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Hubble's Specs

Since its launch in 1990, the Hubble Telescope has been taking awe-inspiring pictures of our solar system, distance galaxies, and everything in between. But it wasn’t always sunshine and selfies for the space-based observatory. When the first pictures came back, NASA’s collective stomach sank - the images were blurry! Billions of dollars spent on a camera the size of a school bus and it couldn't even take a decent pic. 


Who f*cked up? The team tracked the issue back to the Perkin-Elmer Corporation in Connecticut where the telescope's primary mirror was made. Turns out the tool used to test the mirror’s accuracy was flawed, which meant the glass was off by 1/50th of the width of a human hair. This sounds small, but as anyone who tries on someone else’s glasses knows, the smallest difference can be dizzying. So what now? What do you do with a giant camera hurtling around the earth with crappy vision? Experts quickly realized it would be easier to fix the telescope than scrap it and start again. So, engineers got to work building a pair of “glasses”.


Enter COSTAR (Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement instrument) a pair of spectacles the size of a telephone booth. In December, 1993, astronauts flew into space and attached the COSTAR to the telescope, along with a second instrument - the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2). Not surprisingly, the mission was a success. #nasarocks. Since then, several trips have been made to the orbiting observatory as engineers continue to replace and upgrade the equipment. 


After 30 years in space, the Hubble Telescope continues to take incredible pics of our cosmic backyard. But firmly attached to its face is the welcomed reminder that even rocket scientists make mistakes.


Learn more:

Hubble's Mirror Flaw

Great miscalculations: The French railway error and 10 others

NASA: About the Hubble Space Telescope

Image by Nasa

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