In 1946, Lyman Spitzer proposed a Large Space Telescope in a paper he published while at Yale. Keep in mind there were zero artificial satellites in space at the time. He talked about the advantages of having a telescope outside of the atmosphere. This was all fantasy at the time. The technology just wasn’t there. Hubble had a long way to go.
That all changed in 1957 when Russia launched Sputnik 1 into orbit. This resulted in the U.S. government signing the Space Act in 1958, creating NASA. In 1969 the National Academy of Sciences published another report on the advantages of space telescopes. The idea then started to gain more traction. In 1974, a group of astrophysicists and engineers held the first of many meetings. They came up with a concept for what a space telescope would look like, technical requirements, and even a budget.
In 1977, Congress approved the budget, and work began on designing the space telescope.
In 1978, work began on the 8-foot primary mirror. A year later, astronauts began training for servicing missions. The original design of the telescope was to be serviced frequently. In 1983, the telescope was dubbed Hubble after Astronomer Edwin Hubble. He was the first to prove that there were other galaxies in the cosmos. The 1986 Challenger disaster pushed the launch of telescope back until shuttle launches could continue.
Finally, on April 24th, 1990, The new telescope took off inside the space shuttle Discovery. A day later, it was deployed using the SRMS arms. In May, the first image returned and was 50% sharper than ground-based telescopes.
In June 1990, Nasa first announced the imperfection in the primary mirror that affected its clarity. It was still able to conduct science, however. In December 1993, Hubble received its first servicing mission. On the mission, astronauts installed a new wide-field camera, and Hubble got a pair of glasses in the form of COSTAR. A year later, the telescope discovered black holes, which were mere theories until then.
There have been five missions total to service Hubble, the last being in 2009. With the space shuttle’s retirement, we currently need a way to perform further servicing missions.
Hubble has opened our eyes and minds to what the cosmos consists of. It has turned theories into facts. Here are just some of the discoveries the telescope has unveiled.
Hubble has been in service for over 30 years and is still kicking. However, the telescope’s orbit will decay to the point that sometime in the 2030s, it will fall back to earth in a controlled descent that will cause the station to fall into the southern Pacific Ocean. In September 2022, NASA and SpaceX signed an agreement to perform a study into a possible Dragon mission to boost the telescope’s orbit. Possibly expanding the life of the telescope for decades to come. Though nothing is set in stone.
With the JWST coming online in 2022, Hubble has remained relevant. The two telescopes have been working in concert. Hubble finds targets, and JWST is used to examine them further. The Spitzer telescope has also been acting as a scout for JWST. With the three telescopes working together, we should see some fantastic images in the coming years.