The Hubble Space Telescope’s remarkably long service life and its string of astonishing contributions to astronomy belie its troubled history. Long before its launch into low Earth orbit in 1990, Hubble suffered from design conflicts, funding and budgetary pressures, and even the death of seven astronauts. Long delayed, much modified, and mistakenly sent aloft with suboptimal optics, Hubble still managed to deliver results that have literally changed our view of the universe, and is perhaps responsible for more screensaver and desktop pictures than any other single source.
But all of that changed on June 13 of this year, when Hubble suffered a computer glitch that interrupted the flow of science data from the orbiting observatory. It’s not yet clear how the current issue with Hubble is going to pan out, and what it all means for the future of this nearly irreplaceable scientific asset. We all hope for the best, of course, but while we wait to see what happens, it’s worth taking the opportunity to dive inside Hubble for a look at its engineering and what exactly has gone wrong up there.
Above It All
The idea of putting a telescope in space, high above the roiling atmospheric soup we all live near the bottom of, was not exactly a new one even in the early 1960s, when humanity’s first tentative steps into space actually made such an audacious plan feasible. Before they had even put a boot on the Moon, NASA aspired to put a large reflecting telescope in Earth orbit, with a tentative goal of making it happen by the end of 1979. They recognized that such an installation would require frequent visits to maintain and upgrade it, and so the future space telescope’s design proceeded alongside ..
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