Hubble telescope marks 10 years of wonder
One of Hubble's greatest hits: star birth in the 'Eagle Nebula,' 7,000 light years from Earth (Click for larger view)
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Florida -- It is an improbable tale of bluster and blunder, of risk and redemption. Ten years after it left the launch pad, the Hubble Space Telescope is now the shooting star of a new golden age of astronomy.
"The history of Hubble has been a roller coaster, or a trip to Mount Everest and down to Death Valley," says NASA associate administrator Ed Weiler.
The darkest days began the moment first light hit Hubble's seven-and-a-half-foot polished mirror. It was ground with a flaw only one 25th the width of a human hair but enough to render the $1.6 billion eye above the sky myopic and seemingly moribund.
In the control room where they fly the space telescope, they remember the bad old days all too well:
"We were we were kind of laughed at by a whole lot of people," says Pete Patari of NASA's Goddard Spaceflight Center. "I was ashamed to say at times, in company with people that are in the space business, that I worked for Hubble."
So the "can do" folks at NASA went for broke. In December of '93, astronauts chalked up a series of daring and then unprecedented space walks to make repairs and install what amounted to prescription glasses to correct Hubble's vision. Against all odds the first Hubble repair mission was a stunning success -- and the space telescope was soon off to the celestial races.
"I think people are very proud of what
it's doing. It actually is exceeding the original expectations right now," says Hubble astronomer Andy Fruchter.
File image of the Hubble Space Telescope in the shuttle cargo bay. The Hubble was launched on April 24, 1990, and deployed the following day
So far, more than 260,000 exposures have come down -- telling us more about the age size of the universe and proving there are black holes; showing us the surface of Pluto and how stars are born, and what happens when a comet strikes a planet.
NASA plans to keep the Hubble flying for another decade. Next year, a shuttle crew will install a new camera, 10 times more powerful than the current device. So astronomers are
expecting even more big finds -- from an observatory that was once a colossal laughingstock.
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