The Hubble Space Telescope’s journey began long before it launched. In 1946, Lyman Spitzer, a professor at Yale University, wrote the paper Astronomical Advantages of an Extra-Terrestrial Observatory with hopes of gaining support for a space telescope. After receiving backing from NASA, the Large Space Telescope program formed and research began on what it would take to build and launch a large telescope into space. Thirty-one years after Spitzer’s paper was published, Congress finally accepted the proposal and granted funding to the program. The telescope was named the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) in 1983 to honor the notable astronomer Edwin P. Hubble who proved the universe was expanding, a significant milestone in astronomy. HST is one of NASA's Great Observatories, four space-based astronomical telescopes.
After launching aboard space shuttle Discovery in 1990, HST was not fully operational when deployed due to an incorrectly-sized optical mirror. Five service missions were performed by space shuttle crews over 19 years to correct the initial optical issue and update technology of HST, culminating in a final mission by the crew of Atlantis. During the final service mission, the Soft Capture and Rendezvous System (SCRS) was installed, allowing the future rendezvous, capture and disposal of HST in June 2021.
Today, the Hubble Space Telescope peers into deep space capturing images which can’t be taken from Earth due to hindrances such as light pollution and the atmospheric distortion. During the past quarter century, the Hubble Space Telescope has made more than 1 million observations of the universe. It has transformed how we understand the universe, helped us find our place among the stars and paved the way to major advancements in science and technology. The Hubble Space Telescope’s extraordinary discoveries include helping scientists understand how planets and galaxies form or the life cycles of various stars. By observing black holes, Hubble discovered “dark energy,” a mysterious force causing the universe to expand with time. Perhaps Hubble's most famous image is Hubble Ultra Deep Field, created in 2004, depicting the most distant and most ancient galaxies in the universe.
At Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, visitors will find a full-scale replica of HST and the Hubble Theater inside the Space Shuttle Atlantis attraction. Suspended from the ceiling as if in orbit with solar panels extended, HST is the size of a school bus. The Hubble Theater recounts the high-stakes repair mission performed by the crew of Atlantis in 2009.