A look back at Hubble’s interstellar success | At the Smithsonian


The world watched and waited on December 4, 1993, as space shuttle astronauts gathered the The Hubble Space Telescope and started fixing his blurry optics. For the next five days, the crew members went on long spacewalks to repair a defect in the mirror. Back on Earth, millions of people look at late at night on TV to see if the astronauts could do it.

Of course, they fixed it. For three decades now, Hubble has returned a multitude of incredible interstellar images, offering an unprecedented look into the cosmos and adding knowledge essential to our understanding of space.

As the world watches and waits once again with the imminent launch of the new James Webb Space Telescope December 22, recalling the long history of its predecessor – which will continue to operate for the foreseeable future – puts a powerful perspective on how far it has come since Hubble Was launched in 1990 and fixed in 1993. The series of photos, including the deep field – a kind of time-lapse shot showing all the stars – gives us an idea of ​​how much we were previously missing.

“I like Hubble Deep Fields image ”, says Samantha thompson, curator of science and technology at Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. “It’s not necessarily the prettiest to look at, but what it shows us from space is ‘Whoa!’ Look at the photo, it shows how much we have accomplished with Hubble.

Most of the over one million images Hubble captured were works of art, offering spectacular views of the breathtaking beauty of stars and galaxies thousands of light years away. These natural masterpieces showcased distant nebulae, space clouds, and other celestial wonders in such fine detail that astronomers began to better understand how cosmic forces shape space.

“Hubble has helped us understand how the universe speeds up, but it also slows down,” says Thompson. “We learned more about dark matter and detected black holes using Hubble. By looking at these images, we can see things that we have never seen before and better understand our relationship with other galaxies.

None of this would have been possible if Hubble hadn’t been designed the way it was. From the start, NASA wanted to create a space telescope that could be updated and repaired so that it would continue to serve science for decades to come.

Dust swirls in the Flame Nebula

Hubble’s images, Thompson says, are like works of art (above: Dust swirls are imaged in the Flame Nebula, a large region of star formation in the constellation Orion.


This flexibility allowed members of STS-61 Space Shuttle Mission to fix Hubble after scientists figured out why the images were initially so blurry: an imperfection in the solid mirror inside the 45-foot space telescope. The astronauts were able to make repairs by installing new hardware to correct the defect. Since 1993, space shuttle crews have conducted four more maintenance missions to this eyepiece on the stars.

“Stories of astronauts working on the telescope add a different element to astronomy that we don’t always understand,” says Thompson. “We built Hubble to help us better understand our place in the universe.”

The space telescope was first designed in the 1940s, even before humans had the ability to escape Earth’s gravitational pull. Work began in earnest in the 1970s when Congress provided seed funding. In 1975, the entrepreneur Lockheed Missile and Space Co. built a full-scale model to carry out feasibility studies.

Later named the Hubble Space Telescope (SDTV) Structural Dynamics Test Vehicle, this artifact is exhibited in the Space race exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC It was donated by Lockheed to the Smithsonian in 1987, then restored to its original configuration. In 1996, the SDTV was upgraded to simulate the actual space telescope orbiting the planet.

The test vehicle helped to enable Nasa and Lockheed to build Hubble. They used the SDTV to determine how the space telescope would work and to check for stressors before launching the real deal into space. It also served as a framework for the construction of cables and wire harnesses and was used for simulations when developing a maintenance and repair protocol for the space telescope.

Hubble Space Telescope Structural Dynamics Test Vehicle

The Hubble Space Telescope Structural Dynamics Test Vehicle is on display in the Space Race exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC


“The test vehicle is exactly the same size as the Hubble flew over,” explains Thompson. “It was built to see if the space telescope would withstand the vibrations of a space launch and withstand the coldness of space. It was the training version of Hubble.

Although the SDTV never left Earth, it was an integral part of the development of the space telescope to orbit the planet. Without this artifact, the real Hubble might never have taken off to take the stunning space snapshots that propelled our understanding science and our place in the vast cosmos, including the age of our universe – 13.8 billion years – two new moons around Pluto and how nearly all large galaxies are anchored by a black hole.

“Hubble has captured the public’s attention and continues to be a source of enthusiasm for astronomy,” says Thompson. “I love him for that. I think it’s hard to get people to understand what’s going on in the universe, but when you can see a picture, we have a sense of where we are and all there is to it. ‘other over there.

Hubble Legacy: 30 years of discovery and images

If there is one legacy of Hubble as it turns 30 and nears the end of its useful life, it is this: it has done more to relate the origin and evolution of the universe known than any other instrument ever created. This is the definitive book on the Hubble Space Telescope, written by famous astronomer Jim Bell.


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