Excerpted from “Hubble’s Greatest Hits”, by Timothy Ferris. Full article in National Geographic, April 2015, on newsstands now. Copyright © 2015. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Photos courtesy of Zoltan Levay, the imaging team leader at Space Telescope Science Institute and National Geographic. See more photos for this article here on National Geographic.
It didn’t amount to much at first.
Credit: National Geographic
Launched into orbit aboard the space shuttle Discovery on April 24, 1990, amid flurries of hope and hype, the Hubble Space Telescope promptly faltered. Rather than remaining locked on its celestial targets, it trembled and shook, quaking like a photophobic vampire whenever sunlight struck its solar panels. Opening its protective front door to let starlight in perturbed the telescope so badly that it fell into an electronic coma. Worst of all, Hubble turned out to be myopic. Its primary light-gathering mirror, eight feet in diameter and said to be the smoothest large object ever fashioned by humans, had been figured perfectly wrong.