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Informal Science Education Resources
from the home of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope

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Celebrating 15 Years of Hubble Discovery

by John Stoke

The national unveiling of two spectacular new Hubble images at museums, science centers, planetariums, nature centers, and Challenger Centers around the country highlights the 15th anniversary of the deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope.

On April 25, 1990, astronauts aboard Space Shuttle Discovery unleashed a scientific revolution on the world. They deployed NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, an instrument destined to become a world leader in astronomical research whose contributions to science just keep increasing with age. (In 2004, more refereed scientific papers from Hubble data appeared than in any year since launch.)

The fifteenth anniversary of Hubble’s deployment brought both an opportunity and a challenge for working with informal education venues. Some NASA missions, such as the Mars rovers, have very physical milestones, such as arrival at a planet, or landing, or the first short trek from the landing platform, that naturally suggest public events. Hubble, as a general-purpose observatory whose research agenda is constantly evolving, is such a steady science producer that we wondered whether our potential partners would buy into the idea of an event centered around the celebration of its decade and a half of accomplishment. Fortunately, they did!

Partners Nationwide

Those partners were planetariums, science museums, nature centers, and Challenger Centers who responded to an opportunity to do what they do best: Displaying and interpreting things that are difficult for their visitors to otherwise experience. About 100 venues were chosen as sites for the grand national unveiling of two spectacular new Hubble images.

Mural-size prints were unveiled on Hubble's birthday by local dignitaries and guests, providing an event around which the venues could build public awareness and develop press interest. We provided a wide range of resources for the hosting institutions, including videos, interactive CDs, press releases, video news releases, background science briefings and promotion of their participation on our HubbleSite web site. Many of the venues used the kits to entice local television stations, radio stations, and newspapers to cover the unveilings and invite the public to attend. The kits also included items the venues could give to teachers, such as lithographs of Hubble images and CDs of the educational Amazing Space curriculum support activities. Our exhibit coordinator, Lucy Albert, led the effort to put the kits together and get them to the venues on time.

Along with the press kits, we shipped copies of our latest DVD video collection. The special Hubble birthday edition DVD showcases several video minidocumentaries, a commemorative music video titled “Revelations” that includes all of the 840 Hubble images released to the public over the years, and video clips that planetariums, science museums, and nature centers will find useful for years to come. New material also includes the third edition of the group’s “yearbook videos,” which look at the most recent major Hubble discoveries and stories. The DVD is captioned for the hearing impaired, is fully compatible with mainstream automated programming systems, and is still available at no cost to bona fide informal science venues and outlets while supplies last. Graphic Designer John Godfrey and Producer Bryan Preston collaborated to make sure this year’s DVD release raises the bar for quality, creativity, and usability.

All told, in a little over three months we produced five new videos and the DVD, designed two new web sites, created three new multimedia shows that played in the ViewSpace and SkyWatch exhibits, and built and shipped 100 press kits.

And the Smithsonian too!

We also worked with David DeVorkin and company at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum to develop and install:

  • An enormous backlit mural of the M51 Whirlpool Galaxy at the entrance to the Explore The Universe exhibit.
  • A gallery of some of the best Hubble images hanging in Space Hall.
  • A new Hubble video screen adjacent to the full-scale Hubble engineering replica.
  • Updated Hubble graphics panels.
  • A brand new IMAX short film (produced in one week through the tireless efforts of our animator Greg Bacon and designer John Godfrey, along with David Keighley and company at DKP 70MM, Inc.) that glides across the two commemorative images; that film played at the Air and Space Museum's Hubble birthday party reception on April 25th. We also donated to the museum a print of our award-winning IMAX film, Hubble: Galaxies Across Space and Time, which now shows as an extra feature at certain showtimes.

All these items add to the museum’s already formidable collection of Hubble artifacts, which include the backup primary mirror and the chassis of one of Hubble’s original science instruments.

Hubble image gallery at NASM.     Man views Hubble image gallery at NASM.     Audience watches Hubble Reborn video at NASM.

The Payoff

The results were everything we’d hoped. The local unveiling events generated broad nationwide interest that translated into a heightened public awareness of Hubble’s birthday and heavy press coverage for most of the week. Press accounts of the festivities stayed on Google's Science News page for three consecutive days, more than 660 press accounts of the event appeared, and television recorded an astounding Neilson audience of just under 50 million in the April 24-26 interval. Even the U.S. Congress was captivated: on April 28, House Resolution 251 was introduced to the floor, “Congratulating all of the individuals and organizations on the 15th anniversary of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope that have helped make Hubble one of the most important astronomical instruments in history.”

Our partners were happy too! Just a few of their comments:

WOW, we had a fantastic time unveiling the images! We made the front page of our local paper and they ran BOTH images in full color! - Becky Louder, Assistant Planetarium Director, Georgia Southern Planetarium, Statesboro

Guest discuss Hubble's anniversary image of M51.                                                                                                                

We had a great event in the morning of the 25th - 80 school kids counted down the unveiling with the Mayor of Ann Arbor and our Executive Director, along with area scientists that worked with the Hubble. - Pam Smith, Ann Arbor Hands On Museum, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Students witness the unveiling.

We had a great unveiling this morning. 3 TV stations (our 3 network stations) and three radio stations (the first time I can ever remember 3 radio stations for anything we've done, our NPR affiliate WCBU, CBS's AM talk radio station WMBD, and WIRL). We had three school classes present. The unveiling was done by Dr. Herschel Hannah, Supt of Peoria Public Schools, and Brad McMillan, District Chief of Staff for Congressman Ray LaHood (US Rep, 18th District). - Sheldon Schafer, Lakeview Museum of Arts & Sciences, Peoria, Illinois

Thank you and your team for such a wonderful event! We had standing room only for the unveiling with all 4 television stations and 17 newspapers here!!! Our Superintendent, Tom Baker, welcomed the crowd. Then Dr. Phillip James, University of Toledo's astronomy department, talked about the significance of the HST and his part in the study. Kari Stausmire, 6th grader in Oregon who led an effort to collect money to “save the Hubble,” helped to unveil the images. Wow! - Julie Muffler, Challenger Learning Center of Lucas County, Oregon, Ohio

Just to let you know that our Hubble event went really well this morning. A representative from Governor Schwarzenegger's office conveyed words from the governor, we showed the Hubble music video, revealed the new photos and our lead astronomer Ryan Diduck gave a talk about the galaxy and the nebula. Three TV stations, two newspapers and one radio station showed up.Thanks for all of the materials and updates. - Judyth Collin, Chabot Space & Science Center, Oakland, California

Thank you very much for the extraordinary effort you and others have put into this launch of the images. Really amazing support for our kind of institution. Had two local TV crews come. - Martin Ratcliffe, Exploration Place, Wichita, Kansas

We had about 3,000 visitors that day...We enjoyed being a part of this celebration and congratulations to you for organizing the event for so many institutions.  The Hubble display is a great addition to our gallery and helps us keep up with current news and events from NASA. - Paul Spana, Exhibits Manager, Space Center Houston

Middle School Students unveil the Eagle Nebula.

The Hubble Anniversary Unveiling was a surprisingly successful event despite minimal publicity. Because it was May Day in Hawaii, which is a highly celebrated day with multiple events all over the islands, we could not get the press coverage we had hoped for. However when I walked in to the lobby that morning, I was amazed to see a line had already formed 45 minutes before the unveiling time! Everyone seemed pleased and appreciative of the material they received from Hubble and were enthusiastic about the beautiful prints. - Carolyn Kaichi, The Bishop Museum and Planetarium, Honolulu, Hawaii

The Bishop's Carolyn Kaichi unveils the Eagle.

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