The Hubble Space Telescope is a large space-based observatory, which has been providing a clear-cut picture of the universe, since it was put into orbit in April 1990. The project involved organizations like the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), European Space Agency (ESA), and the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI).
A Brief History of the Hubble Space Telescope
NASA launched its first satellite, which was programmed to observe the stars, in 1968, and followed it up with the second one in 1972. Both were successful in gathering enormous amount of information about the unexplored corners of the universe. The success of these satellites garnered support for the need of a larger and more powerful optical space telescope.
In 1973, a team of NASA scientists began the task of establishing the basic design for a space telescope. Four years later, in 1977, a group comprising 60 scientists from 38 different institutes, was assigned the task of refining the recommendations made by the initial team. In 1978, the US Congress approved the funding of US$36,000,000 for this project.
The responsibility of designing and construction of this space telescope was assigned to the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, while the task of developing the scientific instruments and the ground control center was given to the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Marshall Space Flight Center selected Perkin-Elmer Corporation in Danbury, Connecticut, to develop the optical system and guidance sensor.
Lockheed Missiles and Space Company of Sunnyvale, California, was assigned the task of producing the protective outer shroud, the support system for the telescope, and assembling the final product. The European Space Agency, which got on board in 1975, shouldered the responsibility of providing solar arrays.
The Space Telescope Operations Control Center at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland was set up as the ground control facility. The operations control center was the link between the satellite and the Science Center. This control center was assigned responsibilities like monitoring the satellite for proper working and safety, receiving data from the satellite, and translating it into the format usable by the Science Institute.
By 1981, the work on the precision-ground mirror was completed. The scientific instruments to be used for the project were sent to NASA for testing in 1983. Meanwhile, it was decided to name this space satellite 'Hubble', as a tribute to the renowned American astronomer, Edwin Hubble, who discovered that the universe is expanding. In 1984, the optical assembly was delivered for integration into the satellite. The entire spacecraft was assembled by 1985.
Although, the launch was scheduled for 1986, it was delayed due to Space Shuttle redesigning and the Challenger space tragedy. This delay provided the scientists ample time to test the Hubble Space Telescope to eliminate any chances of error. After completion, the telescope was transported to the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, in October 1989, and finally launched on April 24, 1990, aboard STS-31 Mission of the Space Shuttle Discovery. Initially planned to operate till 2005, NASA decided to extend this period to 2010.
The Hubble Space Telescope proved to be an important achievement in the field of astronomy. The images provided by it in the initial three years, like the images of supernova 1987A and a disc of cold gas fueling the black hole, helped resolve many mysteries about the universe. It opened up innumerable avenues for space exploration.