By Chase Rowars
The Hubble Space Telescope was launched into orbit on April 24, 1990 aboard the space shuttle Discovery and is the only space telescope designed to be serviced in space by astronauts. It has provided images of the visible regions of deep space and allowed humanity to view the universe we exist in the most previously unimaginable of ways. Before its launch into outer space, ground-based telescopes could only observe a small fraction of our solar system and neighboring galaxies. It opened up the gateway of space exploration, relieving NASA of the Earth’s atmospheric distortions. The Hubble telescope benefits society in that it allows us to study and better understand our universe as well as maintaining support for NASA. It costs society mainly in finance, with its initial $1.5 billion cost in addition to service and repair costs. Intellectually, however, it costs us in a way that only burdens our minds by answering questions and providing even more questions.
In 1946, Lyman Spitzer, a professor and researcher at Yale University, argued that a space telescope would offer great advantages over ground-based observatories. He explained that the Earth’s atmosphere blurs and distorts light coming from stars that could only be remedied by a telescope in orbit. Additionally, the atmosphere blocks X-rays emitted from high-temperature phenomena in stars and other objects, so instruments on the Earth’s surface cannot detect them. A space telescope would allow scientists to accurately measure these emissions as well. The telescope took several years to be backed by NASA, in 1971, and several more to receive government funding after cutting the project’s budget in half by using a smaller mirror in 1977.
NASA originally planned to launch the Hubble telescope in 1983, but due to numerous delays (technical delays, budget problems, and the Challenger disaster), it did not launch until 1990. One such technical delay was the Hubble’s mirror, which was completed in 1981. However, the entire optical assembly was not put together until 1984 and final assembly of the spacecraft did not take place until 1985. 1983 did have some progress in it, though; the Space Telescope Science Institute at the John Hopkins University in Maryland was founded and was designated to be in charge of the Hubble’s scientific program. Also in 1983, the telescope was named after Edwin P. Hubble, a prominent astronomer who did extensive research into stars and galaxies and was the first to prove that the universe is expanding.
The Hubble’s costs are insignificant compared to its benefits. With that notion aside, it does still tax society with its biggest toll being money. Initially, the Hubble cost $1.5 billion, including the shuttle mission to install it and the many years to design and build it. Since then, the Hubble has only cost about $9 billion for repairs, service, additions, and maintenance for the past 22 years, exactly today. This is a small chunk of money, even so that the Hubble’s costs have been included in NASA’s budget without affecting any of its other projects or funds. The intellectual toll the Hubble takes on society is that of knowledge. Before the Hubble, ground-based telescopes could see up to 6 billion years after the Big Bang (or one red shift); the Hubble, in 1995, could see back to 1.5 billion years after the Big Bang (4 red shifts) and can currently see back to 480 million years after the Big Bang (10 red shifts). This is not explaining the Hubble as a time machine, but rather that the further out a telescope sees into space, the older the light it has collected is. Take, for instance, the Sun; its light takes roughly 8.3 seconds to reach the Earth, thus the light you are seeing is 8.3 seconds old.
The benefits of the Hubble are grandiose in both impact and ability. It has enabled astronomers to see the universe in detail greater than ever before and helped to provide valuable evidence to further support the Big Bang theory, being its measurement of the expanding universe. The Hubble also allowed astronomers to view the universe at wavelengths other than visible light (X-ray, gamma ray, h-alpha, etc.), which are neither observable to the naked eye nor telescopes on the ground. The Hubble telescope also benefits society in that it requires a team for every one of its functions. This provides jobs for our struggling employment market and, in turn, brings more money back to the government, essentially paying for and supporting itself. The images that the Hubble captures also enable astrophysicists to study new galaxies and nebulae to better understand our galaxy, solar system, the universe, cosmology, chemistry, and the very laws and principles of physics overall.
In conclusion, the Hubble Space Telescope benefits society as a whole, rewarding it with financial and intellectual wealth, making its faults and hindrances trivial in comparison to its awesome power and capability. This monumental device not only improved our understanding of the sky above our heads, but also helped us to better understand the ground beneath our feet. The Hubble is an invention of the ages, propelling the human race into the space age one composite image at a time.