A University of Wisconsin professor of astronomy was one of the original developers of the Hubble Space Telescope, which changed the way people think about astronomy.

Prior to his talk at the Space Place in Madison Tuesday, John Gallagher spoke to The Badger Herald about his involvement in the Hubble Space Telescope project.

Gallagher worked on replacing the first camera in the telescope to improve the sharpness of its vision. His work was initially on the administrative side, rather than the scientific side.

Although there were doubts early on about whether it would work, the Hubble telescope ended up changing the way people think, Gallagher said.

“Now, when people think of an image in astronomy they almost always, in their minds, see an image of the Hubble Space Telescope,” Gallagher said. “It’s gone beyond the science, it’s gotten to the point where it’s changing the way people think about the nature of the universe. That’s a great success.”

Through his experience, Gallagher learned that projects like the telescope are team efforts, with contributions from astronauts helping with repairs to others working on complex software.

Building the Hubble telescope was a 30 year planning process, Gallagher said. Often, the Earth’s atmosphere obstructs a clear view for telescopes on the ground, and sending a telescope into space is a chance to see clearer, further, wider and sharper views of astronomical objects, he said.

“It’s been sort of a dream of astronomers to have big telescopes in space,” Gallagher said. “It [was] very clear that this telescope could be built if we did things that went beyond anything that had been done before.”

Telescopes in general have unusually long lifetimes for scientific instruments, but the Hubble telescope’s lifetime of 25 years is especially remarkable, Gallagher said. This long lifetime is because the telescope has been serviced by astronauts over the years, he said.

With the help of updates, astronomers hope the telescope will last until 2020, Gallagher said.

In the early days of the Hubble telescope, astronomers looked at new discoveries and technologies, Gallagher said. As the telescope operated for a longer period of time, new puzzles appeared and the Hubble telescope was used to solve them, he said.

“The nature of the discoveries has changed,” Gallagher said. “Some of the things the telescope is working on now were really not even thought of as major issues in astronomy at the time [the telescope] was launched.”

The High Speed Photometer, one of the original instruments the Hubble telescope used, was developed at UW, Gallagher said. The photometer carried very precise and fast light measurements for astronomical objects, he said.

Due to a flaw in the telescope’s mirror, the photometer could never be used efficiently and was removed, Gallagher said.

Gallagher got his PhD at UW in 1972 and returned to work on the Hubble telescope for the combination of an exciting campus environment and diverse student body, he said.

“Madison’s actually always been a leader in space astronomy,” Gallagher said.