The Hubble Space Telescope is one of the most successful space projects ever completed. When on the 24th of April, 1990 it was carried into orbit by the space shuttle after a combined by NASA and the European Space Agency; no one could have predicted how successful it was going to be. The Hubble is not the largest or most powerful telescope but it is arguably the most famous.
The reason for its success with the public was because of the incredible pictures it managed to take in the visible spectrum of light (in which it specialised), by orbiting outside of the Earth’s atmosphere which meant less distortion. In 2003-2004 the Hubble gathered data from the Ultra Deep Field in space and sent back pictures that looked the deepest into space any telescope had ever done going back 13 billion years. It was not just a publicity stunt to get people involved (although it was very successful at that) but the science that came out of it is amazing. The biggest breakthrough was the ability to estimate the rate of the expansion of the Universe; this in turn helped accurately measure the life of the Universe. Other successes include helping prove the existence of black holes and dark energy.
The Hubble is one of NASA’s four ‘Great Observatories’ and the only one that is able to be serviced by astronauts in space. As a result, the Hubble has constantly been updated with new equipment and to replace old and failing parts. There have been 5 servicing missions from 1993-2009 and there are not expected to be any more. This means that in 2014 the telescope will be taken out of orbit and replaced with the James Webb Space Telescope.
There were ideas for a space telescope from as early as 1923 but the Hubble’s funding started in the 1970s when the proposed date of launch was meant to be 1983. The construction was a disaster – it is now mainly blamed on the poor managerial skills of NASA – and the budget was also missed. The launch date was pushed back further and further and unfortunately when it got to 1986 the Challenger space shuttle disaster occurred. The result was a major investigation ordered by Ronald Reagan, further delaying the project. When it did finally launch it was not over, scientists found that the mirror of the telescope had not been ground properly, altering the quality of the pictures. However, in 1983 the first service mission was completed and the results were remarkable.