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Utah Skies: Fixing The Hubble Telescope

Bruce Horrocks

Imagine using the same computer you have had for more than 30 years and then having problems with this computer and you need to have them fixed. This is the issue that has plagued NASA this past month. Launched into space in April 1990, the Hubble Telescope has been providing scientists and the general public with fascinating images and space information for over 30 years. Designed to last for 15 years, the telescope has also amazed its designer by doubling its life expectancy.

But this last month, issues with the telescope’s computer systems temporarily shut the system down and for a while, it looked like it may have been the end of the Hubble’s life. To fix this problem, NASA had to request the assistance of retired former staff members who had helped to build Hubble and had a knowledge of the telescope’s computer systems. Together, working with current staff members, they reviewed 30 to 40-year-old design documents to find a solution to bringing the computer system back online. Thankfully, on July 17th, the Hubble was back in action and working again. 

Many of the Hubble images have amazed and impressed us for the past 30 years. One of the most iconic photographs is the image of M16, The Eagle Nebula with at the center are the Pillar of Creation. While not the first image taken, it is one of the most detailed and well-known. This image gave most of the public a renewed appreciation and interest in astronomy and a new view into the window of space. Although many astronomers have been grateful for the extended life of the Hubble Telescope, we all look forward to newer and improved telescopes soon to be launched later this year.