STS-31 launches the Hubble Space Telescope


Hubble is renowned for capturing some of the most incredible deep-space photographs ever captured. When the space shuttle Discovery launched on mission STS-31, it snuck into orbit with the crew. Astronauts Charles Bolden, Loren Shriver, Bruce McCandless, Steven Hawley, and Kathryn Sullivan were also on board, as with many other celebrities.

To deploy Hubble from the shuttle’s cargo area while orbiting 332 nautical miles (534 kilometers above the Earth), the crew employed a robotic arm constructed by the Canadian company Space Canada. No one realized it at the moment, but Hubble would not be shooting any beautiful photographs for the foreseeable future.

As a result of a fault in the Hubble space telescope’s mirror, the initial images taken by the spacecraft were out of focus over a month after it was launched. Fortunately, the malfunction was reversible, and astronauts were able to properly repair it in 1993.

Because of the Hubble Space Telescope’s (HST) incredible views, the public has been awestruck and inspired since its debut in 1990.

However, Hubble is about much more than simply taking stunning photographs. Over many decades, the project has collected hundreds of gigabytes of data, which has allowed scientists to gain important insights into the cosmos, from things as near as the moon to the most distant galaxies, with studies of supernovas and nebulae in between.

Soon after World War II ended, astronomer Lyman Spitzer advocated the launch of a space telescope to overcome the constraints of ground-based observatories. The proposal was made in 1946, shortly after the war ended.

It took another couple of decades before the proposal gained enough traction for the National Academy of Sciences of the United States to convene a committee of experts to assess the feasibility of a “Large Space Telescope.”

According to a Hubble history authored by Gabriel Olkoski for NASA, the group released a study in 1969 that detailed the scientific applications of a Large Space Telescope and urged its development. Spitzer served as the committee’s chairman at the time.

To make their case, the National Academy of Sciences approached NASA, which is the only entity capable of bringing the Large Space Telescope to fruition. NASA was already investigating the construction of some kind of space telescope, but the agency was unsure about the size of the telescope and where to begin.

As early as 1971, NASA’s acting administrator, George Low, approved the formation of the Large Space Telescope Science Steering Group, and the agency started pressing Congress to provide funds for the project shortly thereafter.

The project’s high cost made it difficult to sell to lawmakers, and funding was first refused by the House Appropriations Subcommittee in 1975. NASA subsequently increased its lobbying efforts and was successful in gaining support from the European Space Agency, which agreed to split the expenditures.

STS-31 launches the Hubble Space Telescope
picture credit: Forbes

After years of debate, Congress finally approved financing for NASA’s contribution to the Large Space Telescope in 1977.The development process started virtually quickly. NASA had originally intended to launch the telescope in 1983, but a series of manufacturing setbacks forced the launch date to be pushed back to 1986.

While this was going on, the Large Space Telescope was renamed the Hubble Space Telescope in honor of Edwin Hubble, a famous American astronomer who, among other things, discovered that the cosmos expanded beyond the boundaries of our galaxy.

After the space shuttle Challenger exploded a minute after takeoff on Jan. 28, 1986, killing all seven astronauts on board, the launch of Hubble was once again postponed in the year. It took more than 2.5 years before shuttle missions began and NASA was able to begin preparing the relaunch of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Hubble was ultimately launched into space on April 24, 1990, on the space shuttle Discovery, and was placed into low Earth orbit the following day, about 340 miles (545 kilometers) above our planet. Even though the $1.5 billion spent to create and launch Hubble was a one-time expense, there would be continuous expenditures, both anticipated and unanticipated.

In addition to the Wide Field Planetary Camera, the Goddard High-Resolution Spectrograph (GHRS), the Faint Object Camera (FOC), the Faint Object Spectrograph (FOS), and the High-Speed Photometer, the Wide Field Planetary Camera was the first instrument aboard Hubble.

The Hubble Space Telescope suffered equipment problems immediately away. For example, the initial photos returned by the telescope were so hazy that they were almost unusable for scientific purposes.

After further investigation, it was discovered that Hubble’s primary mirror, which measured 7.9 feet (2.4 meters) in width, was defective, with spherical aberration caused by a manufacturing fault. The imperfection was very small, measuring just 1/50th the thickness of a sheet of paper, yet it was large enough to create significant image issues.

Eventually, Hubble became a laughing stock, the target of several jokes that propagated across popular culture. For example, in the 1991 film “Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear,” a photograph of Hubble appears on the screen. It may be found on the wall of a bar named Loser’s Bar, with images of the Hindenburg, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the Ford Edsel, and other well-known tragedies, among other things.

However, everything was not lost, since Hubble was planned to be maintained by astronauts in the event of a failure. On December 2, 1993, the space shuttle Endeavour sent a crew of seven astronauts to the Hubble Space Telescope for five days of spacewalks.

In the course of the repair, two additional cameras were added, including the Wide-Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC-2), which was eventually responsible for many of Hubble’s most renowned images. The first fresh

Hubble photographs arrived on Earth in December 1993, and they were nothing short of magnificent.A total of four further Hubble servicing missions took performed between February 1997 and May 2009; the missions took place in December 1999, March 2002, and May 2009. On each trip, spacewalking astronauts repaired, maintained, and updated Hubble.

The launch of the fifth and final servicing mission for Hubble was also delayed by a shuttle tragedy – the Columbia space shuttle disaster in February 2003, during which all seven astronauts on board died as a result of the space shuttle’s re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.

It was as a result of this unfortunate tragedy that the maintenance trip was postponed from its original 2005 target date to May 2009. During the trip, astronauts replaced batteries and gyroscopes, as well as installed two new instruments, the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph and the Wide Field Camera 3.

The Wide Field Camera 3 is a camera that captures images of the Earth’s atmosphere. They also brought back to life the ACS and the STIS, which had both been destroyed before, among other things. Officials from NASA noted that “as a result of these efforts, Hubble was brought to the pinnacle of its scientific capabilities.”

Since then, Hubble has continued to give unparalleled facts about our universe and to excite people all across the globe who are intrigued about the cosmos.

Published by: Ifa Zamzami

Tharun Pranav
Tharun Pranav
Tharun Pranav is a Law student in the School of Law, Christ University. He is an Extrovert and a Pensive person in nature. One of his strengths is Sarcasm. He also has a passion for Space, Economics and Sports. You can find him online on Instagram or LinkedIn.


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