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Purpose of the Hubble Space Telescope
We all like to shoot pictures of eye-catching scenarios and scientists are no exception to this rule. The only difference being that they want to take snapshots of unearthly objects, bodies and phenomenon. This curiosity led to the research and development of space telescopes. Of course this hobby is not for fun but for serious study of this cosmos and the mystery surrounding its origin, which contains answers to the origin of our own solar system as well. The Hubble space telescope was a giant leap in this arena and though it does not have the privilege of being the first space telescope, its unique characteristics and versatility in space exploration makes it stand out distinctly.
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Who it was Named After and its Development
Also known as HST for short, the Hubble space telescope was named after the great astronomer Edwin Hubble who contributed greatly to the advancement of astronomy. He helped to break new frontiers regarding the existence of galaxies other than the Milky Way, hence deserved the right to have this telescope named after him. Though the idea to have a telescope in space is as old as 1923, it was only in the year 1969 that the Large Space Telescope Project was approved by NASA.
This was just the beginning and after passing through various stages, the Hubble project got the final budget approval from the Congress in the year 1977. Experts were pooled in to contribute their best efforts in the form of several companies, universities and agencies such as the European Space Agency and Lockheed Missiles. Different organisations were given the task of developing specific technologies and parts based on their area of expertise and it was hoped to launch the telescope into the space somewhere near the middle of the 1980's.
Finally, after a lot of research, efforts, failures and deterrents, the launch of the Hubble space telescope took place in the year 1990 in the month of April.
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Fixing the Mirrors and Other Repair Missions
It is not everyday that you launch telescopes into space, so how would you feel if someone just said “Oh dear! the space telescope you launched the other day, after years of research and billions of dollars spent, is having problems with its lens”? It was really a sad moment but the scientists did not give up but sent a repair mission into space to fix the lens problem in January 1994.
The mirror in the telescope had a defect in how smoothly the surface was polished. This error was of the order of 1/50 times the width of a human hair, yet big enough to blur the vision of the telescope. This meant that the images taken by the telescope were not properly focused so it needed repair. But repairing a telescope racing in the Low Earth Orbit at nearly 17,000 mph is not the same as getting your glasses repaired from an ophthalmologist. It required 7 highly-trained astronauts to be sent in space to carry out the repair, which could be compared to putting contact lenses in your eyes to correct your imperfect vision. The repair mission was a huge success and boosted NASA's confidence in conducting complicated repairs in space. This confidence was tested to the extreme, as the shuttle, Altantis, launched in October 2008 to execute the most complicated repair mission to date. This mission was described by the astronauts as more "surgery" than repair!
Several other repair missions have been carried out since the telescope was placed in orbit to replace faulty parts. The latest one in October 2008 will most likely be the last.
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Increasing the Lifespan of the Telescope
The last service mission in October 2008 was enough to fix the previous problems, and the life of Hubble will be extended by at least 3 or more years. Currently the telescope is orbiting at a height of nearly 600 kilometers above the surface of the Earth traveling at a tremendous speed of 8 km/second and shows no signs of slowing down or falling into Earth's atmosphere.
If you are interested in seeing the results of Hubble's work, take a look at the images below. Although I have tried to put several pictures, the gallery is really a huge collection and making choices of which Hubble images to include is quite difficult. So it's better check out the link to the Hubble Space Telescope gallery, here.
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Figure 1: Hubble in Space
Figure 2: Hubble Control Center
Figure 3: Picture of Jupiter
Figure 4: Collisions in Cosmos
Figure 5: Cold Gas & Dust Fuel