April 24, 1990: STS-31, the thirty-fifth mission of the Space Shuttle program lifts off at 8:33:51 AM. The Space Shuttle Discovery rose into the sky from launch pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. The five person crew was led by Commander Loren J. Shriver with Charles F. Bolden, Jr. piloting the craft. Steven A. Hawley, Bruce McCandless II, and Kathryn D. Sullivan completed the crew. John Young had originally been assigned to command the mission but was reassigned to an administrative position after the Challenger disaster four years earlier.
The original launch schedule, April 18, was moved to several different dates while the Flight Readiness Review oversaw preparations. The date moved to April 10 and was scrubbed four minutes prior to launch. The Discovery took off for her tenth mission with a 249,109 pound payload. The purpose of the mission was to deploy the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) which was accomplished the next day. The telescope is still changing astronomy and sending home miraculous pictures as well as scientific data.
It is frequently asked if the telescope can be used to take pictures of Earth. The telescope is orbiting 347 miles above the Earth, making one orbit every 96-97 minutes. HST is traveling at 25,000 feet per second and takes 0.1 seconds for the shortest exposure possible. That means the Hubble moves nearly 2,300 feet while taking a picture. The resulting image of the planetary surface would be nothing more than a blur. The telescope was designed to track distant stars, not the planetary surface.
The telescope has shown us the part of the sky we thought was empty isn’t as vacant as previously surmised. The detail in the pictures, a conglomeration from four separate cameras, gives astronomers more information to work with. They have dated the age of the Universe to ≈ 13 or 14 billion years old. They have found something called “dark energy” – a still mysterious force causing the expanding Universe to accelerate. Scientists have been able to observe all stages of evolution for galaxies. There have been more than 6,000 articles written using data sent back from the HST.
Astronomy compels the soul to look upward, and leads us from this world to another. – Plato
From our home on Earth, we look out into the distances and strive to imagine the sort of world into which we were born. With increasing distance our knowledge fades until at the last dim horizon we search among ghostly errors for landmarks scarcely more substantial. The search will continue. The urge is older than history. It is not satisfied and it will not be suppressed. – Edwin P. Hubble
When you look at the stars and the galaxy, you feel you are not just from any particular piece of land, but from the solar system. – Laurel Clark
Those who study the stars have God for a teacher. – Tycho Brahe
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