Delays And Dollars

Blurred vision is the most recent obstacle encountered by the Hubble Space Telescope since Congress first funded it in 1977. Budgetary and managerial woes--as well as bad luck--have plagued the 13-ton instrument from the start.

1981: The telescope's 94.5-inch primary mirror was at least $3 million over its budget at completion. The engineers at Hughes Danbury Optical Systems discovered that constructing a flawless mirror is a formidable task. It took five labor-intensive years to grind and polish the mirrors to NASA's exacting specifications.

1983: An array of problems ranging from computer software bugs to poor management pushed the original flight from 1983 to early 1985 then to August 1986. The Hubble was housed in a hightech Lockheed facility in Sunnyvale, Calif. The storage costs for the Hubble's dustfree, temperature-controlled environment ranged from $7 million to $10 million each month.

1986: In January, NASA delayed the launch date from August to October to allow time for additional tests. Later, the nation mourned seven astronauts killed in the Challenger explosion. The tragedy disrupted NASA programs and a fall launch date was canceled.

1989: A congested shuttle-flight schedule and fuel shortages bumped a June flight date back to February 1990. However, two space probes and three shuttles with classified military payloads were launched.

1990: On April 24. the telescope was finally launched. seven years late and more than $700 million over budget. Last week, following new Hubble woes, NASA grounded the shuttle fleet because of fuel leaks.