Hubble Space Telescope in safe mode after software glitch

The Hubble Space Telescope as seen from the space shuttle Discovery during the second servicing mission in 1997.
The Hubble Space Telescope as seen from the space shuttle Discovery during the second servicing mission in 1997. (Image credit: NASA/STScI)

Update for March 12: The Hubble Space Telescope returned to conducting science operations Thursday (March 11) at 8 p.m. EST (0100 March 12 GMT), after spending about four and a half days in "safe mode," NASA officials announced on Twitter (opens in new tab) late Thursday night. 


NASA's Hubble Space Telescope (opens in new tab) is taking an unexpected break.

The iconic observatory went into a protective "safe mode" early Sunday morning (March 7), but its handlers seem confident it will bounce back in relatively short order.

"At ~4:00 a.m. EST [0900 GMT] on Sunday, the Hubble Space Telescope went into safe mode due to an onboard software error. All science systems appear normal and Hubble is safe and stable. The team is working plans to safely return it to normal science operations," Hubble team members announced Sunday evening (opens in new tab) via the telescope's official NASA Twitter account.

Related: The best Hubble Space Telescope images of all time! (opens in new tab)

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Hubble, a joint mission of NASA and the European Space Agency, launched to Earth orbit aboard the space shuttle Discovery in April 1990. The telescope's vision was famously blurry at first, but spacewalking astronauts fixed that glitch in 1993, and Hubble has been delivering great images and ground-breaking discoveries (opens in new tab) ever since.

Spacecraft go into safe mode when they detect an anomalous condition that could threaten their well-being. Though some safe-mode alerts indicate a serious problem, most result from minor glitches that can be troubleshot. 

In October 2018, for example, Hubble went into safe mode after experiencing issues with two of its orientation-maintaining gyroscopes. That dark spell lasted three weeks, but Hubble rebounded in good shape (opens in new tab).

We'll just have to keep our fingers crossed that the current software problem can be fixed as well. Hubble has been a big part of our lives for more than three decades, and most of us aren't ready to say goodbye just yet.

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There (opens in new tab)" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook. 

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com (opens in new tab) and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.