CAPE CANAVERAL, FL—NASA is celebrating a successful start to the first-ever deep-space exploration project funded entirely by elderly women with Monday's activation of the new $4.1 billion Hummel Space Telescope.

One of the first pictures returned from NASA's new Hummel Space Telescope, this image offers evidence of a large cluster of Little Fiddlers.

"The search for evidence of adorable ceramic statuettes throughout the cosmos has begun," NASA administrator Daniel S. Goldin said. "These whimsical figurines have an appeal that is, quite literally, 'universal.'"

According to Goldin, proto-Hummel formations have been detected as close as celestial neighbor Alpha Centauri, and the Andromeda Cluster is "absolutely teeming" with radiation typical of whimsical, Teutonic-themed sculpture.

"Full knowledge of this cosmic bric-a-brac is finally within reach," he said. "For the first time ever, we will be able to gain a full understanding of such celestial bodies as Little Goat Herder, Bashful Boy, and the legendary, far-off constellation known as Church Time."

Hummel Telescope project leader Edward Pulsipher said the new device is the most advanced ceramic-collectible-detection system ever developed.

"The cutting-edge technology on board the new telescope is programmed to recognize such Hummel-specific features as lederhosen, tyrolean caps and red kerchiefs," Pulsipher said. "In addition, the telescope has a cuteness-sensitive antenna array capable of spotting Baby's First Bath on the head of a pin at a distance of 20 light years."

After years of development costing billions of dollars, the Hummel project has already begun to pay off. Within hours of the telescope's activation, NASA officials were alerted to a gaseous formation at the fringes of the Crab Nebula possessing what appeared to be short, chubby arms and legs and a pert little nose. Three-dimensional computer imaging later showed that, to a viewer inside the nebula, the formation took the shape of a young schoolboy toting a leather strap of books, just as proud as can be on his first day of school.

"Clearly, this is an extremely adorable leap forward for science." Pulsipher said of the image. "Oh, would you just look at that."

The new telescope will enable scientists to learn about the physics of cuteness firsthand, eliminating hazardous laboratory work. Until now, the observation of darling, apple-cheeked Germanic children has been full of danger, conducted under conditions far too precious to be considered safe.

Astronomers are also excited about the possibility that data collected from the telescope may radically alter existing theories about the origin of the Hummel. Long believed to have been manufactured in the 1940s and '50s based on the artwork of Sister Maria Innocentia Hummel, the statuettes may in fact predate our own solar system.

"The elementary, sub-atomic particle of cuteness, the cuddlon, can only be created under conditions resembling those immediately following the Big Bang," Oxford University astronomy professor Edmund Worthington said. "Niels Bohr postulated that the Big Bang created equal amounts of precious and anti-precious matter. Now, we finally have a chance to test that theory. By next month we should have solid evidence of a little girl dressing up to go to grandma's house at the very edge of the known universe."