Hubble Space Telescope celebrates 23 years of important discoveries

Added by on April 24, 2013

One of the most famous images taken in 1995 by the Hubble Space Telescope – the Pillars of Creation showing stars forming in the Eagle Nebula

One of the most famous images taken in 1995 by the Hubble Space Telescope – the Pillars of Creation showing stars forming in the Eagle Nebula

A more accurate estimate of the universe’s age, the discovery of dark energy, and offering enough data for scientists to create more that 10,000 research papers are just a few of the contributions to science the Hubble Space Telescope has made during its 23 years in space.

The Hubble Space Telescope was put into orbit by the space shuttle Discovery on April 24 1990, after approximately seven years of design and construction. The US Congress approved funding of US$36m in 1978, with a final construction cost of approximately US$2.5bn and final cumulative costs reaching US$10bn to US$20bn, partly due to delays as a result of the 2003 Columbia shuttle disaster.

Shortly after its launch scientists found that images from the space telescope were blurred as a result of a problem with the construction of the telescope’s primary mirror.

“Hubble was the butt of a lot of jokes – satirizing cartoons, in newspapers and on late-night talk shows.

“The poor observatory was kind of a laughingstock there in the beginning,” said Hubble Mission Office head Ken Sembach of the Space Telescope Science Institute.

The problem was corrected in 1993 when space shuttle Endeavor carried crew and equipment to perform an in situ repair.

The space telescope originally had an expected useful life of approximately 10 years, yet a key design feature that allowed the telescope to be serviced in orbit significantly extended its life.

Sembach commented, “I don’t think when Hubble was first envisioned that anybody expected it to last more than five or 10 years, let alone 20 years.

“I think that the repairs and everything else that has been done to the observatory have been far more spectacular than had ever been envisioned originally.”

According to NASA, it costs approximately US$98m to keep the telescope operational with funding haven been committed into the year 2016. Yet it is anticipated that funding will continue as long as the iconic telescope provides useful data.

NASA plans to launch a new space telescope, called the James Webb Space Telescope, during 2018. The new telescope will have an orbit that’s much farther from the earth that the orbit of the Hubble Space Telescope, and will have a primary mirror of 6.5m – much larger than Hubble’s 2.5m mirror.