The Hubble Space Telescope is aging. But there was a time when it was merely a twinkle in some astronomer's eye.
In fact, we know exactly who that astronomer was, and when he first told the world about the twinkle.
Lyman Spitzer, who was at Yale in 1946 (and later went to Princeton), published Appendix V of the Douglas Aircraft Company's Project RAND. The title of the work was, "Astronomical Advantages of an Extra-Terrestrial Observatory."
"While a more exhaustive analysis would alter some of the details of the present study," Spitzer wrote, "it would probably not change the chief conclusion -- that such a scientific tool, if practically feasible, could revolutionize￼ astronomical techniques and open up completely new vistas of astronomical research."
Spitzer's original paper was republished in The Astronomical Quarterly in 1990, and he added a postscript about the impact of his paper, which is actually a remarkable document itself. How does an idea written down somehow become a satellite flying around Earth?
"Since this 1946 paper did not appear in the astronomical literature and was not generally distributed in reprint form, its direct influence on other astronomers must have been almost negligible," Spitzer writes. "Its chief effect was on me. My studies convinced me that a large space telescope would revolutionize astronomy and might well be launched in my lifetime."