In the news: NASA’s blurry blun­der

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - The Way We Were -

Ever been frus­trated by a part that doesn’t quite fit your clas­sic the way you want it to? Then spare a thought for NASA’s sci­en­tists, who’d spent millions of dol­lars and 20 years mak­ing a tele­scope that didn’t work prop­erly.

On 24 April 1990, the Na­tional Aero­nau­tics and Space Ad­min­is­tra­tion used the Dis­cov­ery space shut­tle to give the Hub­ble Space Tele­scope – named af­ter the late astronomer Ed­win Hub­ble – a highly pub­li­cised lift into or­bit. It was an­other month be­fore the first pic­tures came through, but when they did the sci­en­tists were shocked by the blurry re­sults – the photos were no bet­ter than those taken by a tele­scope back on Earth.

The tele­scope might have been the size of a rail­way car­riage, but the dodgy images were due to a mi­cro­scopic mis­cal­cu­la­tion: the tele­scope’s mir­ror should have been flat­ter, but only by about a 50th of the width of a hu­man hair.

It took NASA three years to fix the tele­scope by at­tach­ing a se­ries of cor­rect­ing mir­rors, but the re­sults were worth it. Since the re­pair, it has sent back stun­ning images of Jupiter be­ing struck by a comet and has pro­vided mankind with the deep­est ever views of the uni­verse.

That sort of painstak­ing per­se­ver­ance is well worth think­ing about the next time your restora­tion suf­fers a mi­nor set­back.

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