The Hubble Telescope is a low-orbit telescope in the high Earth atmosphere. The fathers of modern rocketry, Hermann Oberth, Robert Goddard, and Konstantin Tsiolkovsky published The Rocket into Planetary Space, in 1923, which mentioned sending a telescope to space for one of the first times in history. The purpose of the telescope was to provide sharper images for astronomers to study. While much larger telescopes reside on Earth, the pictures that the Hubble Telescope sends back are much better because the telescope is above the interference caused by the atmosphere. And while the Hubble Telescope is not the first or the only Earth-orbit telescope, it was the first scientific space telescope. All of the other telescopes are pointed in towards Earth as military reconnaissance telescopes.
The original launch date was set for 1983, but the actual launch date was April 24, 1990, due to various problems with funding, construction of the telescope, and the Challenger disaster. The launch commenced with only one slight delay, when the computer didn’t shut off a fuel valve. It was disconnected manually and the launch continued. After that minor hiccup, the shuttle, carrying the telescope and the five astronauts, Loren Shriver, Charles Bolden Jr, Steven Hawley, Bruce McCandlless II, and Kathryn Sullivan embarked on a journey to space from the John F. Kennedy Space Center.
A few months after the launch, the scientists and technicians analyzing the data and photos sent back realized that there was a serious flaw in the telescope. The main mirror had been polished down one-tenth of the width of a human hair too far. The result of this perfect imperfection was that the images coming down to Earth were no better than the images of the best telescopes on the planet. Another issue they found was that every time the telescope went around the Earth it wobbled at a certain point. This was the “Terminator Point”, where it changes from night to day. This wobble was not only distorting the pictures taken at that moment but was also shaking the structure to the degree that eventually the solar panels would be wrenched off. Losing the solar panels would take away telescope’s power, which in turn would literally freeze all of it’s instruments and ultimately cause Hubble to crash back to Earth. This would be a failure of the entire project, worth billions of dollars in damage. Recognizing the gravity of the situation, a repair mission was scheduled for 1993 to fix the problems. The mission was a success, with installation of new equipment, including a system called COSTAR which is an image correcting device for the blemished mirror, and the repair of other flaws. Commander Richard O. Covey, Pilot Kenneth D. Bowersox, Payload Commander F. Story Musgrave and Mission Specialists Kathryn C. Thornton, Claude Nicollier, Jeffrey A. Hoffman and Tom Akers were the first astronauts to service the Hubble telescope after launch, on this first servicing mission out of five.