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You can see one of Hubble’s cameras in the National Air and Space Museum.
Like I said, Hubble was designed to be periodically updated. When new tech makes for better cameras, old ones can be taken out and replaced with new ones. When STIS and the infrared camera NICMOS were inserted into Hubble in 1997, the Goddard Spectrograph and the Faint Object Spectrograph (FOS) were removed.
While I was still at Goddard Space Flight Center, I used to take a walk around the compound after lunch. I’d sometimes slip through one building that had a massive warehouse, and usually there was something cool to see in there. I saw satellites being constructed, the upper stage of a rocket (without fuel!) on a crane, and all sorts of odd and wonderful sights.
One day, from across the warehouse, I spot what looks like a big black telephone booth sitting on a pallet. Could it be…? I walked over, and yes! It was the FOS! I couldn’t believe it. It was just sitting there, this camera which cost tens of millions of dollars to build. Two sides of it had been removed, and one had been replaced with clear thick plastic. I realized it must be going to a museum; the plastic would allow people to see inside it. But one panel was still removed, so the guts of the camera were exposed. Hmmm…
So of course I reached in and poked around. I had used the FOS for my PhD, analyzing spectra it had taken of an exploding star on two different dates. We wound up not using the data because we didn’t know precisely where the telescope was pointed each time, and so I couldn’t compare one spectrum with another. Still, I spent months learning how the camera worked, and seeing it in front of me was too tempting. It was amazing; I could see exactly how it worked, and all those diagrams I had pored over five years earlier suddenly came alive.
I convinced a friend to come with me the next day to see it, and he took the picture above of me pretending (Yes! Pretending! That’s it!) to snip the wires with a wire cutter. Haha!
Years later, I was visiting DC. I went to the National Air and Space Museum, having completely forgotten the incident at Goddard. I rounded a corner, and there was my old friend. I smiled; I knew it would end up here. The second exterior panel had been replaced with plastic, and you could see into the camera. If you compare the picture above with the one here (click to embiggen) you can see it’s the same beast.
It’s the only piece of Hubble I ever physically touched. Well, besides the insulating blanket that flew on Hubble for years and was taken back to Earth after a servicing mission. Someone had draped the shiny silver blanket over a chair in a room we used to test STIS. When I saw it, I… hmmmm. No. That’s a whole ‘nuther story.
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