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On this day in history, April 25, 1990, Hubble Space Telescope placed in orbit by Space Shuttle Discovery

The Hubble Space Telescope, which has delivered awe-inspiring images of creation and destruction from the deepest reaches of the universe, was placed into orbit on this day in history, April 25, 1990. 

“Hubble’s launch and deployment in April 1990 marked the most significant advance in astronomy since Galileo’s telescope,” NASA writes in an online history of the Hubble program.

The telescope, NASA adds, “has brought the wonder, beauty and mysteries of the universe to Earth, spinning pictures out of light that have transformed our understanding of the universe.” 

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Space Shuttle Discovery launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida a day earlier with its precious instrument and a crew of five astronauts: Charles F. Bolden, Steven A. Hawleym Bruce McCandless II, Loren J. Shriver and Kathryn D. Sullivan. 

Bolden later served as NASA administrator from 2009 to 2017. 

Hubble deployed

Picture taken by the STS-31 crew aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery showing the Hubble Space Telescope being deployed on April 25, 1990, from the payload bay. The giant spacecraft was put in orbit to gather information about a large variety of astronomical objects, from neighboring planets and stars to the most distant galaxies and quasars. (NASA/AFP via Getty Images)

The telescope allowed scientists to peer deep into space using visible, ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths, without the distorting impact caused by Earth’s atmosphere. 

While its spectacular pictures have generated worldwide acclaim, the telescope’s greatest contribution has been advancing science’s understanding of the origins of the universe.

“Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure science.” — Edwin Hubble, astronomer

Among its most important discoveries, Hubble has pinned down the age of the universe at 13.8 billion years (previous estimates were between 10 billion to 20 billion years); helped determine the rate at which the universe is expanding; and showed a black hole at the center of most galaxies, reports Royal Museums Greenwich in London.

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The power of the telescope, freed from the limits imposed by the Earth’s atmosphere, is almost unfathomable.

Eagle Nebula

An image taken via Hubble telescope entitled Pillars of Creation, depicting gaseous pillars in M16, the Eagle Nebula. These columns of hydrogen and dust act as incubators for new stars, from April 1, 1995. (Space Frontiers/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Its “pointing accuracy of .007 arcseconds,” writes NASA, “is like being able to shine a laser beam on President Roosevelt’s head on a dime about 200 miles away.” 

Hubble, the Space Administration adds, “can see astronomical objects with an angular size of 0.05 arcseconds, which is like seeing a pair of fireflies in Tokyo that are less than 10 feet apart from Washington, D.C. … (and) can spot a night light on the surface of the Moon from Earth.”

“Hubble’s launch and deployment in April 1990 marked the most significant advance in astronomy since Galileo’s telescope.” — NASA

“Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure science,” telescope namesake, American astronomer Edwin Hubble (1889-1953), famously said.

Hubble in 1929 became the first scientist to show that the universe was expanding — his earth-bound observations confirmed and advanced by the orbiting telescope.

Edwin Hubble

Astronomer Dr. Edwin Powell Hubble (1889-1953) reading a journal. A staff member at Mt. Wilson Observatory, he was the first scientist to offer observational evidence supporting the theory, now known as Hubble’s Law, of the expansion of the universe. Photo circa 1945.  (New York Times Co./Getty Images)

“His work also revealed that there were other galaxies beyond the Milky Way — revolutionizing our view of the cosmos and our place within it,” states the Space Telescope Science Institute, charged with the mission of operating Hubble and Webb Telescopes. 

The Hubble Telescope was decades in the making. 

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“The vision for the Hubble Space Telescope began in 1946 when astronomer Dr. Lyman Spitzer wrote a report that appeared in the appendix of a document compiled for the Douglas Aircraft Company,” the institute writes in its online history.

“He proposed designing, building and launching an ‘extra-terrestrial observatory’ in Earth’s orbit.”

“Edwin Hubble … was able to see what others looked for but didn’t see.” — Institute of Science and Technology

Years of research and political will fueled the mission, including the creation of NASA in 1958, the funding and development of a Large Space Telescope Program in the 1970s and the announcement of the Hubble name in 1983.

Launch of Discovery April 24, 1990

Space Shuttle Discovery, with Hubble Space Telescope aboard, blasts off from Kennedy Space Center, Merritt Island, Florida, on April 24, 1990.  (JHU Sheridan Libraries/Gado/Getty Images)

The Hubble Space Telescope sent its first images back to Earth in May 1990, just weeks after being placed in orbit.

The telescope faced immediate challenges, however, including the discovery of a defective main mirror that limited its capabilities. 

Space-walking astronauts fixed the problem in 1993. 

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By 1995, the telescope began producing its most spectacular “Deep Field” images, astounding people around the world with the catastrophic beauty of the universe. 

Hubble image

The spiral galaxy known as Messier 81, or M81. GALEX Orbiter, Hubble Space Telescope, Spitzer Space Telescope. (Photo12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

“To date, the telescope has studied more than 40,000 cosmic objects, providing views astronomers were unable to capture from the ground,” NASA reports.

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Hubble continues to explore deep space today, circling the Earth every 95 minutes. 

Hubble telescope image

Six hundred and fifty light-years away in the constellation Aquarius, a dead star about the size of Earth is refusing to fade away peacefully. In death, it is spewing out massive amounts of hot gas and intense ultraviolet radiation, creating a spectacular object called a “planetary nebula.” Hubble Space Telescope (HST), Spitzer Space Telescope.  (Photo12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

“Edwin Hubble is acclaimed as one of the great scientists of this century — one who was able to see what others looked for but didn’t see,” says the website of the Institute of Science and Technology in Kansas City. 

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“Because of his vision, he was a catalyst for a more sophisticated exploration of the universe, inspiring the creation of a deep-space telescope to see beyond what our earth-bound instruments could show.”

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