NASA’s most iconic space telescope is celebrating a quarter century of service peering into the depths of the cosmos.
Launched on April 24, 1990, NASA’s iconic Hubble Space Telescope has gone on to provide some of the most stunning images in the history of space exploration, frequently appearing on the front pages of newspapers and altering our understanding of the cosmos.
“Even the most optimistic person to whom you could have spoken back in 1990 couldn’t have predicted the degree to which Hubble would re-write our astrophysics and planetary science textbooks,” said NASA administrator Charles Bolden, who piloted the mission that brought Hubble into orbit. “A quarter century later, Hubble has fundamentally changed human understanding of the universe and our place in it.”
Named after Edwin Hubble, the astronomer who discovered that the universe was expanding, Hubble went on to measure the rate at which the universe is expanding, one of the space telescope’s primary goals. Since then Hubble’s research has gone on to span a wide array of subjects in astronomy, from measuring the expansion and acceleration rate of the universe, to studying early galaxy formation after the Big Bang, to evaluating the potential habitability of exoplanets.
In addition to making unprecedented deep space observations, Hubble has also provided an unparalelled look at our own cosmic backyard. Hubble has captured the most detailed images of Pluto to date, until NASA’s New Horizons probe arrives at the dwarf planet this summer. Hubble also witnessed the collision of a comet with Jupiter, the first time an extraterrestrial collision was observed in the solar system. The space telescope has even discovered new moons in orbit around Neptune and Pluto.
The Hubble Space Telescope was originally planned to operate until 2005, but thanks to five servicing missions the telescope has vastly exceeded its own lifespan and is expected to continue operation until at least 2020. Hubble is the only space telescope designed to be serviced by astronauts, which allowed for repairs and upgrades over the years. Hubble’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, is on schedule for launch in 2018.