When the $1.5 billion Hubble telescope went awry, the powers at NASA immediately called the telescope repairman. Naturally, they got a recording. "This is Ernie, the telescope repairman. I am not in right now. At the sound of the beep leave your name and information about your telescope and I'll get back to you as soon as I can."

Several days later the Hubble manager was still waiting to hear from Ernie. They called him at home.

"I was going to get to you today," Ernie said. "What's the problem?"

The manager answered, "The mirrors on the telescope seem to be showing a spherical aberration."

Ernie said, "Do you have a service contract?"

"No, I don't," replied the manager. "The telescope was under warranty for the first 4 million miles."

"That's only if the telescope falls into a black hole," Ernie explained. "You're going to have to pay for the repairs yourself."

"All right, but when can you get up there and work on it?"

"I don't have any telescopic mirrors in stock. I'll have to get them from Spokane. The way they're shipping these, it's going to take 14 weeks."

"We can't wait 14 weeks. The publicity is killing us."

Ernie said, "Let me ask you a question. Who put in the mirror in the first place?"

"John Scarsi of Telescopes-R-Us," the manager answered.

"I thought as much," Ernie replied. "He sells every piece of cut-rate space hardware in the book. Ever since NASA has been trying to save money, nothing works. You would have been much better off going to Sears, Roebuck."

"We don't need a lecture," the manager said. "All we want is the mirror fixed so we can get some photos on the Ted Koppel show."

"I can probably put a temporary mirror in the telescope, but I can't guarantee what kind of picture you're going to get."

"That would be better than nothing. When can you do it?"

"Tomorrow morning. I have to fix a flawed radio signal antenna on the space station, so I'll be in the neighborhood."

The next day when the manager didn't hear from Ernie, he called him. "You promised to fix our mirror today."

Ernie said, "I forgot when I talked to you I had a golf game. I'll get on it tomorrow."

"A promise is a promise," the manager spluttered angrily. "I have a good mind to find another space telescope repairman."

"Good luck. The way NASA is putting these things together you'd be lucky to find one who isn't tied up until 1995."

The manager asked, "Suppose you can't repair it in the sky? Can you lend us a mirror until you fix this one?"

"All my telescopic mirrors are out. I can rent you one for $50 million a month."

"That's outrageous."

"Don't get mad at me. You want to see the Milky Way -- I don't," Ernie told him.

"Do I have your word you'll take a look at it tomorrow?" the manager demanded.

"Of course, you do," Ernie said. "A licensed repairman never lies."