NASA Podcasts

The Camera that Saved Hubble
05.07.09
 
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The Camera that Saved Hubble
Hubble is all about imagery. It's all about taking clear, sharp, beautiful pictures of the sky...
Title - David Leckrone, Senior Project Scientist, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center ...and doing fantastic science with those images.
Title - 1990. Hubble Telescope in Kennedy Space Center Clean Room before Launch
Title - Ed Weiler, Acting Assistant Administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate - The story of the Hubble Space Telescope launch is best...
The way I like to describe it is...
Title - April 24, 1990 ...climbing to the top of Mt. Everest and then suddenly, within a couple of months,
of sinking to the bottom of the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth.
Title - 3 months later: "Hubble Trouble" -
We were having trouble focusing the telescope, and we noticed that Wide Field Camera pictures that were coming down were fuzzy, fuzzy blobs instead of nice, sharp points.
And over the course of early June we started to get worried. Maybe, maybe there's something wrong with the mirror itself.
You can't believe how down every astronomer on the Hubble team was that day,
because we were about to announce to the world we... we messed up. We don't have the telescope we thought.
Title - May 22, 1990 - The conclusion we've come to from that...
Title - Douglas Broome, Program Manager, Hubble Space Telescope ...is that there's a significant spherical aberration appears to be present in the optics.
And the simplest way of understanding it is...
Title - Mirror in clean room ...that when you have a mirror that's focusing, the light all comes together at a single point is the objective of the exercise.
You want the light to come together and focus at a single point.
When you have spherical aberration, it says that there's some disfigurement of that mirror that causes the light,
instead of focusing at a single point, to be spread across a region in space.
And, suddenly, in the press was born the term "Hubble Trouble."
I remember giving a talk to some young kids.
Title - John Trauger, WFPC2 Principal Investigator, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory - They were kindergarten kids. Really young kids.
About the wonders, you know, of Hubble. And I said the word "Hubble Telescope." And it was like I was Jay Leno. Everybody laughed.
So it was a very sad, very difficult time. And some people left the program and went off in disgust.
Title - A Ray of Hope
John gave me this one ray of hope. It was that one little ray of hope that I glommed onto.
We played with it. We played with the model. And we realized that if the error were in the primary mirror, we could make our correction...
Title - Path of light inside Hubble ...with a little mirror about the size of a nickel inside our camera.
So we purposefully made the mirror in our instrument, and therefore our whole camera, out of focus. With a minus sign.
It was as profoundly out of focus as the Hubble Telescope was. Exactly. And that was not easy.
We were finishing up the final optical alignment, and NASA Administrator Dan Goldin visited JPL. We went to the clean room, and he said, "What's going on here?"
Larry Simmons, the Project Manager, says, "Well, we're here to fix the Hubble Telescope." And his response was, "No. You're here to save the agency."
That was a clear message to us that it was important. We shall not fail.
Title - Shuttle Servicing Mission 1, December 6, 1993
Astronauts OK. Are you ready for me to let go?
Shortly after the mission was over, we brought WFPC2 online.
We'd done everything that we thought we had to do. But there's no substitute for seeing that it actually did work.
Title - December 18, 1993, Awaiting first image from new camera
The first image came. And it looked really good. I mean it looked just the way it should look.
Hubble team - Cheers.
Title - January 13, 1994 - We did like 9 press in a row with primarily WIFPC pictures. Every single one made front-page news across the world.
It took this camera being put in the Hubble in 1993 to really start the career of Hubble.
To turn Hubble from a national disgrace almost to the great American comeback story.
And here it is, still our workhorse camera, going on 15 years.
It's gonna be a tough moment when it comes out of the Hubble. Because I remember exactly the moment it was emplaced in the Hubble.
But I really look forward to be able to walk up to it and touch it someday in the Smithsonian. And say, "That's the camera that saved Hubble."
NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

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