NASA Hubble Exhibit at National Air and Space Museum

April 28, 2014
Source:  NASA/JPL

Ring Nebula

The image from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope shows the most famous of all planetary nebulae:  the Ring Nebula (M57). In this October 1998 image taken with Hubble’s Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2, the telescope looked down a barrel of gas cast off by a dying star thousands of years ago. The photo reveals elongated dark clumps of material embedded in the gas at the edge of the nebula; the dying central star floating in a blue haze of hot gas. The nebula is about a light-year in diameter and is located some 2000 light-years from Earth in the direction of the constellation Lyra. Credit:  NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA).

Two instruments that played critical roles in discoveries made by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope now are on display in an exhibit at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington.

“Repairing Hubble” recognizes the 24th anniversary of Hubble’s launch into space onboard space shuttle Discovery on April 24, 1990. The exhibit features Hubble’s Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement (COSTAR) instrument and the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2).

Soon after Hubble began sending back images in 1990, scientists discovered the telescope’s primary mirror had a flaw called spherical aberration. The outer edge of the mirror was ground too flat by a depth of 4 micrometers, which is roughly equal to one-fiftieth the thickness of a human hair. The flaw resulted in images that were fuzzy because some of the light from the objects being studied was being scattered. After the amount of aberration was understood, scientists and engineers developed WFPC2 and COSTAR, which were installed in Hubble during the first space shuttle servicing mission in 1993.

COSTAR deployed corrective optics in front of three of Hubble’s first-generation instruments — the Faint Object Camera, the Goddard High Resolution Spectrometer, and the Faint Object Spectrograph. COSTAR could not correct the vision for the Wide Field/Planetary Camera (WFPC) currently on Hubble. So, a replacement instrument, which was already in work as an upgrade, was hastened to completion as WFPC2.

WFPC2 was separately fitted with corrective optics to compensate for the scattered light from the primary mirror. This allowed the camera to record razor-sharp images of celestial objects — from nearby planets to remote galaxies — for more than 15 years. A landmark observation was the Hubble Deep Field taken in 1995. This long exposure captured the light of 4000 galaxies stretching 12 billion years back into time.

WFPC2 was one of Hubble’s main cameras until the Advanced Camera for Surveys was installed in 2002. WFPC2’s 48 filters allowed scientists to study precise wavelengths of light and to sense a range of wavelengths from ultraviolet to near-infrared light.

COSTAR and WFPC2 were removed from Hubble in 2009, during the fifth and final shuttle servicing mission, and returned to Earth. COSTAR’s removal made way for the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph. WFPC2 was replaced by Wide Field Camera 3.

Development of the National Air and Space Museum exhibit was supported by NASA, including the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. The exhibit was designed and constructed by museum staff.

A reception at the National Air and Space Museum on April 23 featured presentations by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who was the pilot for Discovery during the Hubble deployment mission in 1990; Gen. J. R. “Jack” Dailey, museum director; John Grunsfeld, NASA’s Science Mission Directorate associate administrator and astronaut on several shuttle Hubble servicing missions; and John Trauger, former WFPC2 principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

For more information, visit

Hubble Space Telescope


Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum


Community News home page

Last updated April 28, 2014