Marketing the Hubble Space Telescope, Rocío Jiménez

Rocío Jiménez

Universidad de la Laguna – Tenerife





If we accept the image of journalists and their sources as resembling a dance, with each side trying to gain access to the other, then one can observe that often this dance is directed by the sources rather than the journalists; this is evident often in the case of science.



For journalists and scientific institutions, the web is theoretically a “neutral” place both to see and be seen: the dance is constant and has a dynamic character. The Internet is a place where the dance is celebrated in the presence of all the citizens who want to visit and to learn and where scientists have shown the journalists how to take the first steps. A pointer for scientists and Spanish journalists are American web sites – historically they were the first ones to use the Net. The Internet gives us freedom and the possibility to choose the most important questions to answer.


The relationship “Science-Society-Hubble”


Society needs illusions. Illusions need magic. Magic needs magicians. Society believes its magicians. Astronomers are the magicians that believe “magic” – in this case the Hubble Telescope. The Hubble is a social necessity, an illusion where many human expectations are turned upside down.  The magicians (astronomers) have charged an awesome being (Hubble) to complete a magical mission (to depict external space). The magic can only be made by the magician (in this case the astronomer), only he knows the spells, otherwise he would not be the magician.  Only the magician knows the “scientific abracadabra”. The Hubble is like Ulysses framed in a space Odyssey with an entire mythological universe to colonise. A laboratory hero, it is the leading character of the series “Stellar Action”. A hero with human qualities and defects, factors which both attract the audience and help him to be identified with the myth, to understand it. In a good marketing campaign it is very important to transmit things intelligibly to the reader – like warmth and short stories. On the other hand, if the hero falls ill, the magician cures him: this is part of the adventure. In the case of the Hubble the “automatically reliable theory” has been applied: ALL THAT WAS EXPECTED FROM SUCH A SPECIAL BEING HAS BEEN AMPLY COMPLETED.


The journalist’s social function

Information is extracted from knowledge:

The variable flow: information

The constant variable: knowledge.

The journalist can:


  1. a) Siphon off the information “translate to the reader’s language”
  2. b) Act as magician: “to perform illusions” it must be able to impinge itself on to the receiver.



In Hubble’s case as with most situations of the scientific media, it acts as a magician.


The Hubble


1979 – the idea is born.

1990 – (April 25). Launch.

1993 – first mission of services.

1995 – it makes a deep field observation.

1996 – it carries out the second deep field observation, which helps to advance knowledge of the age of the Universe.

1997 – second ambitious mission to observe other planets.

1999 – solar panel and faint object camera (FOC) replacement.



A life extension of 20 years instead of 14 will be achieved. It has a full yield: 24 hours and 7 days a week.  It is the new great vista onto the Universe. It will open up new horizons and as all great heroes – it will die in action.  It ruins theories already built and gives birth to “true theories”. It gives quick and accurate results and it contributes to the evidence of the existence of any object: if something is needed it makes it real. Hubble confirms existence – it converts theory into fact… it is magic … it has marked a landmark in the history of the astronomy and doubtless there will be others.


Who is “Hubble”? A being seen:


  1. As a dream


  1. As unique


  1. As indispensable


  1. As the most qualified one


  1. It is depicted as a photographer and reporter, it constantly photographs unusual situations. Pleasant surprises abound and we get the deepest and most detailed images of the Universe, unobtainable by optical astronomy from the ground. It portrays the deep universe: it plumbs a small patch of the universe into unsuspected depths -1500 galaxies in a state of evolution. Hubble has transmitted to us in pictures the distant past of the Universe. To look towards the past is something real. It is like a glance through a time tunnel photographing worlds and marvels without name, just as they were when the stars and the Earth did not even exist. Hubble is a space reporter with its own personal cinema debut.In the vicissitudes of his journey we always empathise with the hero as the adventures proceed to their happy end: “stellar action” is a laboratory hero and superstar: it is at the birth of a world of stars created by the shock waves of two colliding galaxies, revealing the complete history of a dying star. Hubble still has its human side: “it is myopic” (the humanisation of individually photographed objects) – this is used in political campaigns. Its first operation resides in the memory as an unparalleled event. And even surpassed with improvements as a result of “cosmetic surgery.”


  1. It carries out pioneering feats: it is a conqueror; it has the entire mythological Universe to colonise.It is easy for it to make discoveries just like at the time of Christopher Columbus.  All the constellations had mythological names symbolising the distant and unreachable, now man dares to send his own laboratory hero – Hubble. It captures the biggest things and brings to the Earth the light of the origin of the Universe. It captures the smallest things: Hubble finds the smallest stars in the universe.


  1. The most complex scientific instrument ever created: Hubble is the most powerful eye in the world. It is like a time machine: a telescope which gathers photons toward itself. It throws out existing theories and gives birth to “true theories”, after the scientific assimilation of data. “Made in Hubble” has become a byword.Hubble will determine the age of the Universe with an error of  only 10% – previously it was 50%.  It is able to observe objects: 50 times fainter and to a volume of the Universe 1000 times greater than before. To follow the bandwagon is to come on board the Hubble and be part of the best telescope. The “Automatically reliable Theory” is in place right from the start.


  1. Hubble is an ethnological biologist in the spatial jungle. In the great zoo that is the Universe “the Hubble” is the most human being present. It discovers galactic tadpoles. It speaks of stars born of elephant’s trunks …of black holes as marvellous creatures.


  1. It is like a geologist confronting the deepest layers in the earth for the first time. It has to examine far in space and time, the horizons of that genesis of the cosmos that took place according to the “Big-Bang” theory between fifteen and twenty thousand million years ago. One of the most important objectives that the space telescope has to carry out is to determine the evolution of pre-galactic gas clouds.


  1. From a literary point of view the Hubble can give a fascinating vision of the words or messages of our solar system. Hubble studies “heavenly” not just “sky” objects. What the Hubble touches turns into magic. Authority gives authority.


  1. Hubble is king Midas: everything is transformed into news as in the case of the debate on the origin of quasars. Once again Hubble has provided the most crucial hints for understanding the nature of these energy monsters. Quasars, located at the edge of the cosmos, are candidates to confirm the discovery of a massive black hole.The novelty is that the evidence for the existence of a black hole is not from spectroscopy, but from the movement of stars around the object.  The most powerful astronomical instrument since Galileo, three centuries ago, focused toward the sky the leading telescope and the whole human conception of the Universe was overturned.  Somewhat less accessible for the telescope will be to discover planets outside of our solar system, but the miracle is possible, to find some planet is a romantic goal in astronomy and it would be a great prize. Watch this space – it has even identified surface structure on the giant moon of Saturn… This will be good for finding landing sites for a future spaceship. As to the search for life on other planets: man’s fascinating challenge on the threshold of the XXI century, Hubble is providing images and unexpected data that are causing astonishment in the scientific world.



From a didactic point of view


  1. It is important to show the other side of the design and production “curtain” of the Hubble.


  1. Comparisons should be made with objects of daily life, the science is simple but it is given a complicated appearance.


  1. The public should be made aware of new opportunities that knowledge gives us. The Hubble with its new limits extends the boundary of science; in consequence it enlarges our knowledge base.


  1. Before, it supplemented the information outside of the reach of terrestrial telescopes: now it is the other way around, terrestrial telescopes supplement the Hubble. It is the key to new horizons.


This is a translation from Spanish of an article in Infociencia net .