Since 1977, the U.S. has spent at least $16 billion to design, build and operate the Hubble Space Telescope. What a bargain. Not only has Hubble redefined how humans understand the universe, but it’s played a critical role in training a generation of scientists and engineers.

Unfortunately, Hubble is steadily losing altitude — essentially falling back to Earth — and soon NASA will have to make a decision. It must either boost the telescope to a higher orbit or let it continue falling until it crashes back to Earth, hopefully in the ocean.

The good news is that technology is emerging to save the Hubble and NASA is willing to work with companies to make a mission happen. The bad news is that NASA will not pay for the effort. That’s the wrong call. If NASA is serious about prolonging a national asset's life, it should pay for it. Doing so will attract more and potentially better bidders and play a role in accelerating the development of the emerging satellite repair industry.