The Institute’s Role in the History of Space Exploration

Although the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) was not established until 1981, its roots can be traced back to Dr. Lyman Spitzer’s vision for what would become the Hubble Space Telescope in a document published in 1946. This interactive timeline invites viewers to explore the role the U.S. plays in space exploration, from the launch of the world’s first satellites to the discoveries led by Hubble and other space telescopes. Many items on the page expand: Click through to read more and see additional photos and videos. As STScI hits new milestones—like the launch and beginning of operations of the James Webb Space Telescope—events will be added to cover the breaking science results. 

STScI Milestones
Space Exploration
Edwin Hubble seated at the Hooker telescope at Mt. Wilson Observatory
January 17, 1929

Edwin Hubble Definitively Demonstrates the Universe Is Expanding

The astronomer convinces his peers with a landmark publication.

Lyman Spitzer at Princeton University circa 1948
September 1, 1946

‘Astronomical Advantages of an Extra-terrestrial Observatory’

Lyman Spitzer publishes a report arguing for an observatory that orbits the Earth.

Sputnik 1 launches
October 4, 1957

The Dawn of the Space Age

The Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik I, the world’s first artificial satellite, and with it, the Space Age.
Explorer 1 launches
January 31, 1958

Explorer 1 Launches

The United States launches its first satellite.

President Eisenhower with T. Keith Glennan and Hugh L. Dryden
July 29, 1958

Congress Passes the Space Act

This major piece of legislation establishes the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
President John F. Kennedy addresses the U.S. Congress
May 25, 1961

A Declaration to Land a Man on the Moon

President John F. Kennedy gave a seminal speech to Congress, urging lawmakers to fund and develop technologies to meet this goal.
NASA launches first Orbital Astronomical Observatory
April 8, 1966

NASA Launches First of Four Orbital Astronomical Observatories

The solar-powered satellite makes ultraviolet observations and allows NASA to learn how to build and launch observatories. Credit: NASA.
Frst view of Earth from the Moon
August 23, 1966

A View of Earth from the Moon

NASA’s Lunar Orbiter I takes an image of Earth, the world’s first, during the spacecraft’s 16th orbit around the Moon. Credit: NASA.

Formalizing the Idea for a Space-based Telescope

The National Academy of Sciences publishes a report that lays out the benefits of a large space telescope.
Apollo 11’s lunar lander on the Moon
July 20, 1969

U.S. Astronauts Walk on the Moon

NASA's Apollo 11 crew collects samples and leaves a flag to commemorate the historic accomplishment.
September 17, 1975

The European Space Agency (ESA) Joins the Large Space Telescope Project

In return for providing project funding, NASA guarantees telescope time to European astronomers.

The National Academy of Sciences Publishes ‘Institutional Arrangements for the Space Telescope’

By establishing an independent institute, the authors argue, the telescope will be open to the worldwide scientific community.

A landscape view of the U.S. Capitol building

Budget Approved for Large Space Telescope

U.S. Congress grants $200 million to build the telescope, which initiates design and assembly of the project.
Large Space Telescope design in 1978

Design of the Large Space Telescope Begins

NASA selects companies to begin building the telescope and its instruments.
STScI staff outside a temporary office space on the Hopkins Homewood campus

The Space Telescope Science Institute Is Founded

The institute becomes the base for scientific operations for the Large Space Telescope.
Edwin Hubble with a photograph of a galaxy in 1940

Dedicating the Hubble Space Telescope

NASA honors the late astronomer, Edwin P. Hubble, for his groundbreaking studies by naming the space-based telescope after him.

A landscape view of the Muller building

STScI Headquarters Open

A building on the Johns Hopkins University Homewood campus in Baltimore, Maryland, becomes the institute’s new base of operations.
The space shuttle Challenger at liftoff
January 28, 1986

Shuttle Flights Are Grounded

The explosion of NASA’s space shuttle Challenger prevented the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope for more than four years.
Discovery liftoff in 1988
September 29, 1988

NASA Space Shuttle Flights Resume

Space shuttle Discovery successfully launched with five astronauts. Credit: NASA.
An artist’s concept of a 10-meter telescope in high-Earth orbit
September 13-15, 1989

STScI Hosts the Next Generation Space Telescope Workshop

Formed before Hubble launches, workshop attendees formalized ideas for the observatory that would follow.
Digitized Sky Survey image of the Whirlpool Galaxy, M51

Guide Star Catalog Published

The Guide Star Catalog, developed by a team at the Space Telescope Science Institute, revolutionized the way astronomers locate and lock onto star positions to gather data.
April 24-25, 1990

Hubble Space Telescope Is Launched and Deployed

A new age of astronomy and astrophysics dawns as the Hubble Space Telescope is launched aboard the space shuttle Discovery.
Hubble's first image compared to a photograph taken by the Irénée du Pont telescope
May 20, 1990

Hubble Sees First Light

The first image from the Hubble Space Telescope highlights the advantage of photographing stars from above Earth's atmosphere.
Hubble's primary mirror being ground
June 1990

Flaw in Hubble’s Primary Mirror

Hubble’s first images reveal a flaw in the telescope’s primary mirror, preventing it from focusing.

STScI Convenes Hubble Strategy Panel, Recommends COSTAR

STScI Director Riccardo Giacconi gathers experts to address the flaw in Hubble’s mirror and salvage scientific operations.
A Hubble Space Telescope image of galaxy NGC 7457

First Science Paper Based on Hubble Data Is Published

An article in the Astrophysical Journal presented findings from galaxy NGC 7457.

The Compton Gamma Ray Observatory
April 5, 1991

NASA’s Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory Launches

One of NASA’s Great Observatories determines the locations of gamma rays and sends alerts to support other telescopes.
Artist’s conception of planets orbiting the pulsar PSR B1257+12

Astronomers Announce the First Confirmed Discovery of a Planet Orbiting a Star Other than the Sun

Confirmation of planets orbiting a neutron star 2,300 light-years from Earth opens a new frontier of astronomy and planetary science.
In January 1992, astronomers confirmed the existence of planets outside our solar system (depicted in an artist’s conception). The three exoplanets—Draugr, Poltergeist, and Phobetor—were detected based on anomalies in the rotation rate of the pulsar. Thousands of exoplanets have been confirmed since. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.
May 1992

Providing Access to Astronomical Targets to All

Following the 1989 release of the Guide Star Catalog, STScI releases the first compressed digitized sky survey project on CD-ROM.

An astronaut repairing the space shuttle Endeavor
December 2-13, 1993

Correcting the Aberration

During a multi-day mission, astronauts repair the Hubble Space Telescope.
A chart showing each telescope above the wavelength region it was built to observe

U.S. Congress Funds NASA’s Great Observatories Program

The program, which includes four space-based telescopes, becomes official after it is funded by Congress.
Spectrum of gas disk in active Galaxy M87
May 25, 1994

Existence of Supermassive Black Holes Confirmed

Conclusive evidence confirms existence of gravitationally collapsed objects predicted by Einstein.

An inset showing the impact site of a comet on Jupiter
July 16, 1994

Hubble Captures Collision of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter

Photographs of the impact of a comet on a planet mark the first-ever observations of two Solar System objects colliding.
Pillars of gas and dust in the Eagle Nebula

Hubble Photographs Pillars of Gas and Dust in the Eagle Nebula

The iconic image of the "Pillars of Creation" exhibits the superior imaging power of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Mosaic showing a portion of the Orion Nebula made by combining 45 separate images

Astronomers Release Spectacular Color Panorama of the Orion Nebula

Mosaic of Hubble images reveals hundreds of hot young stars surrounded by glowing protoplanetary disks and sheds new light on star and planet formation.
Several hundred galaxies in an array of new shapes and colors revealed by Hubble Deep Field
January 15, 1996

Hubble Deep Field: The Image that Changed Everything

In one stunning image Hubble alters our perception of the universe, revealing a small fraction of sky crowded with galaxies.
The surface of Pluto from the European Space Agency’s Faint Object Camera
March 7, 1996

Hubble Reveals the Surface of Pluto

For the first time since Pluto’s discovery in 1930, astronomers directly imaged details on its surface.
Astronaut Steven L. Smith during repair of the Hubble Space Telescope
February 11-21, 1997

Expanding Hubble’s View

During the second servicing mission, astronauts install two advanced instruments on the Hubble Space Telescope.
MAST logo
October 1997

A Comprehensive Data Archive Is Established

The Multi-mission Archive at Space Telescope (MAST) includes data from the ultraviolet, optical, and near-infrared range.
U.S. astronauts connect the American Unity and Russian Zarya modules of the ISS

International Space Station Construction Begins

The unprecedented global collaboration took 10 years and more than 30 missions to assemble in-orbit.
Three Type 1a supernovae imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope

Astronomers Announce that the Universe Is Accelerating, Driven by a Mysterious Dark Energy

Observations of distant supernovae fundamentally change our understanding of the universe.
Spiral galaxy NGC 4603 imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope
May 1999

Measuring the Expansion Rate of the Universe

Astronomers use Hubble Space Telescope observations to refine the Hubble constant, significantly narrowing down the age of the universe.
July 7, 1999

Engineering Firms and Partners Selected to Begin Studies for the Next Generation Space Telescope

NASA selects Lockheed Martin and TRW to conduct Phase A mission studies, preliminary analysis of the design, and cost. Instrument studies also include the participation of the European Space Agency and Canadian Space Agency, the project’s international partners.

The Chandra X-ray observatory photographed during separation
July 23, 1999

Chandra X-ray Observatory Launches

The member of NASA’s Great Observatories program goes on to make a significant discovery about dark energy.
Discovery's cargo bay and the Earth's horizon are reflected in a helmet visor
December 19-27, 1999

Remodeling Hubble in Space

Astronauts upgrade the observatory with new gyros, a new computer, and other enhancements.

January 2000

STScI Publishes Guide Star Catalog II

The all-sky catalog contains the positions, proper motions, classifications, and magnitudes for almost a billion objects.
ISS Expedition 1 crew members
November 2, 2000

First Crew Boards the International Space Station

U.S. astronaut Bill Shepherd and Russian cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev become the first crew of the ISS.

Artist’s conception of the Jupiter-sized exoplanet and its Sun-like star

Astronomers Announce First Direct Measurement of an Exoplanet Atmosphere

Hubble Space Telescope detects sodium in the atmosphere of a hot-Jupiter orbiting a star 150 light-years from Earth.

An astronaut floats above in the Space Shuttle Columbia’s cargo bay
March 1-12, 2002

Making Hubble’s Instruments More Powerful

The crew of the space shuttle Columbia dramatically updates the telescope's imaging power.
James E. Webb
September 10, 2002

NASA Names the Next Generation Space Telescope in Honor of James E. Webb

The second NASA administrator led more than 75 space science missions during his tenure in the 1960s.
Dr. Riccardo Giacconi
October 8, 2002

STScI’s Founding Director Receives the Nobel Prize

Dr. Riccardo Giacconi is recognized for his pioneering contributions to astrophysics, specifically cosmic X-ray sources.
Supercluster Abell 1689 shows arcs surrounding the center of the image
January 7, 2003

Hubble Looks Further with Help from Supercluster Abell 1689

Newly installed Advanced Camera for Surveys uses the natural phenomenon of gravitational lensing to magnify distant galaxies.

Space Shuttle Orbiter Columbia STS-107 launch at Kennedy Space Center
February 1, 2003

Space Shuttle Columbia Breaks Apart Upon Re-entry

All seven crew members died and NASA grounded its shuttle program. Credit: NASA.
Full-sky map of the cosmic microwave background radiation
February 2003

NASA Unveils First Detailed Image of the Infant Universe

Detailed map of Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMB) gives unprecedented view of the afterglow of the big bang.

The Spitzer Space Telescope against the infrared sky
August 25, 2003

The Spitzer Space Telescope Launches

The fourth and final member of NASA’s Great Observatories program launches, studying the universe in infrared.
The Hubble Ultra Deep Field shows an estimated 10,000 galaxies

Hubble Ultra Deep Field

Astronomers use Hubble to look back in time with humanity’s deepest portrait of the visible universe.
Spirit captures a picture of its own tracks near Husband Hill
January 3, 2004

Rover Lands on Mars

The Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, search for answers about the history of water on the Red Planet.
January 16, 2004

Hubble Servicing Mission 4 Canceled

NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe cites safety concerns following the loss of the space shuttle Columbia and its crew.
March 3, 2004

Construction Begins on the Next Generation Space Telescope

Projects that require the most extensive work begin, including science instruments and the 18 primary mirror segments.
Space Shuttle Discovery launches successfully
July 26, 2005

Space Shuttle Discovery Launches Successfully

After more than two years of research and upgrades, NASA’s shuttle program returns to flight. Credit: NASA.
July 29, 2005

Discovery of a Kuiper Belt Object Larger than Pluto

Initially described as the tenth planet, the discovery ignites debate about the definition of a planet.

Hubble, Chandra, and Magellan composite of dark and normal matter

Astronomers Announce Discovery of Convincing Evidence for Dark Matter

Observations of a distant galaxy cluster show that dark matter is truly distinct from normal matter.
An artist’s concept of Kuiper Belt object 2003 UB313
April 11, 2006

Hubble Captures Images of ‘Tenth Planet’ Slightly Larger Than Pluto

The finding causes astronomers to cast doubt on how to classify Pluto—as a planet or a dwarf planet.
Four images combined with color data to create an enhanced color global view of Pluto
August 24, 2006

Pluto Is Reclassified as a Kuiper Belt Object

An international group of astronomers refine what it means to classify a planet in our solar system.
October 31, 2006

Hubble’s Servicing Mission Reinstated

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin announced that the fifth and final servicing mission was tentatively scheduled for the fall of 2008.
Artist’s conception of HD 189733b in front of its star
March 19, 2008

Hubble Makes First Detection of Organic Molecules on an Exoplanet

The Hubble Space Telescope detects methane in the atmosphere of a Jupiter-sized planet in a distant solar system.
August 11, 2008

Hubble Reaches 100,000 Orbit Milestone

In its 18th year of service, the telescope reached the landmark number of orbits at 7:42 AM EDT.
Debris and exoplanet Fomalhaut b orbiting Fomalhaut
November 13, 2008

Scientists Report First Direct Observation of an Exoplanet in Visible Light

The Hubble Space Telescope directly photographs a planet orbiting a star outside our solar system.
An artist’s illustration of Kepler-444
March 7, 2009

NASA’s Kepler Mission Launches

The spacecraft surveyed our region of the Milky Way galaxy to discover hundreds of exoplanets in or near the habitable zone.

An astronaut works on the Hubble Space Telescope during a spacewalk
May 11-24, 2009

Completing the Final Hubble Servicing Mission

Astronauts install two new instruments and repair two others, enhancing the telescope.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches
December 8, 2010

First Private Company Successfully Launches and Lands a Spacecraft

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches the capsule named Dragon, which orbits Earth and lands safely three hours later in the Pacific. Credit: NASA, Alan Ault.
An illustrated map of Hubble’s first million observations across the entire sky
July 4, 2011

Hubble Makes One Millionth Science Observation

By this point, its observations amount to more than 50 terabytes of data.
An illustrated map of Hubble’s first million scientific observations across the entire sky. Credit: NASA, ESA, and R. Thompson.
Ribbons of steam and smoke trail space shuttle Atlantis
July 8-21, 2011

NASA Ends the Space Shuttle Program

The successful launch and reentry of Atlantis marks the final flight of the 30-year program.
STScI astrophysicist Adam Riess
October 4, 2011

STScI Dark Energy Researcher Shares 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics

Astrophysicist Adam Riess is recognized for his leadership in the 1998 discovery that the expansion rate of the universe is increasing.
December 6, 2011

10,000th Paper Published Based on Hubble Science

STScI announced the publication of the 10,000th refereed science paper based on Hubble observations, solidifying the telescope’s place among the most prolific astronomical endeavors in history.
MAST logo
April 5, 2012

MAST Renamed in Honor of U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski

NASA’s repository for ultraviolet, optical, and near-infrared observations recognizes the support of the longtime Senator.
The Hubble eXtreme Deep Field
September 25, 2012

eXtreme Deep Field

Hubble’s XDF image reaches much fainter galaxies and includes very deep exposures.

Artist’s conception of a water vapor plume on Europa’s icy crust
December 2012

Water Vapor Plumes Detected on Europa

Hubble detects a subsurface ocean on Jupiter’s moon.
A Frontier Fields image showing the immense mass of Abell 2744
October 24, 2013

NASA’s Ambitious Frontier Fields Program Begins

NASA’s Great Observatories team up to look deeper into the universe than ever before.
Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula
January 5, 2015

Hubble Space Telescope Revisits the Iconic Pillars of Creation

Visible and infrared images of immense towers of gas and dust highlight 20 years of improvements in Hubble capabilities.
A panorama of the Andromeda galaxy as a mosaic of 7,398 Hubble exposures
January 5, 2015

Panorama of the Andromeda Galaxy Is Largest Hubble Image Ever Assembled

The images cover more than 61,000 light-years of our nearest galactic neighbor.
Artist's conception of WFIRST
February 18, 2016

NASA Proceeds with Successor to the James Webb Space Telescope

WFIRST will have the same sensitivity and resolution as NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope with 100 times the field of view.

This to-scale illustration depicts the TRAPPIST-1 system viewed from Earth’s direction
February 22, 2017

Discovery of the TRAPPIST-1 Solar System

NASA announces the discovery of seven Earth-sized exoplanets orbiting a single star.
Hubble Space Telescope observed a stellar flare fading after a neutron star merger that also caused a gravitational wave
August 17, 2017

Gravitational and Light Waves Detected from the Same Celestial Event for the First Time

Worldwide effort is heralded as the beginning of multi-messenger astronomy.
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft plunges into Saturn
September 15, 2017

Cassini Spacecraft Ends Its Mission to Saturn

After 17 years exploring Saturn, its rings, and moons, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft plunges into the gas giant. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.
An artist's conceptual illustration of TESS
April 18, 2018

NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) Launches

The mission will catalog thousands of planet candidates.