The Hubble Space Telescope is a cooperative program of the European Space Agency (ESA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to operate a long-lived space-based observatory for the benefit of the international astronomical community. HST is an observatory first dreamt of in the 1940s, designed and built in the 1970s and 80s, and operational only in the 1990s. Since its preliminary inception, HST was designed to be a different type of mission for NASA--a long term space-based observatory. To accomplish this goal and protect the spacecraft against instrument and equipment failures, NASA had always planned on regular servicing missions. Hubble has special grapple fixtures, 76 handholds, and stabilized in all three axes. HST is a 2.4-meter reflecting telescope which was deployed in low-Earth orbit (600 kilometers) by the crew of the space shuttle Discovery (STS-31) on 25 April 1990.
Responsibility for conducting and coordinating the science operations of the Hubble Space Telescope rests with the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) on the Johns Hopkins University Homewood Campus in Baltimore, Maryland. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. (AURA).
HST's current complement of scientific instruments include three cameras, two spectrographs, and fine guidance sensors (primarily used for astrometric observations). Because of HST's location above the Earth's atmosphere, these science instruments can produce high resolution images of astronomical objects. Ground-based telescopes can seldom provide resolution better than 1.0 arc-seconds, except momentarily under the very best observing conditions. HST's resolution is about 10 times better, or 0.1 arc-seconds.
When originally planned in 1979, the Large Space Telescope program called for return to Earth, refurbishment, and relaunch every 5 years, with on-orbit servicing every 2.5 years. Hardware lifetime and reliability requirements were based on that 2.5-year interval between servicing missions. In 1985, contamination and structural loading concerns associated with return to Earth aboard the shuttle eliminated the concept of ground return from the program. NASA decided that on-orbit servicing might be adequate to maintain HST for its 15-year design life. A three year cycle of on-orbit servicing was adopted. The two HST servicing missions in December 1993 and February 1997 were enormous successes. Future servicing missions are tentatively planned for mid-1999 and mid-2002. Contingency flights could still be added to the shuttle manifest to perform specific tasks that cannot wait for the next regularly scheduled servicing mission (and/or required tasks that were not completed on a given servicing mission).
The five years since the launch of HST in 1990 have been momentous, with the discovery of spherical aberration and the search for a practical solution. The STS-61 (Endeavour) mission of December 1993 fully obviated the effects of spherical aberration and fully restored the functionality of HST.
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Hubble - recent HST info, very nice site!
HST Greatest Hits - some of the most popular HST images
J-Track Satelline Tracking - find out where Hubble is right now
STScI - home of the HST, info, pictures, news, data
STScI/HST Pictures - complete archive of publicly release images
* Picture credit - STScI
* This text was created with support to Space Telescope Science Institute, operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., from NASA contract NAS5-26555 and is reproduced with permission from AURA/STScI.