Friday, April 08, 2005

Giving Hubble a New Pair of Glasses

When the Hubble Space Telescope first turned on, everyone at the Jet Propulsion Lab cheered. Until the fuzzy images came up. The staff then spent a difficult month trying over and over again to correct this. They then, with increasing fear, went over the data concerning the making of the mirror, the grinding process, the test results. Then they discovered the problem: the mirror wasn't coordinated with the optics that translated the light information which was fed into the transmitter. It was hopelessly out of focus.

There was great consternation, the cold fear that the second orbital telescope would be a failure washed over the staff. They had a brainstorming meeting. The daddy of space optics, my dad, Aden, asked if the space shuttle crew could service the telescope. They assured him, they could do it even though they were still learning how to cope with the difficulties of space work. Dad said, "You see my glasses?" Everyone laughed because most of the scientists were as four eyed as he. "I will make a pair of eyeglasses for the Hubble if you can install them". There was much joking about this. "Monocle! Not glasses!" "We will have to make a really BIG eyechart for this!" and "Astronomers don't make passes at telescopes that wear glasses".

The corrective lens were made and the brave and very competent crew of the Endeavor successfully did the delicate and difficult job, one of the first such jobs in space. When the new images came in, the JPL staff were all crowded in the room, squeezed in to see the first images from this telescope and tears of joy and exclamations of awe filled the room.

Here is an email from my dad that just came in:

Hi. We tried to send this a few minutes ago, but got an undeliverable notice and found that we used an old address for Steve. So we don't know if some of you already got thiswebsite address for the pictures. But here it is in case all of you didn't get this relayed message.

It's hard to believe that it was 15 years ago when we helped NASA to determine exactly what was wrong with the Hubble Space Telescope and how to fix the JPL Wide Field and Planetary Camera that took these fabulous pictures.

(Grand) Mom and Dad
Aden & Marjorie:

Here, with many thanks to you for your great work on the first servicing mission, are 125 of the best pictures from HST. The talk was given by Dr. Frank Summers at the STScI yesterday evening.

Hubble Space pictures

It makes one proud to see what can be done when people try for the best.


H. John Wood, Ph.D.
Hubble Space Telescope Project

Well, it will soon be over. Like my daughter said to me, "Why don't they just drop it on Yerkes and make it a two for one?"

Oh, and please click in the pictures. They are immensely beautiful.

NEW: Wally links to this story on his own blog. Thanks, Wally, for the kind thoughts.

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