On April 24, 1990, STS-31 Space Shuttle Discovery lifted off on its mission to deploy the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) into orbit. This amazing astronomical observatory, a joint NASA-ESA project, has now been orbiting above Earth's atmosphere and observing celestial bodies for two solid decades!
Next year, she can have a beer.
Named after astronomer Edwin P. Hubble (1889-1953), the HST is capable of taking extremely sharp images in ultraviolet, visible and near-infrared wavelengths, and many of its captures have led to incredible astrophysical breakthroughs, not the least of which is accurately determining the rate of expansion of the universe. In our own neighborhood, HST taught us a great deal about TNOs, dwarf planets and KBOs; and the very farthest objects seen, in Hubble Ultra Deep Field, or HUDF, are galaxies well over 12 billion light years away!!
To date, Hubble has observed more than 30,000 celestial targets and amassed more than a half-million pictures in its archive!
Last May, the fifth and final service mission, STS-125 Atlantis, captured Hubble to replace gyroscopes, computers, and scientific instruments over a whopping 37 hours of space walks! With that marathon upgrade, they made the telescope 100 times more powerful than when it launched. Human hands (or rather spacesuit gloves) won't touch it again, but hopefully it will last at least another decade.
Click to embiggen
Here are some personal photos I took of the Hubble model in the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility at Johnson Space Center, where astronauts train to work with the observatory. Check the size of that sucker! 44 feet long, and 14 feet in diameter! You can hold a decent party in there, but I'm wondering if they'll sell it to the Texas State Fair now, to be used as a dunking booth.
In other news, NASA Missions released this gorgeous "Hubble 20th Anniversary Image" of Mystic Mountain in the Carina Nebula. So stunning!!
And, the Houston Chronicle interviewed NASA Astronomer and astronaut Steven Hawley, who served on STS-31's original Hubble deployment crew: "We were very conscious about not screwing it up." Ooh, bummer about that first mirror!
Want to help astronomers sort out the many thousands of galaxies seen in a Hubble deep field observation? Go to Galaxy Zoo, the internet-based astronomy project where anyone can search and sort galaxies into categories (spiral, elliptical, and irregular) – a great learning experience combined with an effort to help astronomers study how galaxies relate to one another, providing overall clues that will help understand how they formed.