HUBBLE the Telescope. Its price tag was 500 million dollars in 1990. It was a lot of money to pay for a telescope that circled the Earth and could not focus. A faulty mirror on the Hubble was the reason the expensive space telescope could not see. The Hubble would quickly become an object of ridicule and the subject of numerous jokes on late-night television.
In 1993, astronauts repaired that faulty mirror on the Hubble. Fifteen years later, it is very safe to say that nobody is laughing now. In fact, even though the cost of the telescope has eclipsed 5 billion dollars, it has become a very inexpensive investment in astronomy and our understanding of outer space through time.
The Hubble telescope has captured many of the most spectacular images of outer space for more than a decade. In addition, it has enabled direct observation of the Universe as it was billions of years ago, discovered black holes at the center of galaxies, provided measurements that helped establish the size and age of the Universe, and offered evidence that the expansion of the Universe is actually accelerating.
However, even though the final planned servicing mission for the telescope is scheduled for October of this year, the Hubble’s best pictures of the Universe may be yet to come. The Hubble is about to receive a powerful upgrade in capability during an eleven-day shuttle mission that will feature five spacewalks. The spacewalks will be necessary for astronauts to install new scientific instruments to enhance the telescope. NASA intends for the Hubble Telescope to get a broader, more distant, and sharper view of objects.
During the mission, the Hubble will receive a new set of gyroscopes that will stabilize the telescope, and batteries and thermal blankets to extend Hubble’s operational life until at least the year 2013. In addition, a degrading Fine Guidance Sensor unit, one of three aboard Hubble, will be replaced with a refurbished unit to help maintain the telescope’s ability to point and focus on astronomical objects throughout the Universe.
The Hubble Telescope is responsible for dating the age of the Universe to 12-14 billion years. However, it cannot see back that far in time. It cannot see the period after the big bang when the Universe began an expansion that continues to accelerate to this day. It is important for our increased understanding of the Universe that scientists now see that time in distant space. The years after the Big Bang are known for the formation of the first stars and the creation of the first galaxies. In effect, to see this happen is a scientific search for the edge of the Universe. It is a search that will be undertaken by Hubble’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).
The successor to Hubble, scheduled for launch in 2013, will be designed to see objects even farther in distance, and therefore time, than the Hubble now can. However, in order for the James Webb Space Telescope to see objects at the edge of the Universe after the Big Bang, it will need to be a much different telescope than the Hubble.
Therefore, in 2013, an unmanned spacecraft will release the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) into an orbit 930,000 miles away from Earth. This distance puts the telescope well beyond the reach of space shuttle servicing missions, and therefore the telescope is expected to have a much shorter life than the Hubble.
After entering orbit, a light shield the size of a tennis court will unfold, shielding the JWST from the sun’s rays. Finally, powerful cooling systems will assist in significantly lowering the spacecraft’s temperature to -447 degrees Fahrenheit in order to complete its mission.
The James Webb telescope will be equipped with three different types of cameras, all of which are tuned to detect infrared light, which is invisible to the naked eye. In contrast, the Hubble Space Telescope was designed to capture mostly visible light and ultraviolet wavelengths. This difference in light spectrum is caused by the fact that the further back in time astronomers look, the redder the light from objects appears to be.
The primary goal of the James Webb Telescope will be to discover what happened when the Universe was about one billion years old and produced its first light. The telescope is expected to allow astronomers to observe the birth of galaxies, the physics of star and planet formation, and the entire early development of the Universe. The data could also shed light on how other solar systems form and evolve. Hubble was a pioneer in the search for outer space across time. James Webb is intended to go back even further to the point of first light. It is a scientific quest to see the edge of the Universe, a view from the distant past that will improve our understanding of space, for the benefit of the entire world.
James William Smith has worked in Senior management positions for some of the largest Financial Services firms in the United States for the last twenty five years. He has also provided business consulting support for insurance organizations and start up businesses. He has always been interested in writing and listening to different viewpoints on interesting topics. Visit his website at