Twenty years ago today — December 2, 1990 — the Space Shuttle Columbia launched from the Kennedy Space Center carrying seven astronauts and a space observatory.
STS-35 astronauts Vance D. Brand, Guy S. Gardner, Jeffrey A. Hoffman, John M. “Mike” Lounge, Robert A. R. Parker, Samuel T. Durrance and Ronald A. Parise surveyed the sky in the ultraviolet and x-ray frequencies using the ASTRO-1 observatory.
ASTRO-1 combined the Hopkins Ultraviolet Telescope, Wisconsin Ultraviolet Photo-Polarimeter Experiment, Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope, and Broad Band X-Ray Telescope into a single observatory. Between problems with the data display units used to point and operate the instruments, and bad weather at the primary landing site that cut the mission short, only about 70% of the planned observations took place.
And then 5 years later, on this date in 1995, another observatory was launched: the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) flew from Cape Canaveral Air Station atop an Atlas-IIAS launch vehicle. SOHO consisted of twelve different instruments — three from the U.S. and nine from Europe — that have produced stunning images of the Sun and the solar corona, like the one below, over the last 15 years.
(SOHO close-up image of a large solar prominence, taken with the 304A filter on 07/01/02, with Earth superimposed for scale. NASA image.)