The Most Important Thing I Learned From Hubble

In 1990, NASA launched a multibillion-dollar telescope into space. Within weeks, everyone realized something had gone wrong. The pictures Hubble was capturing were a drastically lower  quality than intended. In fact, they were essentially the same as the images we could get from the ground. It was awful, a worldwide embarrassment. All the years, money, and labor that had gone into this project looked like a waste.

But NASA did what it does best. It reminded us of the tenacity of the human spirit. It reminded us that failure is not defeat.

Every person will fail within his or her life. In fact, we will most likely do it repeatedly. That is the reality of the human condition. But whether it be flunking the ACT, losing that job promotion we wanted, screwing up our own relationships, or even making a $2.5 billion telescope that takes blurry photos, failure is never the place in which we must take up permanent residence. We can push through and grow from what we have lost and learned.

In a commencement speech given at Harvard, J.K. Rolling said,

[S]ome failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.

Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected…

The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more than any qualification I ever earned. 

(View the entire speech here.)

We can escape the confines of our mistakes by how we react to them. We can refuse to stay down when life knocks us to our knees. We can brandish our free will in the face of our adversaries and say, “You can not and will not control what I will become! Only I can.”

In spite of the many jokes and naysayers, NASA pushed forward and sought to solve the challenges they then faced. They did not abandon their work, and they did not lose sight of why they needed this. They were seeking to learn about the universe we exist in on a scale that had never before been possible. They knew the work they were doing could dramatically affect the scientific community, and was essential to the overall goals of the space program.

The problem with Hubble was its mirror. The edges were too flat by 2.2 micrometers. Such a small error, but nonetheless catastrophic to the images. But after the discovery was made, a plan was put in place to fix it. In 1994, the Space Shuttle launched a servicing mission and the results were dramatic.

Hubble_Images_of_M100_Before_and_After_Mirror_Repair_-_GPN-2002-000064

Since then, Hubble has supplied the world with now iconic pictures of our universe. It has taught us about the very nature of our origins. We can see planets, nebulae, and galaxies in drastic clarity. The knowledge it has brought us is forming the foundation for human spaceflight as we push to explore beyond our earth.

One could easily feel dwarfed by the grandeur of the universe we now see, thanks to Hubble, but I find myself in awe of humanity. When we see infinite galactic objects, from planets, to black holes, we do not shrink back and say, “No. I think I’ll just stay here.” There is something inside us that says no matter how small we are, or relatively insignificant, we will not be halted in our attempts to grow beyond ourselves. And while we may fail, fail, and fail again as we seek to do this, that same place within us that creates a desire for exploration will also remind us that we are infinitely more than that which what holds us back.

“Endings are not our destiny.” – Dieter F. Uchtdorf

Horsehead_Nebula_1680x1050_03 NGC 2174 25th-gallery-090 25th-gallery-220

For these, and many more stunning images from Hubble, including the 25th Anniversary image, go to hubble25th.org.

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