25 years of Hubble: From disaster to triumph

Artist's concept of the Hubble Space Telescope. Image: NASA.
Artist's concept of the Hubble Space Telescope. Image: NASA.
Twenty five years ago, a space shuttle launched carrying what would become the most well-known and beloved piece of equipment in NASA's arsenal: the Hubble Space Telescope. But back then, many regarded the Hubble as an expensive fiasco.

     This week marks the anniversary of the telescope’s launch, April 24, 1990, onboard the space shuttle Discovery. The anniversary is being celebrated in style. Through April 26, Hubble images will be broadcast several times each hour on screens in Times Square, New York. The Hubble 3D movie is playing at IMAX theaters.
    The Hubble was the first space telescope – and the reason we have such spectacular pictures of space. It was named for Edwin Hubble (1889-1953), an astronomer known for concluding that the Andromeda Nebula had to be a galaxy, according to Britannica.com. But it wasn’t always smooth sailing. Here's the story:

     Soon after launch, everyone thought Hubble was a bust – and an expensive bust too.
     “The instrument bore a seemingly fatal and irreparable manufacturing flaw that would severely degrade or even scuttle its fifteen-year mission,” NASA recounts.
      Or to be more specific, the pictures were blurry. “Worse, various other systems and components began to act erratically or to fail.” A planned servicing mission turned into a rescue mission.  

     How bad was it? In a word: dreadful.  
     In the article, “The Trouble with the Hubble,” July 1, 1990, The New York Times reported that the $1.5 billion space telescope would be out of commission until 1993 or longer.
     With Hubble already in orbit, scientists planned a fix-it project
     Parts would have to be replaced. The complex mission required 11 months of training, according to the website Hubblesite.org. 
     NASA released the first new images on January 13, 1994. “The pictures were beautiful; their resolution, excellent,” the website recounted.

     Once the telescope was fixed, it literally opened new corners of the universe.
     Every 97 minutes, the Hubble orbits the Earth. It moves at a speed of 5 miles per second. At that speed, Hubble could travel across the United States in 10 minutes, according to Hubblesite.org. It has spotted comets, seen vapor off one of Jupiter's moons, found newly formed planets and more.


     Hubble sees evidence of vapor off Jovian moon

     NASA In Brief -- Hubble captures comet flyby