NASA Awards Hubble History Contract

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope recently revisited one of its most iconic and popular images: the Eagle Nebula’s Pillars of Creation. This image shows the pillars as seen in visible light, capturing the multi-coloured glow of gas clouds, wispy tendrils of dark cosmic dust, and the rust-coloured elephants’ trunks of the nebula’s famous pillars. Image Credit: NASA, ESA/Hubble and the Hubble Heritage Team

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope recently revisited one of its most iconic and popular images: the Eagle Nebula’s Pillars of Creation. This image shows the pillars as seen in visible light, capturing the multi-coloured glow of gas clouds, wispy tendrils of dark cosmic dust, and the rust-coloured elephants’ trunks of the nebula’s famous pillars. Image Credit: NASA, ESA/Hubble and the Hubble Heritage Team

February 13, 2015 – NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland, has awarded Foresight Science & Technology Inc. a contract to gather archival materials and to produce a scholarly history of the post-launch era of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) Project. This project will complement previous historical work from the pre-launch era.

The Foresight team is being led by Dr. Christopher Gainor, a historian of technology and a writer specializing in space exploration and aeronautics. He is the author of four books, including Arrows to the Moon, which covered the Canadian contribution to the Apollo moon landings. He holds a PhD in the history of technology from the University of Alberta, where his faculty advisor was Dr. Robert W. Smith, the author of the previous scholarly history of the development of the Hubble Telescope up to initial launch. Dr. Gainor considers “HST to be unique as a robotic spacecraft that has been in continuous operation for nearly a quarter century and that has been in the public eye for most of that time.”

The Foresight team, which also includes John D. Ruley and Arendt Speser, will collect documents and oral histories, creating an accessible archive to support and complement the scholarly history. The research will pick up the story in early 1990, when the shuttle Discovery carried HST into orbit. It will document all five servicing missions and the processes that were used to make mission management decisions throughout its operational history, which have led to HST being the premier astronomical telescope in space for a quarter of a century.

The material collected will be placed in an archival collection with an innovative electronic catalog for use by the historical research team and then delivered to NASA for subsequent use by the government and other historical researchers.

Although not the first space telescope, Hubble is one of the largest and most versatile, and is well known as both a vital research tool and a public relations boon for astronomy. Hubble is the only telescope designed to be serviced in space by astronauts.

Hubble was funded in the 1970s, with a proposed launch in 1983, but the project was beset by technical delays, budget problems, and the Challenger disaster. Hubble was finally launched aboard Discovery on April 24, 1990.

After a few weeks of operation, scientists noticed that images being sent back from Hubble were slightly blurred. While this distortion still allowed scientists to study the cosmos and make significant discoveries, it resulted in less spectacular images, and some of the original mission could not be fulfilled. An investigation finally revealed a spherical aberration in the primary mirror built by Perkin-Elmer, due to a miscalibrated measuring instrument that caused the edges of the mirror to be ground slightly too flat. Engineers rushed to come up with a fix to the problem in time for Hubble’s first scheduled servicing mission in 1993.

Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colorado had been involved in the Hubble program throughout its history. Ball built the Goddard High Resolution Spectrograph (GHRS), one of the original science instruments launched on board the Hubble Space Telescope.

Ball then designed the Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement (COSTAR), which included the University of Colorado’s Cosmic Origins Spectrograph.

In December, 1993, the crew of STS-61 embarked on a service mission to replace a number of Hubble’s parts. Following intensive training on the use of new tools never used before in space, two teams of astronauts completed repairs during a record five back-to-back spacewalks. During the EVAs, COSTAR was installed and the Wide Field/Planetary Camera was replaced with the Wide Field/Planetary Camera 2, which was designed to compensate for the mirror problem. The team also performed basic maintenance on the craft, installed new solar arrays, and replaced four of Hubble’s gyroscopes.

Shortly after the crew returned to Earth, Hubble Space Telescope began returning sharp and spectacular images. Astronomers could now take advantage of a fully functional space telescope, and the public was treated to breathtaking photos of stars, galaxies, nebulae, and other deep-space objects.

Subsequent servicing missions improved Hubble’s capabilities and performed routine repairs, and eventually, all of the instruments on board the Hubble Space Telescope were built by Ball Aerospace.

The Hubble Space Telescope, a joint ESA and NASA project, has made some of the most dramatic discoveries in the history of astronomy. From its vantage point 600 km above the Earth, Hubble can detect light with ‘eyes’ 5 times sharper than the best ground-based telescopes and looks deep into space where some of the most profound mysteries are still buried in the mists of time.

The Hubble Space Telescope has won two Space Achievement Awards from the Space Foundation for its outreach activities, in 2001 and 2010.

Additional information on HST can be found at:

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/hubble