The Hubble Space Telescope launched on the 24th of April, 30 years ago. It’s an impressive milestone especially as its expected lifespan was just 10 years.
One of the primary reasons for the Hubble telescope’s longevity is that it can be serviced and improved with new observational instruments through Space Shuttle visits.
When Hubble, or HST, first launched, its instruments could observe ultraviolet light with wavelengths shorter than the eye can see, as well as optical light with wavelengths visible to humans. A maintenance mission in 1997 added an instrument to observe near infrared light, which are longer wavelengths than people can see. Hubble’s new infrared eyes provided two new major capabilities: the ability to see farther into space than before and see deeper into the dusty regions of star formation.
I am an astrophysicist at the University of Arizona who has used near infrared observations to better understand how the universe works, from star formation to cosmology. Some 35 years ago, I was given the chance to build a near infrared camera and spectrometer for Hubble. It was the chance of a lifetime. The camera my team designed and developed has changed the way humans see and understand the universe. The instrument was built at Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colorado, under our direction.