NASA Podcasts

Hubble Marks 20 years of Discovery
04.23.10
 
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Mario Livio, Astrophysicist/Space Telescope Science Institute: Ask anybody the name of a telescope, Hubble is the name that always comes up.

Todd Halvorson, Space Reporter/Florida Today: The public, the general public seems to have a love affair with Hubble.

Mario Livio, Astrophysicist/Space Telescope Science Institute: I mean, this is the telescope that everybody recognizes, recognizes the images from this telescope and recognizes its importance, you know, to literally, you know, everybody's life in the sense of inspiration.

President Barack Obama: And I should point out, by the way, that in my private office just off the Oval, I’ve got the picture of Jupiter from the Hubble.

(Music) Lisa Malone, Public Affairs Director/Kennedy Space Center: Twenty years after launching on a space shuttle and opening its instruments to the farthest reaches of space, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has become synonymous with exploration, discovery and even a bit of luck.

Mario Livio, Astrophysicist/Space Telescope Science Institute: One of the things that Hubble has done is it really taught us something about our place in the universe and our role within it. We want to know, how did the universe start? How did our galaxy start? How did the Earth start? How did life on Earth start? And we also want to know, how will all of these things end?

George Diller/NASA Public Affairs Officer: When the telescope arrived, there was a lot of anticipation because there was so much extraordinary effort required at KSC in order to assure that the telescope was going to be able to maintain in the kind of environment that it had to be. And that meant a cleanliness standard that was extremely pristine, far beyond anything that we had ever launched before.

Lisa Malone, Public Affairs Director/Kennedy Space Center With years of design and construction behind it, along with months more of processing, the Hubble was sealed inside Discovery for liftoff. The Hubble Space Telescope flew into the national consciousness on April 24, 1990, inside the payload bay of space shuttle Discovery.

Todd Halvorson, Space Reporter/Florida Today: The launching of the telescope itself was a huge deal because the Hubble Space Telescope was long-awaited and it was supposed to be launched in the year that the Challenger accident happened.

Lisa Malone, Public Affairs Director/Kennedy Space Center: Hubble was different from land-based observatories because it would operate from a point hundreds of miles above the distorting effects of Earth's atmosphere. Though its 94-and-a-half-inch mirror is small compared to those built on the ground, the telescope is huge by spacecraft standards. At more than 43 feet long, the telescope took up most of the shuttle's payload bay. But as large as Hubble was, it was sent up with a tiny flaw in its main mirror. It was an imperfection less than the width of a human hair, but it was enough to blur Hubble's images and leave the observatory's potential in doubt.

Todd Halvorson, Space Reporter/Florida Today: To find out two months after launch that it was launched with a misshapen mirror was crushing to NASA.

George Diller/NASA Public Affairs Officer: When the telescope had its spherical aberration needed glasses, we had already built expectations to the point where that they were expecting to see these kind of things right away. When in fact, even if the telescope had worked, it was going to take astronomers a considerable amount of time to get some of that data and then to see what else Hubble was going to find that we didn't know about.

Lisa Malone, Public Affairs Director/Kennedy Space Center: The telescope was quite powerful even with the flaw, but NASA knew it would have to fix it. So engineers set out to build Hubble a set of contact lenses.

George Diller/NASA Public Affairs Officer: So, I think that was our, probably our biggest challenge was to try to make people realize that these things were still going to happen. We just needed a little time to fix this problem.

Todd Halvorson, Space Reporter/Florida Today: Being able to restore the Hubble Space Telescope's observational capabilities was incredibly to the agency and they put together a great plan to do it.

Lisa Malone, Public Affairs Director/Kennedy Space Center: Astronauts made five back-to-back spacewalks during the repair mission, a first. They spent more than 35 hours working on the telescope in the payload bay. The Hubble repair had effects reaching beyond the telescope's health, as well.

Todd Halvorson, Space Reporter/Florida Today: This mission wasn't just about restoring the Hubble Space Telescope, it was about whether NASA had the capability to go off and build the International Space Station.

George Diller/NASA Public Affairs Officer: The problem was fixed to the extent that it never occurs to anybody to even think about it anymore because the results are just so dramatic from the Hubble.

Lisa Malone, Public Affairs Director/Kennedy Space Center: The first images from the telescope proved the servicing achieved its goal. The space telescope was free to look into the farthest distances ever seen, nearly as far back as the beginning of the universe. Astronauts made four more servicing flights to the Hubble Space Telescope to upgrade its instruments and replace critical components.

George Diller/NASA Public Affairs Officer: We did it in a way that we knew it was the last time we were ever going to visit the telescope, and we had to do everything to it that we wanted to do if we wanted it to last a lot longer. So that made it more complex and when the mission was over, the feeling was, we'd done it.

Todd Halvorson, Space Reporter/Florida Today: They have seen different worlds for the very first time through the eyes of the Hubble Space Telescope and its really expanded the general public's view of the universe, how the universe began, what the ultimate fate of the universe is going to be. It has ignited, it just has ignited the imagination of the collective American public.

Lisa Malone, Public Affairs Director/Kennedy Space Center: The space telescope repaid each mission with more incredible views of space that all could see and appreciate. Hubble observations astounded researchers by showing the universe was not only expanding, it was speeding up.

Mario Livio, Astrophysicist/Space Telescope Science Institute: Imagine your amazement if when I throw these keys up, you would suddenly see these keys accelerate in toward the ceiling. This is what we discovered. This was extraordinarily surprising and it led to this notion of dark energy that is pushing on the universe to accelerate.

George Diller/NASA Public Affairs Officer: Once we began to get things back from Hubble, the scientists were beginning to see physical processes going on that they didn't really understand, and hadn't been able to see before.

Lisa Malone, Public Affairs Director/Kennedy Space Center: Twenty years after opening a new eye on the universe, Hubble continues to dazzle by reaching farther back in time and space.

George Diller/NASA Public Affairs Officer: The light that we're just now receiving from some of these galaxies and different objects show younger and younger galaxies and stars, the light from which, when they left that galaxy, the Earth hadn't even been formed yet. That's how far back in time Hubble is seeing.

Mario Livio, Astrophysicist/Space Telescope Science Institute: We're talking about questions that a few tens of years ago we didn't even know to ask.

George Diller/NASA Public Affairs Officer: The whole thing, it's a very storied program from the very first launch until the last servicing mission.

Lisa Malone, Public Affairs Director/Kennedy Space Center: There are more questions for astronomers to answer and Hubble will remain in orbit to answer them for years to come.

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