Hubble at 30

Tue 14 Apr 2020

Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI)
3700 San Martin Drive
Baltimore, MD 21218


2:45 PM - 4:00 PM


This event is the 14th Annual Bahcall Lecture.

On April 24 of this year we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope. For the first three years of its operations, the observatory produced good and important science, but it did not live up to our expectations. It suffered from the malady of spherical aberration. Over the subsequent 27 years of operation, following the correction of its optical problem, astronomers from around the world have exploited the remarkable capabilities of the telescope and its scientific instruments to revolutionize our understanding of the universe. Because of Shuttle-based servicing Hubble remained up to date. Even though it has been over ten years since the last servicing mission, the observatory remains productive and reasonably healthy. 

Over Hubble’s lifetime about 7600 different science investigators have used the observatory for their research. As of the end of 2018, they had published nearly 21,000 peer-reviewed scientific papers in professional journals, based on observations obtained with the twelve scientific instruments that have been on board the observatory at one time or another over the course of its lifetime in orbit.
Hubble has established the paradigm for a “mountain top” observatory in space. Scientific progress sometimes requires decades to develop and evolve to a natural culmination. Having an observatory that can both stimulate new areas of research and continue to drive their evolution over a period of decades is a unique virtue of a long-lived, technologically up to date facility in space.

In this talk I’ll discuss several long threads of discovery that were made possible by Hubble’s extended lifetime and regular modernization. I’ll also recall some of the moments of high adventure that we experienced during the servicing missions. Finally, I’ll pay tribute to the unsung heroes who rose to the rescue when things looked dire for Hubble.

Speaker: Dr. David Leckrone, Emeritus, Goddard Space Flight Center
David Leckrone worked as an Astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center for 40 years. For over three decades, beginning in 1976, he served in various scientific leadership roles on the Hubble Space Telescope Project. From 1992–2009 he held the position of Hubble’s Senior Project Scientist. In this role he and his Project Science Team provided scientific leadership for all aspects of the Hubble Project, including project management, spacecraft and science operations, development of new scientific instruments and in-orbit servicing.  

Hosts: Director's Office/SMO


Dates for 2020 Bahcall Lecture Series are:

  • April 14, 2020 at STScI
  • April 15, 2020 at Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC)

The John Bahcall Lectureship is awarded each year to a leading astronomer based on the research excellence and accomplishments of the Lecturer, who spends one week at the Institute and delivers three lectures. Two of the lectures are research colloquia, and the third lecture is a popular public evening lecture that is widely advertised and attended at the National Air & Space Museum in Washington, DC. The honoree is selected by a committee, with Neta Bahcall being one of the committee members. Applications are not solicited.

The John Bahcall Lectureship has been established by STScI and the HST Project/Goddard to honor the late Professor John Bahcall for the seminal role he played over three decades in championing the Hubble Space Telescope. Together with Lyman Spitzer, John convinced NASA and the astronomical community that a large space telescope could not only provide unique capabilities to study the Universe, but that it would be a natural application for NASA's Space Shuttle program. He played a key role in developing the strategies and organizations for the effort that produced the Hubble Space Telescope (HST).

During the lifetime of HST, John remained a staunch supporter of the project during the difficult time of spherical aberration that preceded the First Servicing Mission, and during subsequent budgetary problems within NASA that threatened to curtail the Hubble's scientific program and lifetime. He was a frequent visitor to Washington and the halls of Congress, testifying before Congress on the important manner in which the Hubble was changing our understanding of the Universe, and the significant impact it had in reaching every level of society, especially children, with a new view of the Universe and our role in it.

Together with the fundamental research John did in diverse areas of astrophysics that resulted in John being awarded major international prizes such as the Fermi medal, the Dan David prize, and the National Medal of Science, his observing programs on the Hubble not only were an important part of his personal research; they also produced notable results. John was a principal investigator for one of the first Hubble Key Projects to study the evolution of absorption lines in quasars produced by intergalactic gas, which enabled his team to determine how the IGM evolves. He used Hubble's superb resolution to image distant quasars, and for the first time demonstrated the variety of characteristics of their host galaxies.

John Bahcall was a leader, a mentor, and an ardent pursuer of new ideas. He listened as well as he advocated. STScI is pleased to honor John Bahcall by acknowledging his fundamental contributions to science, to Hubble Space Telescope, and to this Institute with this annual lectureship.

Read more information about John Bahcall.