NASA news: Hubble Space Telescope celebrates 30 years of deep space exploration
In the 30 years since its launch, the Hubble Space Telescope has made more than 1.4 million space observations. Scientists have used this treasure trove of data to publish more than 17,000 scientific papers, which went on to be cited more than 800,000 times. But Hubble’s adventure in space was not smooth sailing straight off the bat.
NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) partnered on the Hubble telescope 30 years ago today.
On April 24, 1990, the telescope was carried into orbit by the Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-31).
The telescope was then deployed the following day and has since orbited the planet at a height of about 340 miles (547km).
If you look up at night, you will not be able to see the telescope but it is racing around our planet 15 at speeds of about 17,000mph (27,000kph).
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Shortly after the Hubble was deployed, the first images beamed back to Earth were so blurry the telescope appeared to have been a dud.
Historian Joseph Tatarewicz said of the £8billion ($10billion) project in his book The Hubble Space Telescope Servicing Mission: “Within weeks, a horrible realization gradually emerged: the instrument bore a seemingly fatal and irreparable manufacturing flaw that would severely degrade or even scuttle its fifteen-year mission.
“Worse, various other systems and components began to act erratically or to fail.
“Soon the Hubble Space Telescope and NASA itself were the objects of anger, scorn, and ridicule.”
NASA eventually figured out the telescope’s main mirror had been ground to the wrong shape, distorting the objects it was looking at.
This is not like going to grandma’s to fix a leaky faucet
Dr Edward Weiler, Hubble programme scientist
The flaw, a so-called spherical aberration, could be counteracted by installing the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) instrument.
Dr Edward Weiler, Hubble programme scientist, said: “We’ve got a good shot at success but we’ve got to be realistic: this is not like going to grandma’s to fix a leaky faucet.”
A valiant recovery effort from NASA saved the space agency from utter failure and embarrassment.
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On December 2, 1993, the Space Shuttle Endeavour carried a team of astronauts to fix the mirror issue and to install new instruments on it.
The mission was a success and Hubble was soon taking the most detailed and most groundbreaking photos of deep space scientists have ever seen.
On the 30th anniversary of its launch, ESA said: “Launched in 1990 and designed for refurbishment by astronauts, Hubble is one of the greatest scientific projects.
“Opening our eyes to the wonders of our ‘planetary’ backyard and beyond, it has revolutionised modern astronomy by being an efficient tool for making new discoveries and changing the way research is done.
“ESA has been a partner with NASA on the Hubble Mission since its very beginning in 1975.”
The Hubble Space Telescope measures about 43.5ft (13.2m) in length and weighs approximately 27,000 pounds.
The telescope boasts two, 25ft-long solar panels.
Hubble’s last servicing mission (STS-125) was on May 4, 2009.
Hubble will ve succeeded by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).
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