How Shuttle Endeavor Saved the Hubble Space Telescope

NASA HQ Photos/Bill Ingalls/flickr

How Shuttle Endeavor Saved the Hubble Space Telescope

The miracle mission of NASA’s STS-61

Ever looked through a telescope? Today we take the amazing pictures returned by nasa’s Hubble Space Telescope as routine. Launched in 1990, this super telescope orbits Earth with a view of the universe far more advanced than any telescope here on Earth.

The original launch date was October 1986, but the horrific Challenger shuttle disaster earlier that year delayed the program. These events prevented the telescope from reaching orbit until April 1990.

A few months later, it failed its focus test and sent back blurry images.

This was because the company that produced the mirrors ground them to the incorrect measurement. They were off by just 2.2 microns—a mere fiftieth of the width of a hair on your head.

Hubble was in crisis. Serious questions arose in Washington, DC, about the project in light of the Challenger explosion and the loss of the Mars Observer in 1993. The media lambasted nasa, with one newsmagazine calling it a “$1.5 billion blunder.” The focusing problem had to be repaired—and quickly.

The race to save Hubble came to mission sts-61 and the specially selected crew of the space shuttle Endeavor. Built in Southern California, Endeavor was the fifth orbiter to be constructed and was a direct result of the mid-flight destruction of Challenger. It was named after 18th-century British explorer Captain James Cook’s ship, on which he traveled to discover Australia and New Zealand.

“The mission’s major challenge was the amount of work that must be completed during the space shuttle flight,” recalled nasa in its mission data. “To minimally satisfy the mission’s overall objectives, astronauts needed to replace one gyroscope pair (either pair number 2 or pair number 3) and install either an operational Wide Field/Planetary Camera ii or the Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement (costar), the other corrective optics package on the sts-61 manifest.

“With its very heavy workload, the sts-61 mission was one of the most sophisticated in the shuttle’s history. It lasted almost 11 days, and crew members made five evas: an all-time record at that time.”

nasa later posted the mission video narrated by the crew, which showed the amazingly successful mission from launch to landing. The scope and impact of sts-61 cannot be understated. It saved Hubble from certain failure and the astronomy junk pile, thrusting it beyond anything imaginable into the number one supplier of mind-expanding images of an unknown universe to Earth’s inhabitants. Today, these amazing images have expanded our view of the universe and left us asking deeper questions about this architectural and engineering mastery.

On Sept. 21, 2012, a historic and momentous era in space travel and exploration came to an end as Endeavor landed at Los Angeles International Airport, transported atop a Boeing 747 jet. As the youngest of the shuttle fleet, it had cost $1.7 billion, performed 25 flights, and carried over 170 crew members into space for 283 days, covering 123 million miles, flying at 17,400 miles per hour to maintain orbit, and completed over 4,423 orbits.

The Los Angeles Times produced a stunning time-lapse view of the transportation of the shuttle to its resting place at the California Science Center.

It’s truly amazing how the mission of nasa’s sts-61 technical staff and the crew of space shuttle Endeavor saved the Hubble Space Telescope. However, there still remain answerable questions—questions you need answers to (Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:19-23).

To gain a deeper understanding of the impact of this mission, watch Gerald Flurry’s recent two-part Key of David series, “Our Awesome Universe Potential.”