On the 20th anniversary of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA and European Space Agency scientists will be toasting one of their most acclaimed projects, and are likely to release new commemorative images taken by Hubble. By Aug 2008, Hubble had completed over 100,000 orbits around Earth since it was launched aboard Space Shuttle Discovery in 1990. Its images have helped determine the age of the universe, the identity of quasars and the existence of dark energy.
The agencies released Hubble images of galactic formations named the "Fountain of Youth" for the 19th anniversary. Astronauts made their final trip to the Hubble Telescope in May 2009. They replaced its failing gyroscopes and batteries, and installed the Hubble's most powerful camera ever, the Wide Field Camera 3 and repaired the Advanced Camera for Surveys, which is used to catalog objects at vast distances. The work should keep the telescope running until at least into 2014. Hubble orbits Earth, and its position above the atmosphere, which distorts and blocks the light that reaches the planet, gives it a view of the universe that typically far surpasses that of ground-based telescopes. Construction was completed in 1985, but the launch was delayed until 1990 because of the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. There were many setback following the launch on Apr 24. The main mirror was too flat on one edge by 1/50th of the width of a single human hair, and the images beamed back to Earth were out of focus. In Dec 1993, the Space Shuttle Endeavor captured and modified Hubble by adding a camera to correct problems with the main mirror. In Feb 1997 on a second servicing mission, astronauts exchanged some of Hubble's instruments and added new blankets to keep Hubble warm. In Nov 1999, a gyroscope on Hubble failed. The telescope shut down and awaited repairs. The next shuttle mission to Hubble repaired the gyroscope and performed other upgrades. In Oct 1997, NASA decided to extend Hubble's operations from 2005 to 2010. The date has since been extended to 2014, when the James Webb Space Telescope should be operational. The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency, and is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. The Space Telescope Science Institute conducts Hubble science operations. The institute is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. in Washington DC. UPDATED Apr 2010
Date written/update: 2010-04-24