The National Science Foundation announced Thursday it will begin plans to decommission the 305-meter telescope at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. The decision to decommission it was made after multiple assessments from third-party engineering companies that found the telescope’s structure faces long-term stability issues and the cables may no longer be able to carry the loads they were designed to support. On the other part, it was concluded that repair attempts would likely put workers in danger. An auxiliary cable broke in August and tore a 100-foot hole in the reflector dish and damaged the dome above it. Then on Nov. 6, one of the telescope’s main steel cables snapped, leading officials to warn that the entire structure could collapse.
For 57 years, the telescope explord the cosmos. “This decision is not an easy one for NSF to make, but the safety of people is our number one priority,” said Sean Jones, the agency’s assistant director for the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate. The telescope was built in the 1960s with money from the Defense Department amid a push to develop anti-ballistic missile defenses. Scientists worldwide have used it to track asteroids on a path to Earth, conduct research that led to a Nobel Prize and determine if a planet is potentially habitable.