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The history of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) 1946 to 2020

Hubble Space Telescope

The Hubble Space Telescope project began with a proposal from Lyman Spitzer in 1946, and was initially called the Large Space Telescope. This proposal was thought of before any satellites had been launched into Earth’s orbit. However, on October 4th, 1957, the Soviet Union launched a satellite named Sputnik 1 into elliptical low Earth orbit. Sputnik 1 was only the size of a beachball, and weighed 193 pounds, it orbited the Earth in 98 minutes. Sputnik 1 orbited the planet Earth for three weeks until its batteries died, it fell back into Earth’s atmosphere two months later. The USA soon followed with the launch of Explorer 1, on January 31, 1958. Following the Soviet Union launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957, the USA Congress passed the Space Act – July, 1958. This act established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) – October 1, 1958. NASA was established via, National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), and other official government areas. In 1969 The National Academy of Sciences published a report titled; Scientific Uses of the Large Space Telescope, which gave its support for the Large Space Telescope. In 1974, a meeting was held by astrophysicists and engineers to focus on the Large Space Telescope. This meeting discussed development concepts, technical requirements, proposed technical capabilities, and budgets for the Large Space Telescope. The project was officially approved on October 1, 1977, by the United States Congress, and funding was released soon after. During December, 1978, the grinding of the 2.4-meter primary mirror started, grinding of a telescope mirror allows it to emit incoming light from what the viewer is targetting in space. The mirror for the Hubble Space Telescope was built by The Perkin-Elmer Corporation, Connecticut. In 1979, NASA recrewed astronauts with the future obligations of performing routine maintenance and upgrading the Hubble Space Telescope with new parts and technologies when deemed fit. These astronauts started training for future Space Telescope service missions. In 1983, due to the massive discoveries of other galaxies in the Universe by astronomer Edwin Hubble, NASA renamed the Large Space Telescope, the Hubble Space Telescope.

Hubble was launched April 24, 1990, utilizing Space Shuttle Discovery, the launch was from the Kennedy Space Centre, Florida, from launch complex 39B, and carried five astronauts to assist. This was the 35th mission of the American Space Shuttle program, and was named STS-31.

On April 25th, 1990. Hubble Space Telescope (HST) was deployed from Discovery. HST was maneuvered from the loading bay of Discovery by a Remote Manipulator System arm (RMS), the arm was controlled by the astronaut crew members. Once final checks had been performed, Hubble was deployed into space. The first images received from Hubble on:

May 20th, 1990. Was taken using the Wide Field and Planetary Camera, these images were used to configure the focus of the Hubble telescope. When scientists analyzed the images, they agreed that the quality of the images were around 50% sharper than Eart telescope land-based images.

June 27th, 1990. Operation problems were found with Hubble’s primary mirror, NASA discovered the mirror had a spherical aberration, a curvature of the mirror 2 microns off. This problem meant that the clarity of Hubble images was adversely affected.

August 29th, 1990. Hubble science results resolved the Supernova 1987A ring problem, by revealing detailed images of material surrounding the supernova.

October 1st, 1990. Hubble scientific paper published, by Tod Lauer – National Optical Astronomy Observatory, Arizona. This paper detailed the environment of a suspected black hole, located in the core of galaxy NGC 7457.

January 16th, 1991. Accurate measurement of the distance of the Massive Magellanic Cloud satellite galaxy associated with the Milk Way, being, 169,000 light-years (measured at 5% accuracy). The distance was measured while scientists were studying Supernova 1987A.

May 17th, 1991. the first images of Jupiter from Hubble were publicly released, images featured the great red spot.

January 13th, 1992. The chemical element boron being discovered in an ancient star. This was compelling news, and the first time a chemical element had been discovered from the ancient universe using Hubble. The discovery of finding boron, suggested that it may be significant to how the Milky Way was created.

November 19th, 1992. Hubble scientists witnessed a disk of material being dragged into a suggested black hole, location NGC 4261 – a massive galaxy 45 million light-years away.

June 9th, 1993. Hubble scientists announced they had determined the universe age, by accurately measuring the distance of galaxy M81 to be 11 million light-years away. This precise measurement from Hubble allowed scientists to refine the universe’s expansion rate, which determines its age. This data enabled scientists to suggest that the universe was between 10 billion and 20 billion years old, today scientists suggest the universe is in fact 13.8 billion years old.

December 2, 1993 to December 13, 1993. The first Hubble service mission named STS-61 was launched and was the fifth flight of Space Shuttle Endeavour. Launch location – Kenedy Space Centre, Florida. STS-61 included seven astronauts on board, the primary objective of service mission (SM1) was to install two pieces of equipment, a Wide Field and Planetary camera, to replace the damaged primary mirror. The second piece of equipment was the Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement (COSTAR), this was to replace the other damaged existing instruments. Following the SM1 mission, further images from Hubble were no longer distorted.

January 14th, 1994. Hubble observed Eta Carinae – located 10,000 light-years away, using its Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2. Images released, showed the star was highly unstable, as was abundant in outbursts – 4 million x brighter and 150 x more massive than the Milky Way’s Sun.

May 25th, 1994. Hubble confirmed the existence of supermassive black holes located at the center of galaxy M87. Astomeners studied the galaxy, located 50 million light-years away from the planet Earth, and found substantial evidence of a gravitationally collapsed object with rapid rotation at its core.

July 16th, 1994. Hubble observed fragments from Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 striking Jupiter’s atmosphere. Astronomers had not witnessed comet fragment planet collision before.

November 8th, 1994. Scientists announced that they had the first images from Hubble of Saturn’s moon lunar surface, Titan. Titan has an atmosphere four times denser than Earth’s, and is abundant in nitrogen.

February 23rd, 1995. NASA scientists announced that there was O2 on Europa, Jupiter’s moon. Scientists have never found evidence to suggest 02 exists on any other satellite observed, and Europa is the third suggested object in the universe to have O2 according to studies.

November 2nd, 1995. Hubble observed towering columns of gas and stardust, signaling a star birth, located in the Eagle Nebula (M16). This spectacle was dubbed the Pillars of Creation, the image highlights the newly created stars appearing from dense pockets of gas.

January 15th, 1996. Hubble released the Deep Field image, this was an image showing the deep space universe in the most detailed way ever seen to the date it was taken. The image consisted of 342 distinguished exposures using the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2, which took ten days. The image portrays over 1,500 galaxies, at different stages of age.

In January 17th, 1996. Hubble scientists collected data to suggest that there was evidence of a planet orbiting the star Beta Pictoris. The images from Hubble Space Telescope showed that inner regions of dust surrounding Beta Pictoris seemed to be warped, which may be caused by a gravitational pull of a planet.

March 7th, 1996. Hubble reveals Pluto’s surface, it showed variations in brightness on the planet’s surface, suggesting basins and craters.

July 18th, 1996. Hubble’s landmark 100,000th exposure is taken. The 100,000 exposure was reached quite a lot earlier than scientists thought it would, and was taken of quasar located 9 billion light-years away from planet Earth.

February 11th, 1997. Second maintenance mission of the Hubble, this mission was carried out using the Shuttle Discovery – flight STS-82, this flight was the 22nd Space Shuttle Discovery flight, it landed 21 February 1997. The mission was named Service mission 2 (SM2), its objectives were; install Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS), and install the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS).

May 12th, 1997. Hubble released its first images after SM2, these images included Egg Nebula, and core Orion Nebula, also spectrographic images were taken of a ring surrounding Supernova 1987A, suggesting a supermassive black hole. MA84 was the subject to study, revealing a spectrographic black hole signature recorded, this was actioned by the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS), STIS enable scientists to map the movement of gas within the black hole’s gravitational field.

June 19th, 1997. Hubble observed a 250-mile verticle burst of gas and dust released from Jupiter’s moon Io. This material was released via a volcano, at a suggested rate of 2,000 miles per hour.

September 1998. Suggestive evidence was accumulated that the expansion of the universe is continuous, and accelerating. This data was concluded by the measurement of distant supernovae, which determined the expansion rates of the universe.

From October 29th, 1998 to November 7th, 1998. NASA’s space shuttle Discovery was deployed to Hubble, the mission was named HOST. HOST transported seven astronauts and the Hubble Space Telescope Orbiting System Test (HOST) on STS-95. HOST mission protocols were to calibrate equipment that was to be installed on Hubble’s next servicing mission. This was to ensure any added equipment would work correctly with existing installed equipment.

January 6th, 1999. Hubble released the sharpest image of the Ring Nebula (discovered by French astronomer Charles Messier) cataloged as Messier 57 (M57). This planetary nebula, is an emission nebula, full of expanding ionized gas and a glowing shell. They are formed from dying red giant stars shedding their outer layers, towards the end of their lives.

November 13th, 1999. Hubble faced gyroscope functional issues, and entered safe mode. The telescope had six functional gyroscopes, and could operate with a minimum of three. Because of the gyroscope issues, Hubble was put into safe mode, this is a state where the telescope maintains its basic operating functions, but will not process images. All solar panels are pointed towards the sun, and its antennas are tilted to allow effective communications.

December 19th, 1999. Hubble’s third service mission is deployed. This third service mission was very urgent due to the failure of the gyroscopes. This service mission was named Servicing Mission 3A, the space shuttle Discovery was utilized again, and named STS-103 – and was called a rescue mission. The team of seven astronauts successfully repaired and upgraded the failed gyroscopes, and installed a new computer system. On completion of STS-103 Hubble began its observation mission again.

May 3rd, 2000. Hubble scientists announced they found the missing hydrogen that was created during the Big Bang. Via the study of light quasars designated for Earth making their way through clouds of gas, they noticed invisible filaments of hydrogen passing through galaxies of the universe.

April 26th, 2001. Hubble collated evidence to support planetary building blocks (elements) inside disks dust surrounding young stars. The disks called protoplanetary disks are located within the Orion Nebula, around 1,500 light-years distance from planet Earth.

November 27, 2001. Hubble scientists measure an exoplanet’s atmosphere named HD 209458, to be precise the telescope detected atmospheric sodium in a planet orbiting a star 150 light-years away.

March 1, 2020, to March 12, 2002. The fourth servicing mission was deployed on Hubble. This service mission was named Servicing Mission 3B, and included seven astronauts traveling to Hubble via STS-109 the space shuttle Discovery. The 3B mission’s main objective was to update power control systems on Hubble. Also, Hubble was upgraded with Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), so it could perform surveys.

April 30th, 2002. NASA released the first images from its newly installed Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS). These images showed; Cone Nebula, Mice galaxies, and the Tadpole Galaxy.

September 19th, 2002. Hubble scientists release observations in partnership with The Chandra X-ray Observatory. The Chandra X-ray Observatory is a space telescope launched on July 23rd, 1999 by the Space Shuttle Columbia during STS-93 by NASA. The observations showed shocks and other features produced by matter and antimatter which was propelled by the Crab pulsar. The Crab pulsar is a quick rotating massive neutron star, located at the core of the Crab nebula.

February 1, 2003. NASA’s space shuttle Columbia disintegrated on re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, this catastrophic disaster saw the loss of all the astronauts on board Columbia. Following this disaster, Hubble’s fifth servicing mission was canceled until further notice.

March 12th, 2003. Hubble scientists released information that they had witnessed exoplanets HD 209458b atmosphere disintegrate into space. HD 209458b, can be described as similar to Jupiter, a giant gaseous planet that orbits close to its parent star. Hubble has revealed this exoplanet has a very hot, hydrogen-based atmosphere, which has evaporated in a style like a long comet tail trailing behind the exoplanet.

March 26th, 2003. Hubble scientists announced they had witnessed a light echo, from the star V838 Monocerotis. This particular star had a massive show of brightness, around 600,000 times more bright than Earth’s sun.

January 16th, 2004. Hubble’s fifth servicing mission delayed, the mission was canceled due to the Columbia disaster.

March 9th, 2004. Hubble’s Ultra Deep Field observation was released, the observation saw the images of over 10,000 galaxies, in the proximity of one area. These exposures were made up of a million seconds of observation time, the image portrayed some of the first galaxies dating back to the Big Bang era.

July 4th, 2005. NASA’s Deep Impact space probe, which was launched on January 12th, 2005, from Cape Canaveral. Released an impactor weighing 820 pounds, into comet 9P/Tempel 1, this was successful, and the impactor collided with the comet’s nucleus. Hubble’s images of the impact showed images of 9P/Tempel 1 before and after impact.

August 31st, 2005. NASA shut down one of HST’s three functional gyroscopes. Thus, rendering HST in a two gyroscope state. This action was performed to increase Hubble’s longevity, to expand on time to operate science discoveries.

October 31st, 2005. Hubble discovered two small moons orbiting Pluto. This discovery leads to scientists being able to research the detailed evolution theory of Pluto, and its early Kuiper Belt. Hubble later discovered a total of four moons orbiting Pluto.

December 22nd, 2005. Hubble discovered two, giant, dusty rings around Uranus, it also discovered 2 unknown moons, soon to be named Mab and Cupid. Hubble also released images, showing that Uranus’s two inner moons orbits had changed significantly over the last decade.

April 18th, 2006 to April 20th, 2006. Hubble observed comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 implode as it approached the sun. This observation allowed scientists to research comet nucleus breakup in a new light.

August 21st, 2006. scientists utilized Hubble, ground-based telescopes, and Chandra X-ray Observatory to determine if dark matter existed. They indeed found the existence of dark matter in galaxy cluster 1E 0657-56 – Buller Cluster.

October 31st, 2006. Hubble’s fourth service mission finally reinstated – STS-125. This service mission saw astronauts upgrade certain technologies on the space telescope.

October 29th, 2007 to November 4th, 2007. Hubble scientists observed comet 17P/Holmes, which sporadically brightened a millionfold – in a brief 24 hour period – late October 2007. Hubble revealed detailed analyses – covering an area of 33 miles across. This analyzed area revealed dust emitting from the comet’s nucleus, it also showed a dust cloud called coma circling the comet, this cloud dispersed within several days.

December 11th, 2007. Hubble discovered hazes in the atmosphere of exoplanet HD 189733b.

March 19th, 2008. Hubble scientists announced they had found methane within the atmosphere of exoplanet HD 189733b. This was the discovery of an organic molecule found in a planet’s atmosphere other than a planet orbiting the Sun.

August 11th, 2008. Hubble completed its 100,000th orbit, at 11:42:05 UTC (Coordinated Universal Time). This took around 18 years for Hubble to achieve this great accomplishment. To celebrate this piece of history, Hubble imaged a new star-forming nebula – located in a galaxy called Large Magellanic Cloud.

September 27th, 2008. Hubble encountered a serious failure with a data formatter, this formatter was tasked with sending data to earth. Because of this failure Hubble once again had to enter safe mode. This failure also saw the delay of the next service mission, as NASA had to develop a solution to fix the data formatter.

November 13, 2008. Hubble scientists release images of visible-light images of an exoplanet. Images released showed the exoplanet orbiting the star Fomalhaut located 25 light-years away from planet Earth.

May 11th, 2009, to May 24th, 2009. Fifth Hubble NASA servicing mission completed. Designated STS-125 and named the Fourth Service Mission. During the service mission astronauts installed; Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, Wide Field Camera, batteries, gyroscopes, and the first in space repair was carried out on Hubble technology, being the ACS and the STIS.

September 9th, 2009. Hubble scientists released images from the newly installed Wide Field Camera 3. Objects released were; Butterfly Nebula, Stephan’s Quintet, the star cluster, namely Omega Centauri. These images taken were of paramount quality compared to images before the service mission.

February 25th, 2010 to February 28th, 2010. Hubble scientists observed the asteroid Vesta to prepare Dawn (A space probe) with the mission of studying the asteroid. The asteroid Vesta is located within the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars.

August 19th, 2010. Hubble scientists announced they were using Hubble to measure dark energy in a new way. Hubble also observed a massive cluster of galaxies called Abell 1689. Scientists measured how the light from galaxies behind Abell 1689 was bent by the massive cluster’s gravity, enabling them to research how dark energy affected the geometry of the universe via following the lights path from the galaxies behind Abell 1689.

July 4th, 2011. Hubble observations equated to one million. The millionth observation was to determine if exoplanet HAT-P-7b – located 1,000 light-years away, contained water in its atmosphere.

October 4th, 2011. Adam Riess, Hubble science team member, and other NASA team members won the Nobel Prize in Physics – Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Discovery: The universe is accelerating. To determine this discovery scientists utilized Hubble and ground telescopes.

December 6th, 2011. saw the 10,000th scientific paper published, using Hubble data. This recognized Hubble as one of the most important resources for astronomical sciences in history.

May 31st, 2012. Hubble scientists collated enough data to determine that the Milky Way will collide with the Andromeda galaxy in around 4 billion years. Currently, the Andromeda galaxy is 2.5 million light-years away from Earth, but the two galaxies are slowly becoming closer due to a gravitational force.

July 11th, 2012. Hubble astronomers discovered Pluto’s fifth moon, images showed the moon being irregular in shape and 6 to 15 miles across. This moon orbits in the same plane as the other satellites.

September 25th, 2012. Hubble scientists released the image, eXtreme Deep Field, an image amalgamating ten years of Hubble images taken from one location of space. The galaxies included within the image are ten-billionth the brightness from what a human can see.

April 19th, 2013. Hubble scientists released an image of Horsehead Nebula, this was to celebrate the 23rd anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope. The Horsehead Nebula located within the constellation Orion, the nebula is located south of Alnitak. This constellation has been predicted to collapse in around 5 million years.

November 7th, 2013. Hubble scientists release images of an asteroid with six comet-like tails.

December 12th, 2013. Hubble scientists observe Jupiter’s moon Europa to discover water vapor rising from the south of the lunar surface.

January 7th, 2014. Hubble scientists release images from Frontier Feilds, being the galaxy cluster Abell 2744. The image of Abell 2744 was the deepest image ever taken of a galaxy cluster.

March 6th, 2014. Hubble scientist release images of P/2013 R3, an asteroid that broke into 10 separate pieces, and continued to break.

May 15th, 2014. Hubble scientists focused on Jupiter’s great red spot, to discover that it is shrinking, proposing that Jupiter’s storm is becoming smaller. This discovery also led to determine that the Jupiters spot is changing from an oval shape to a circle shape.

June 3rd, 2014. Hubble scientists released an image of the evolving universe, the image has ultraviolet observations added to the Hubble Ultra Field previously released before image. This ultraviolet addition to the Hubble Ultra Field provided a breakthrough in the history of star formation, and aided scientist to cover the range of light Hubble observes.

October 15th, 2014. Hubble scientists announce they discovered three objects located in Kuiper Belt, that the nearing New Horizon mission could now study.

January 5th, 2015. Hubble scientists release new images of the Pillars of Creation, located within the Eagle Nebula. These new images were of better light quality, and also included infrared views, this revealed new stars within and behind the towers.

January 5th, 2015. Hubble scientists release panoramic views of the Andromeda galaxy. This massive panoramic view was created via 7,398 Hubble images. To include over 100 million stars and thousands of clusters of stars.

December 16th, 2015. Hubble scientists release images of light produced from a predicted supernova stellar explosion. This supernova was predicted via researching the cluster’s gravity bending and magnifying light from the supernova, thus the light was captured in different locations at different times.

March 3, 2016. Hubble scientists revealed they had measured the furthest galaxy away that was possible using the Hubble Space Telescope. This galaxy named GN-z11, was seen 13.4 billion years in the past, around 400 million years following the Big Bang.

April 26th, 2016. Hubble scientists discover a small moon orbiting Makemake, this is now the second smallest ice dwarf planet located within the Kuiper Belt, following Pluto. This discovery showed this moon, named Mk 2, orbits 13,000 miles from Makemake. This discovery led to scientists being able to research the evolution of the system more extensively.

February 22, 2017. Hubble scientists announce they had discovered seven Earth-sized exoplanets orbiting a star named TRAPPIST-1. This discovery was made by utilizing the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope. On observations of the planets, NASA found no evidence for hydrogen-rich atmospheres, suggesting the planets’ surfaces are rocky.

October 16th, 2017. Hubble scientists released images from a light source being galaxy NGC 1993, location 130 million light-years away from planet Earth. Many other scientists observed the following kilonova – a transient astronomical event that happens when two neutron stars or a neutron star and a black hole collide. This was the first time light from gravitational waves had been detected.

April 2nd, 2018. Hubble scientists collated images of the furthest star ever to be seen to date, this star was named Icarus. This massive star is of a blue colour, and is located so far away its light takes 9 billion years to reach planet Earth.

June 27th, 2018. Hubble scientists released images and information regarding Oumuamua, an interstellar object that passed through Earth’s solar system. The object’s trajectory was measured, and from this data, scientists found the object had received a strange speed increase. This may have been because Oumuamua expelled gaseous stuff, quite like a comet.

October 3rd, 2018. Hubble scientists discovered a possible exomoon orbiting Kepler-1625b, which orbits a sun-like star located around 8,000 light-years from planet Earth.

September 13th, 2019. Hubbel scientists discovered possible water vapor within the atmosphere of exoplanet K2-18b, which orbits a red dwarf star around 110 light-years away from planet Earth.

Hubble Space Telescope being superseded

The Hubble Space Telescope is still operating and has the capability to be active until 2030-2040. However, it may be superseded by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) by 2021.

The Story of the NASA Hubble Space Telescope: NASA Goddard


Short documentary relating to the James Webb Space Telescope Mission: NASA


James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)

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