How the Hubble Space Telescope Works
In 1946, an astrophysicist named Dr. Lyman Spitzer Jr. proposed that a telescope in space would reveal much clearer images of distant objects than any ground-based telescope. That sounds logical, right? But this was an outrageous idea, considering no one had even launched a rocket into outer space yet.
As the U.S. space program matured in the 1960s and 1970s, Spitzer lobbied NASA and Congress to develop a space telescope. In 1975, the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA began drafting the initial plans for it, and in 1977, Congress approved the necessary funds. NASA named Lockheed Missiles (now Lockheed Martin) as the contractor that would build the telescope and its supporting systems, as well as assemble and test it.
The famous telescope was named after U.S. astronomer Edwin Hubble, whose observations of variable stars in distant galaxies confirmed that the universe was expanding and gave support to the Big Bang theory.
After a long delay due to the Challenger disaster in 1986, the Hubble Space Telescope shot into orbit on April 24, 1990, piggybacking aboard the Discovery space shuttle. Since its launch, Hubble has reshaped our view of space, with scientists writing thousands of papers based on the telescope’s clear-eyed findings on important stuff like the age of the universe, gigantic black holes or what stars look like in the throes of death.
Keep reading to learn how Hubble has documented outer space and the instruments that have allowed it to do so, plus a few of the problems the venerable telescope/spacecraft has encountered along the way.
NASA is throwing Hubble a birthday party, and as part of the celebration, they had astronomers image the Horsehead Nebula with a new, infrared light. Learn more in their news release. The other two images are personal favorites from Hubble’s portfolio; starburst galaxy J082354.96 and the colliding spiral galaxies of Arp 274.