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30 years into the Void: A History of the Hubble Space Telescope

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#1 JoeR

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Posted 09 May 2020 - 02:30 PM

On August 24, 1990 the Space Shuttle Discovery embarked on mission STS-31 which deployed a very special payload into orbit: a $1.5 billion Ritchey–Chrétien astrograph known as the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). It was equipped with a 2.4m primary mirror and 57600mm of focal length.HST was the first of its kind, a visual light reflector telescope operating outside of the Earth’s atmosphere giving it a clear, undistorted view of the Universe.

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#2 RichA

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Posted 11 May 2020 - 04:21 PM

Thanks.  One of the greatest scientific devices of all-time, highly productive and 1/66th the cost of the ISS.


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#3 careysub

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Posted 11 May 2020 - 09:20 PM

It has been called the most productive scientific instrument in history. it certainly exceeds any other telescope thus far.


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#4 XB-36

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Posted 13 May 2020 - 11:57 AM

I want one



#5 Chopin

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Posted 17 May 2020 - 08:36 PM

Lovely writeup. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. Thank you!


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#6 Dave Mitsky

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Posted 18 May 2020 - 12:20 AM

Well done!



#7 Get Sirius

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Posted 18 May 2020 - 07:18 AM

The Hubble is and was a very remarkable technical achievement,  There is a little-known back story to its history.  At the time of its launch into space  the project at Perkin-Elmer, where I was working at the time as a lens designer but had no contact or involvement with the project, was very behind in schedule and budget. For various reasons there was intense pressure both within and outside the company to get Hubble up into space ASAP.  An optical engineer who I knew was very involved in the testing of the primary mirror. He was starting to be very concerned and disturbed over some things he was seeing in the interferograms .that were being taken of the mirror.  Something did not add up and he felt something was wrong.  He went to management with his concerns.  Nobody wanted to hear about anything that might delay the launch.  And he was just one person.  After repeated attempts to alert management about a potential disaster he hired a lawyer and started documenting everything he could about what was going on.  He, as someone very involved with the testing of the mirror, did not want to be held liable in any way if things did not go well. When Hubble was launched and did not work as planned he was not surprised.  Later, after I had left the company for a few years, I was hired by Perkin-Elmer to act as an expert witness to review their legal defense when they were being sued for $$$$ damages. 

   In defense of Perkin-Elmer I will say that his technical concerns were not so clear cut as to make it 100% certain that something was wrong.  It just seemed more like a very disturbing puzzle that he felt needed an explanation and had the potential to be very serious.  To stop in its tracks and delay the huge effort to get Hubble up into space ASAP would require a decision that we ourselves today would probably have been extremely reluctant to make back then, and based only on the concerns of one person out of the big Hubble team.  Any delay would have been very bad for the schedule and budget, especially if there was a serious problem.

     This account here may be public knowledge at this point and I have not kept up with the Hubble story and its backstory to see if that is the case.  Here is something else that, back then, was a very closely guarded technical secret and highly classified.  It turns out that at the time of Hubble's launch the US already had a Hubble size military telescope in orbit that was pointed down, not up.  Much was made at the time in the press of the great achievement of making and getting Hubble up and functioning, as if it had never been done before.  Not true.  A lot of classified military projects are not classified to keep secrets from our enemies, who already know all about them, but to keep secrets from the American public - who may have mixed feelings about America spending gazillions of dollars doing things like spying from space on other countries.  Perkin-Elmer had back then a very highly classified large project that involved some large military optics.  I never had any contact with that project or heard any leaked information and the project security was tight as a drum.  But I did speculate, only to myself, as to what it could be about.  Imagine then my surprise when, back then, I was reading in the Perkin-Elmer library the latest monthly issue of an obscure technical journal - The Soviet Journal of Optical Technology - which was translated into English and published by the Optical Society of America.  I read this regularly back then  because there was sometimes, but rarely, an article about lens design.  I still read it today.  Anyway I saw that this particular issue had an article that ranked the world's largest telescopes by size.  The Hubble made the list but so did another US telescope the same size, also in space, and that is when I learned that the Russians knew all about this very highly classified military secret but the American public did not - unless they read an obscure Soviet journal. Of course I kept this information to myself and back then you could quickly end up in prison by even breathing a word of this.  I did not know back then, or now, if there were multiple scopes like Hubble that were made in case of a launch blow-up but it seems likely to me.  Or how long before Hubble there was a military scope in orbit that large.  But over the years, especially recently, much of this has been declassified and there are even books written about it.  You might say that impressive as the Hubble achievement is/was it is even more impressive that similar scope(s) were made and launched shrouded in incredible secrecy.  A large team at Perkin-Elmer kept an extremely tight security lid on this story for many years.  As I said, I never had the slightest contact with the project back then and never heard a word about it from anyone.  But it is kind of funny to have read about its existence in a Soviet journal that did not even make a big deal about it, as if it was just common knowledge - except to us here.  


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#8 Chris MN

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Posted 18 May 2020 - 11:52 AM

This article states Hubble was launched "August 24, 1990".  Wasn't it April 24, 1990?



#9 JoeR

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Posted 18 May 2020 - 03:59 PM

This article states Hubble was launched "August 24, 1990".  Wasn't it April 24, 1990?

Oh crap. I needed a proofreader. That one slipped by me. Now I have a permanent record of my stupidity in the video.


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#10 wyzguy

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Posted 23 May 2020 - 09:51 PM

Great read Joe, thanks for putting it together!


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#11 N2TU

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Posted 28 May 2020 - 06:43 AM

Excellent article! Thank you!




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