Reality Straight Up!

Thoughts & Observations of a Free Range Astrophysicist

Repairing the Hubble Space Telescope

Before launch, the Hubble Space Telescope was being touted as the greatest advance in astronomy since Galileo first pointed a telescope at the heavens. But it didn’t take long to discover that it had a serious flaw. Hubble’s mirror was exquisite. It was just the wrong shape, leaving it unable to make sharp images of the heavens.


Hubble fell victim to a W.A.G. In the face of budget, schedule and political pressures, very smart people turned a blind eye to a wealth of evidence of Hubble’s problems when they could have been easily fixed. The result was a $1.5 billion disaster.

Excerpts from BBC’s “Miracle on Orbit.”

Almost overnight, Hubble became the butt of jokes on late night television. Jay Leno in particular took us to task. “What sound does a space turkey make? ‘Hubble Hubble Hubble'”

I have the dubious distinction of being the guy sitting at the computer console with live nationwide television cameras looking over my shoulder when the first images from Hubble were radioed to Earth. I was also a member of the science team responsible for the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2, the instrument that would ultimately restore Hubble to its original promise. With the eyes and weight of the world on us, we had the task of making sure that it worked.

The scene in the operations room when the first image from the repaired Hubble was radioed back to Earth.

It is amazing how close that effort came to succumbing to the same sorts of errors responsible for Hubble’s original failure.

Those experiences shaped my thinking throughout the remainder of my career. They form the kernel of my message today. Success doesn’t come from looking for reasons to think that we are right. Success comes from looking for the things that tell us we might be wrong.

Repairing the Hubble Space Telescope  © Dr. Jeff Hester
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Over his 30 year career as an internationally known astrophysicist, Dr. Jeff Hester was a key member of the team that repaired the Hubble Space Telescope. With one foot always on the frontiers of knowledge, he has been mentor, coach, team leader, award-winning teacher, administrator and speaker, to name a few of the hats he has worn. His Hubble image, the Pillars of Creation, was chosen by Time Magazine as among the 100 most influential photographs in history.
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