In 1946, Lyman Spitzer proposed a Large Space Telescope in a paper he published while at Yale. Keep in mind there were zero man made satellites in space at the time. He talked about the advantages of having a telescope outside of the atmosphere. This was all fantasy at the time. The technology just wasn’t there.
That all changed in 1957 when Russia launched Sputnik 1 into orbit. This resulted in the U.S. government to sign the Space Act in 1958, creating NASA. In 1969 the National Academy of Sciences published another report on the advantages of space telescopes. The idea then started to gain more traction. In 1974, a group of astrophysicists and engineers held the first of many meetings. They came up with a concept for what a space telescope would look like along with technical requirements and even a budget.
In 1977, Congress approved the budget and work began on designing the space telescope.
In 1978, work began on the 8 foot primary mirror. A year later astronauts began training for servicing missions. The original design of the telescope was to be serviced frequently. In 1983, the telescope was dubbed Hubble after Astronomer Edwin Hubble. He was the first to prove that there were other galaxies in the cosmos. The 1986 Challenger disaster pushed the launch of Hubble back until shuttle launches could continue.
Hubble Launch Day
Finally April 24th, 1990, Hubble took off inside the space shuttle Discovery. A day later it was deployed using the SRMS arms. In May the first image came back and it was 50% sharper than ground based telescopes.
In June 1990, Nasa first announced the imperfection in the primary mirror that affected its clarity. It was still able to conduct science however. In December 1993, Hubble received its first servicing mission. On the mission a new wide field camera was installed and Hubble got a pair of glasses in the form of COSTAR. A year later Hubble was discovering black holes, which were mere theory up until this point.
There have been 5 missions total to service Hubble with the last being in 2009. With the retirement of the space shuttle we currently have no way to perform further servicing missions at the moment.
Hubble has been in service for over 30 years and is still kicking. However the telescopes orbit will decay to the point that sometime in the 2030’s, it will fall back to earth. In September 2022, NASA and Space X signed an agreement to perform a study into a possible Dragon mission to boost Hubble’s orbit. Expanding the life of the telescope for decades to come. With the JWST coming online in 2022, Hubble hasn’t become obsolete. In fact the two telescopes have been working in concert. Hubble finds targets and JWST is used to further examine them. The Spitzer telescope has also been acting as a scout for JWST. With the three telescopes working together, we should see some amazing images in the coming years.