Hubble marks a quarter century in Earth’s orbit
Cape Canaveral, Fla. – — One of NASA’s crowning glories, the Hubble Space Telescope, marks its 25th anniversary this week.
With 1 million-plus observations, including those of some of the farthest and oldest galaxies ever beheld by humanity, no man-made satellite has touched as many minds or hearts as Hubble.
NASA is celebrating Friday’s anniversary with ceremonies this week at the Smithsonian Institution and Newseum in Washington.
“Hubble has become part of our culture — very much,” said NASA’s science mission chief, John Grunsfeld, a former astronaut who flew on the final three Hubble repair missions.
A look at Hubble’s quarter-century in orbit about 350 miles above Earth:
■A full decade in the making, Hubble rocketed into orbit on April 24, 1990, aboard space shuttle Discovery.
NASA wanted an observatory free of the atmosphere’s distortion and, in some cases, absorption of light. Stars, for example, do not appear to twinkle when seen from space. The telescope was named for American astronomer Edwin Hubble, who in the 1920s determined that the universe is expanding.
Sky-high excitement turned into bottomless agony when it quickly became apparent that the telescope’s primary mirror had been botched during manufacturing, resulting in blurry eyesight. Three years later, with NASA’s reputation and entire future on the line, a team of astronauts managed to restore Hubble’s promised vision with replacement parts.
■Shuttle astronauts visited Hubble five times, from 1993 to 2009, to make improvements and repairs to the 43-foot-long observatory, about the size of a school bus. That last mission almost didn’t happen: NASA canceled it for safety reasons in the wake of the 2003 shuttle Columbia disaster. But public uproar and changing NASA administration, along with detailed crew-rescue plans just in case, led to the flight’s reinstatement. By the time Atlantis blasted off on the last servicing mission, NASA put the investment in Hubble at $10 billion.
■Hubble has traveled 3.4 billion miles, circling Earth nearly 137,000 times and making more than 1.2 million observations of more than 38,000 celestial objects, according to the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. The most distant objects spotted by Hubble are some 13 billion light-years away and date to within 400 million or so years of the universe’s origin.