The Hubble Space Telescope, designed by NASA and the European Space agency, has been capturing pictures of stunning celestial objects for the past two decades. The concept of launching a telescope into orbit can not be fully accredited to our generation, however, since it was first proposed as early as 1923. The Hubble project began in the late 1970’s with a proposed launch date of around 1983, but the Challenger incident and technical delays postponed the project’s completion until April of 1990. Even then it was discovered that the main mirror had been attached incorrectly and the full capabilities of Hubble were not achieved until 1993. Although not technically the first distant viewer in space, the Hubble Telescope is easily one of the largest and most versatile instruments of its kind and has provided more scientific data relating to astronomy than every other method used up until 1990.
The idea of a telescope in space sounded good in theory; a good bit of sunlight reflects from the Earth’s surface and to gain a view without that interference was thought to be extremely beneficial. Not only would clearer images be possible with such an instrument, but astronomers would also be able to view far outside of our solar system and gain a much more thorough knowledge of the universe. Hubble’s Ultra Deep Field is the most technologically advanced system ever created and provides the most detailed visible light images ever witnessed. By studying objects far distant from our own solar system scientists gain a more thorough understanding of how the universe was formed and at the rate it expands.
Not only has the Hubble Telescope validated or proven wrong countless hypothetical theories proposed by astronomers, but its discoveries have led to many other questions while trying to explain some of its discoveries. Before the Hubble Telescope black holes were entirely theoretical, dark energy was not even expected, and countless celestial bodies within our own solar system were not even known to exist. Over eight thousand papers have been published within scientific journals with countless other observations reserved for lectures and background data.
On top of launching Hubble in 1990 and the subsequent adjustment of the main mirror, several other modifiactions and adjustments have occurred over the years. The last such mission was completed by the crew of Space Shuttle Atlantis in May of 2009. Over the course of five spacewalks, Wide Field Camera 3 and the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph were installed to provide the Hubble Telescope even more viewing power. The new systems allows astronomers a wider angle to study and up to thirty-five times more detailed viewing in ultraviolet and visible spectral ranges. Although Hubble was originally designed to be returned to Earth for regular maintenance procedures, the retirement of the shuttle fleet make it an impossible task. All future repairs and additions will have to be conducted from space.
Perhaps the best news about the Hubble Space Telescope is that anyone can gain access to its technology. There is quite a waiting list and there is always more demand than actual usage time available, but all requests are considered based on the celestial object requested for viewing and the potential application for the research being conducted. Amateur astronomers are not granted as much time now as they have been granted in previous years but the launch of Hubble’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, in 2014 should make it more readily available.