Illustration of Hubble

Illustration by Jason Lee

It’s arguably the most powerful scientific instrument ever created, adept at inspecting exploding stars and glimpsing billions of years back in time. Yet the Hubble Space Telescope is really just a giant orbiting lens, only as good as the camera within. This month, astronauts will deliver an even better internal eye, the Advanced Camera for Surveys. The upgrade will allow Hubble to operate 10 times more quickly. Here is a brief history of the telescope that changed the way we think about the universe.


April 1990

Hubble launches with a warped primary mirror, effectively rendering the telescope useless.

December 1993

With a set of corrective lenses, Hubble finally peers into the universe.

February 1997

Two new instruments give the telescope the power to see nearly all types of light.

December 1999

The crew of the space shuttle Discovery repairs all six of Hubble’s worn gyroscopes, parts critical to keeping the satellite stabilized.

February 2002

A new camera will make Hubble 10 times more powerful.


373 miles: Distance between Earth and Hubble’s orbit

**1.7 billion **: Estimated miles Hubble has traveled in orbit

97 minutes: Time it takes Hubble to circle Earth

350,000: Estimated number of pictures Hubble has taken

15 gigabytes: Amount of data Hubble delivers to astronomers each day