May 20, 2020 marks the 30 year anniversary of Hubble Space Telescope’s first photo ever taken from space. The blurry, black and white image featured a star about 1,300 light years away. NASA released the pictures to show the accomplishments of the United States, but for the general public, these photos were wildly disappointing.
The Hubble Space Telescope had been touted for years, billed as the “window on the universe.” NASA boasted it was twice as sharp as the Chilean telescope. The hype surrounding its capabilities heightened its expectations, and anything less than a vivid, full-color look of the universe would disappoint.
But on May 20, 1990, Hubble returned warped, unfocused images caused by an error with the primary mirrors’ positioning. The Goddard Space Center hosted a screening attended by thousands and recorded for millions. But what was expected to be a celebration resulted in a major embarrassment for NASA.
However, this first shot was intended as a first light test. The government had spent $2 billion dollars over 12 years on the mission, and these results did not reflect the funding, time and energy that had gone into the process. The monumental mistake would define Hubble for years after the image was released.
At the time, popular sci-fi movies and television included Babylon 5, Alien, Star Trek, Space Jam, and Star Wars, all of which created phenomenal expectations for these first images.
December of ‘93 the space shuttle Columbia brought a set of corrective optics to Hubble after three and half years of waiting. The damage to the space program’s reputation had already been done, but restoration was on its way.
Despite their shortcomings, these original images would became incredibly useful for scientific research. Once detected, the flaws in the telescope were solvable. In a process called deconvolution the image that previously appeared as one big blob revealed itself as a stellar cluster.
By 1995, Hubble captured an image of the entire universe. The Deep field image is comprised of 342 images taken over the course of 10 days, and achieved what all these years had been leading up to. Though the original photo became a punchline, it was essential in producing the final product. The spectacular sight exceeded expectations, both scientific and cultural, peering back almost to the beginning of time.
Since then, the Hubble Telescope determined the age of the universe, discovered new moons of Pluto, and gained an understanding of seasons on other planets.
While we don't have any items from the Hubble Telescope, we have an awesome collection of NASA, outer-space, and science fiction items to shop.
Explore space and time in our collection of vintage space and sci-fi apparel here!