When the Hubble Space Telescope was first proposed, the New York Times ran a story saying that Baltimore would become the center of the universe for astronomy. The reality is that because of the Hubble's problems, it's become instead one of a handful of major observatories around the world. A notable achievement, but much less than was hoped.
Although the Hubble can still be fixed, we're talking about the proverbial race against time here: The telescope is expected to last only about 15 years before major systems begin to fail and fixing it becomes impractical.
Douglas Birch started working on this week's cover story soon after he became The Sun's science writer at the end of August. (His stories for the magazine when he was transportation reporter included a piece on a bus odyssey and one on Baltimore's troubled subway system.)