When life on earth gets impossibly complicated, I often look to the skies for solace. On clear nights, I have a galaxy of stars above to embrace me. At other times, it’s Hubble’s photographs.
The Hubble Space Telescope (“Hubble”) is situated above Earth’s atmosphere–340 miles (540 km) up. At this altitude, it is able to avoid the atmospheric distortion that terrestrial-bound telescopes and observatories encounter, resulting in pristine images.
The information gathered from Hubble’s 30 years of images have led to breakthroughs in astrophysics.
With a very large mirror (see photo at end) and four main instruments, Hubble can observe in ultraviolet, visible, and near infrared regions of the electromagnetic spectrum.
“If your eye were as sensitive as Hubble’s, you could look from New York City and see the glow of a pair of fireflies in Tokyo.”
(Hubble’s Universe, Greatest Discoveries and Latest Images  by Terence Dickinson.)
The only telescope designed to be maintained in space by astronauts, Hubble was launched into space in 1990. Since then it has been serviced, repaired and upgraded by NASA space shuttle missions in 1993, 1997, 1999, 2002, and 2009.
Due to these upgrades, Hubble is equipped with cutting-edge mirrors, computers and navigational equipment. It remains in space to this day, fully functioning.
Multi-layered insulation on the outside protects it from the harsh environment of space. Large solar panels turn the sun’s light into usable energy.
Over the years, space shuttle missions to Hubble have been cancelled and re-scheduled due to funding and safety issues.
The fifth and final upgrade mission was serviced by the space shuttle Atlantis crew in 2009. Upgrades and servicing are over now, but Hubble could last until 2030-2040.
This is the Atlantis shuttle craft, below, now displayed in Kennedy Space Center.
Engineering support for Hubble is provided by NASA and personnel at Goddard Flight Center in Maryland. Four teams of flight controllers monitor Hubble 24 hours a day.
Hubble’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, is currently being developed by NASA with significant contributions from European Space Agency and Canadian Space Agency.
NASA is generous with sharing data and Hubble images, and also provides numerous websites for anyone to visit, here are a few:
Online brochure: Highlights of Hubble’s Explorations of the Universe.
This NASA link invites you to enter your birthday to see the photo Hubble took on your birthday. What Did Hubble See on Your Birthday.
The triumphs and discoveries gleaned from Hubble are a testament to the profound abilities of humans from all over the world.
While we work on sorting through problems on our planet, we have the skies and space to dazzle our imagination, and open the universe to future generations.
Written by Jet Eliot.
Hubble photos courtesy NASA.
Atlantis Space Shuttle photo by Athena Alexander.