The Hubble Space Telescope

The Hubble Space Telescope was first launched January 24,1990. On board it carried a variety of cameras and spectrographs and supposedly, everything imaginable it would need to overcome atmospheric deterrents to learning the secrets of outer space. Yet, despite the best thinking that had made the launch successful, the first images were blurred. Of course, the pictures from outer space were welcomed, but they hinted at more than was shown.

The Hubble space telescope has rewarded astronomers as well as other earthlings with wonderful information in the few short years it has been sending back pictures from its travels. What caused the photographs to be blurred? The primary mirror had a flaw due to a miscalculation that resulted in the mirror edges being grounded too flat. It caused a spherical distortion or lack of vision. Once this was understood, a plan to correct this was set for 1993. The Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement (COSTAR) was the remedial plan.

In December, 1963 a service crew was dispatched into space – after an extensive training course on how to use instruments never before used – to correct the flaw. Two teams of astronauts during five back to back space walks, cleared up the blur. This venture, and others servicing the Hubble Telescope has henceforth been known as EVAs, or the extra vehicular activity space missions.

This was successful. Magnificent photographs of stars never having been seen before, unknown galaxies revealed, nebulae discovered, and other once unfamiliar objects were seen for the first time. The earth was well pleased. It was well worth the effort it took to correct the camera flaws. Ongoing were other missions to service the Hubble Telescope.

Infrared light was first detected from outer space in February 1997 when another crew – STS-82 – installed a new camera and spectrometer and spectrographs  that sent pictures earthward that could how details of the object being viewed. In December 1999 the worn out gyroscopes were replaced, a new computer was put into place, all designed to accurately pinpoint particular areas of objects.

In 2002 other replacements  and newer technologies updated the Hubble Telescope. Solar panels were replaced with newer, more efficient array and in general, repairs of what ever needed repair. At this date, February 14th, 2011, The Hubble is still at work and still sending back pictures of existences hitherto unknown. The latest find was reported January 28th, 2011 and what a find it was. “NASA’s Hubble Finds Most Distant Galaxy Candidate Ever Seen in the Universe”

The age of the universe has been calculated to be approximately 13.7 billion year old. Whether that is actually true down to the minute or whether a few light years off, who knows for sure, and why does it matter? It is still too far away to comprehend, at least by earth bound creatures who still marvel at a bright star on a clear night and wonder.

What about this new baby in the heavens? It is still dim, named UDF-39546284 and is a galaxy made up of blue stars. Signs of weariness of star gazing also is appearing on the horizon, according to one report, “How far is  far” is the question being now asked.  
The weariness, probably, is not from the star-gazers but from the obsolescence of Hubble, who most likely is now hobbling, Having seen about as far back as is possible.

To see further back in time, “will require the power of the James Webb Space Telescope, the planned successor to Hubble, which will be launched later this decade,” so the news report of January 28, 2011 goes.”

Who gave birth to the idea of a space telescope? Lyman Spitzer, in 1946, a professor and researcher at Yale University, contemplated and argued for a space telescope. He believed that ground telescopes were at a disadvantage when studying the galaxies, the smog of the earth’s atmosphere and other distortions interfere with the real picture of what is up there. His paper on his beliefs “Astronomical Advantages of an Extra-Terrestrial Observatory” was seriously considered. However, it was nearly fifty years before finances, plans, and conditions were right for that dream to become a reality.