Hubble Takes Off
The Hubble space telescope had a long gestation before it finally soared into space on April 24, 1990. The preliminary 1980 shuttle manifest which was produced a year before the first shuttle flight had scheduled Hubble for the 25th flight on December 15, 1983. By August 1983, delays had pushed Hubble back to August 1986. Challenger exploded in January 1986, and all bets were off until the shuttle problems were discovered and corrected. The Hubble crew, unlike other shuttle crews, was told to continue their training, and finally in 1990 the dream came true and the U.S. successfully put the telescope into orbit. Right up to the end, the launch was a cliff hanger with minor problems and delays, but the launch was flawless when it came. The Discovery shuttle rocketed almost straight up, aiming at an orbit height of 380 statute (earth) miles, a record height for a space shuttle and an altitude last achieved 18 eighteen years before by Apollo 17.
Astronomers have dreamed for years of having a telescope outside the Earth’s obscuring atmosphere. For the first 23 hours after the launch, Hubble drew its power from the Discovery. When it was disconnected, it had eight hours of battery power so the solar arrays which provide solar power to the batteries had to be deployed promptly to prevent the batteries from running down. When the starboard array failed to open properly, astronauts Sullivan and McCandless put on space suits, preparing to go outside the shuttle to manually open the array, but the people at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland were able to bypass the tension-monitoring software and get the array open to the sun. On April 25, at 2:39 P.M. according to Astronomy and at 3:38 P.M. according to Countdown, Hubble was released from the shuttle’s grip and NASA’s new observatory was proclaimed on station at 330 nautical miles above the earth. The time discrepancy in our two sources is probably due to different time zones, with Hubble being monitored in both Maryland and in Houston, Texas. Two days after the final separation from the shuttle, after some communication problems with the telescope, the aperture door was opened and Hubble was ready for its business, taking pictures of the universe.
Unfortunately, Hubble’s problems were not over. As late as mid-June, there were still nagging difficulties which kept the telescope from being fully effective. One of the unanticipated problems was an unacceptable level of vibration caused by the changes in heat and cold as Hubble orbited the earth. Every 90 minutes the telescope passes from “night” to “day” as it goes in and out of the shadow of the earth. The sudden changes in temperature cause the long solar panels on each side of the spacecraft to vibrate so the whole vehicle “jitters” for up to 20 minutes. Obviously, a wobbly telescope can not give the clear focus that astronomers were seeking, including the ability to stay locked on a distant star for hours at a time. They are now working to solve the problem by changing the computer commands in the craft’s software.
Another current problem involves the small telescopes which are designed to recognize certain catalogued stars and to tell the main telescope where it is pointing and what adjustments to make. The little scopes have proved to be too sensitive so they often lock on the wrong star or become confused, ending up just drifting for several hours. The ground-based directors are just beginning to understand what is going on and they hope to fix this problem with better computerized star catalogues and better software. Yes, folks, programmers are important people!
A current third problem will intrigue our readers who are into the Bermuda Triangle mystery. According to the Times article, “there is a ‘non-uniformity’ in the Earth’s magnetic field over the Atlantic Ocean, called the South Atlantic Anomaly, that has caused problems with other spacecraft and is giving the telescope occasional fits. ‘Sometimes we just all sit there and cuss a little bit,’ after the telescope passes through the area, Oliver said. The Earth’s magnetic field helps protect spacecraft from charged particles from space and other forms of radiation striking the Earth. But the protection is less whenever a spacecraft passes through the South Atlantic Anomaly, and it has frequently caused the telescope’s fine guidance sensors to fail. Oliver said the temporary solution seems to be to turn the sensors off as the craft approaches the area, and then turn them back on after it emerges from the other side. In time, he said, a permanent solution should be found by changing the telescope’s computer software.” Los Angeles Times, June 15, 1990
Some of the early problems have been solved, including one of the telescope’s main antennas hitting some kind of obstruction which caused the telescope to shut down all of its systems and to assume a “safe mode” which would protect it from drifting out of control. The obstruction was an electric cable which was improperly lashed down and the antenna is now programmed to stop moving before it hits the cable. The major scientific instruments have now gone through their preliminary checkouts and they are performing well. Within a couple of months, there should be more photographs but it is likely to be several months before the telescope can play its full role in peering farther into the cosmos than humans have ever been able to see in the past.
Looking at the horoscope for the Hubble’s launch, the likelihood of problems is pretty obvious. The Moon had just started a one-degree orb square to Saturn from the eleventh to the ninth house. Both houses are associated with expanding knowledge, and the square suggests serious delays or blocks for at least the first two months of Hubble’s journey. If we consider solar arc directions, the difficult period would last nearly two years. Both Aries, the Moon’s sign, and the Aquarian house can point to mechanical issues, to be solved by improved technology. Pluto in the house of “efficient functioning” (or its lack) is just separating from an exact square to the MC. With secondary progressions, the aspect would last less than a month, but with solar arcs, we again have a two-year period to shape-up the functioning of the instrument. Mercury and Pallas, conjunct in Taurus in the twelfth house, are more exactly square the MC and opposite Pluto and will hold those aspects for years in secondary progressions. The fixed signs suggest continuing struggles over control of the instrument while the mutable houses suggest conflicts between the ideals being sought and the reality of what will be possible. The pattern could also suggest information coming in which will push the scientists to revise their theories about the cosmos. Mars is in a wider square to the Ascendant which will become exact within a few months and will last about three years, but fortunately, Mars will also be sextile the Sun and later it will move into a trine to Jupiter.
Vesta’s sextile-trine to the nodes of the Moon is a hopeful sign that competence will resolve the problems and open up the knowledge being sought by the third, ninth and eleventh houses. But Vesta will move into a square to Neptune in time and Chiron’s long progressed square to Vesta suggests the desired knowledge will not come easily or be cheap in terms of financial cost. The P East Point, an auxiliary Ascendant, will move into a trine to Saturn in less than two years, and P Venus will move into a sextile to the East Point, both positive aspects for successfully handling things. P Jupiter’s move to conjunct Ceres is especially positive for effective accomplishment of the knowledge goals. So, though there are certainly problems, they do not look insurmountable.
There are lots of interesting asteroids, as usual, but I will only mention a few. The space telescope was advertised as the next step beyond Galileo who made the first astronomical use of telescopes. Would you believe that Galilea (named for Galileo) was closely conjunct Uranus? Paradise is conjunct Venus, fitting the rejoicing as the telescope headed into space. Baikonur, the Soviet space center, was also on Venus, while Houston, one of the control centers for NASA, was trine the MC in Washington, DC. George (for Bush) was on the Moon. Herbert (Bush’s middle name) was opposite Gaea (earth). Photographing celestial objects is a primary goal of the telescope, and Photographica was octile-trioctile the mean lunar nodes, which fits the frustration of the delay in getting good photos, but within a few months it will move into a trine to Astronomia. Copernicus is opposite Mars. It was named for the astronomer who advanced the theory that the Sun rather than the earth is the center of the solar system.
So Hubble is finally out there, and we are all looking forward eagerly to its photos and new knowledge of the world.