Try 12 issues of National Geographic for just £25 today...
  • 12 issues for £25
  • Free world map
  • Free supplement downloads
  • Free delivery

FREE Feature Supplement

Hubble at 25: Pictures from the space telescope have dazzled us for 25 years

Hubble Telescope

It didn’t amount to much at first. Launched into orbit aboard the space shuttle Discovery on April 24, 1990, amid flurries of hope and hype, the Hubble Space Telescope promptly faltered. Rather than remaining locked on its celestial targets, it trembled and shook, quaking like a photophobic vampire whenever sunlight struck its solar panels.

Opening its protective front door to let starlight in perturbed the telescope so badly that it fell into an electronic coma. Worst of all, Hubble turned out to be myopic. Its primary light-gathering mirror, eight feet in diameter and said to be the smoothest large object ever fashioned by humans, had been figured perfectly wrong.

Its design was already a compromise. The astronomers had wanted a bigger telescope in a higher orbit. They got a smaller one orbiting only 350 miles high, so that it could fit in the shuttle’s cargo bay and remain within reach for servicing by astronauts working in space. Some grumbled that science was being subordinated to flyboy flash.

Yet the shuttle proved to be the mission’s salvation. Had Hubble been lofted beyond the shuttle’s reach, it might have gone down in history as a billion-dollar blunder. Instead it was constructed so that its key components, from cameras and computers to gyroscopes and radio transmitters, remained accessible for replacement or repair. One astronaut took this requirement so seriously that he visited the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum after-hours, put a ladder up to its Hubble replica, and practiced swapping out instruments to make sure everything fit. Everything did, and five nearly perfect shuttle service missions proved essential in transforming Hubble from a 12-ton dud into one of the world’s most productive and popular scientific machines.

To read on, instantly download this supplement today after signing up to National Geographic magazine

National Geographic is un-missable reading for anyone who takes an interest in the world around them. Our special features come to life with unrivalled, compelling journalism and superb photography. Imagery and unsurpassed maps make our features accessible to everyone.

All of this will be yours when you subscribe to National Geographic magazine. You will benefit from this wealth of knowledge every month – and as a special bonus National Geographic are offering instant access to the feature above when you place your order.

Get 12 issues of National Geographic magazine
Give 12 issues of National Geographic