, which were successfully completed in May 2009, should allow the Hubble to function until at least 2014, when its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, is due to be launched.