Federal program managers and optical experts and the company that manufactured the blurry mirror aboard the Hubble Space Telescope did not examine the results of key tests that actually detected the problem before launch, according to the report of a panel investigating the botched job.
The report, due to be released Tuesday, will detail how officials and optical experts at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration failed to keep tabs on the manufacture of the mirror now aboard the $1.6 billion space observatory, a panel member said.
"There were clues that didn't penetrate the higher levels of NASA," said Roger Angel, an astronomer and telescope designer at the University of Arizona at Tucson, a member of the panel that has been investigating the Hubble flaws for five months.
Angel and others close to the investigation said the panel found no evidence that the mirror manufacturer, Perkin-Elmer Corp. of Danbury, Conn., now Hughes Danbury Optical Systems, knew about its mistakes or attempted to cover them up. "There was no feeling of deliberate suppression of information that we could find," Angel
Instead, the panel, led by Lew Allen, head of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, found that technicians and others at Perkin-Elmer were more interested in fulfilling government specifications than in examining rigorously the troubling signs that the mirror might be imprecise. The mirrors were made almost a decade ago.
Previously, the panel found that a tiny flaw in a single device used to guide the mirror makers in grinding and to test their accuracy was responsible for the main mirror's misshapen finish. A second test that showed the flaw was ignored as being less accurate.
The flaw causes a slight blurring to degrade many of Hubble's images, especially those of distant and bunched stars, which were to be Hubble's specialty.