History of Hubble Space Telescope
The history of the Hubble Space Telescope can be traced back to as far as 1946 when astronomer Lyman Spitzer wrote a paper entitled “Astronomical Advantages of an Extra-Terrestrial Observatory”. In the paper, he discussed two main advantages that a space-based observatory would have over ground-based telescopes.
First, the angular resolution (smallest separation at which objects can be clearly distinguished) would be limited only by diffraction, rather than by the turbulence in the atmosphere which, causes stars to twinkle and is known to astronomers as seeing. Second, a space-based telescope could observe infrared and ultraviolet lights, which are strongly absorbed by the atmosphere.
Spitzer devoted much of his career to pushing for a space telescope to be developed. In 1962, the USA’s National Academy of Sciences recommended building a large space telescope. In 1965 Spitzer was appointed as head of a committee given the task of defining the scientific objectives for a large space telescope. After a long battle looking for funding for the project, Congress finally voted to fund the project in 1977 allowing construction of the Hubble Space Telescope to begin.
A huge setback in the history of the Hubble Space Telescope occurred in 1986. The original launch was planned for October of that year, but the space shuttle Challenger encountered disaster in January when it exploded after launch. That disaster caused the space program to come to a halt grounding the space shuttle program and delaying the launch of Hubble.
Following the resumption of shuttle flights in 1988, the launch of the telescope was scheduled for 1990. In preparation for its final launch, dust which had accumulated on the mirror since its completion had to be removed with jets of nitrogen. All systems were tested extensively to insure that they were fully functional. On April 24, 1990, the space shuttle Discovery went into space with Hubble on board to launch the telescope successfully into its planned orbit.
The Hubble Space Telescope was named after Edwin Hubble, the man who discovered the cosmos. As a result of Hubble’s work, our perception of mankind’s place in the Universe has changed forever: humans have once again been set aside from the centre of the Universe. When scientists decided to name the Space Telescope after the founder of modern cosmology the choice could not have been more appropriate.
The history of the Hubble Space Telescope has been dotted with problems as well as successes. But without this important piece of equipment floating around in space, we would not know nearly as much as we do about the universe we live in.