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A space observatory is any instrument (such as a telescope) in outer space which is used for observation of distant planets, galaxies, and other outer space objects. This category does not include observatories in space which are pointed toward the earth for the purpose of reconnaissance and other types of information gathering.
All observation of space from Earth is filtered through the Earth's atmosphere. The atmosphere filters and distorts what is seen and recorded. Space-based astronomy is vital for frequency ranges outside the optical and radio windows. For example, X-ray astronomy is nearly impossible when done from the Earth. It has reached its present importance in astronomy due to orbiting X-ray telescopes. Infrared and ultraviolet are also largely blocked by the atmosphere.
Spitzer said a large telescope in space, above the Earth's atmosphere, would see better. His efforts resulted in the world's first space-based optical telescope, Hubble Space Telescope, which was launched on April 20, 1990 by the Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-31).
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- "Hubble Essentials: About Lyman Spitzer, Jr.". Hubble Site. http://hubblesite.org/the_telescope/hubble_essentials/lyman_spitzer.php.
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- "The Hubble Space Telescope". Vic Stathopoulos. http://www.aerospaceguide.net/hubblespacetelescope.html.