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Senator who helped save Hubble donates space telescope collection

Retired Senator Barbara Mikulski poses with Kenneth Sembach, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in front of framed space memorabilia from Mikulski's collection.
Retired Senator Barbara Mikulski poses with Kenneth Sembach, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in front of framed space memorabilia from Mikulski's collection. (Image credit: STScI)

A politician who helped save the Hubble Space Telescope has now donated the souvenirs she saved from the space program to the institute that operates the astronomical observatory.

Retired Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland), who served longer than any woman in U.S. congressional history and was one of Hubble's biggest cheerleaders on Capitol Hill, is providing her space memorabilia collection (opens in new tab) to the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland. The archive includes framed astronomical images, photos, illustrations and models.

The collection also includes two signed presentation plaques by the crews of servicing missions that upgraded the Hubble Space Telescope, thanking Senator Mikulski for her support.

Related: NASA's Hubble Space Telescope servicing missions in photos

"I'm so pleased that the Space Telescope Science Institute here on the Johns Hopkins campus will be the new home of my space collection," said Mikulski in a statement released by STScI (opens in new tab) on Tuesday (Aug. 9). "During my time in Congress, I had the honor of helping all the exceptional men and women who made our space program the best in the world, and the epicenter for astronomy and astrophysics has been Baltimore's own Space Telescope Science Institute."

"From the scientists who teach us about dark matter and the origins of the universe, to the creative graphics artists who connect Hubble's breathtaking images to the world's classrooms, to all the valuable support staff who keep the operations running non-stop — they've all made the Institute the world-class facility it is today," she said. "I feel like I've been part of this talented team all these years, so the 'Home of Hubble' and now Mission Control for Webb seems like the ideal place to permanently share my space memories and memorabilia."

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, seen here in 2016 with then-Goddard Space Flight Center director Chris Scolese, receives a framed collection of Hubble Space Telescope 25th anniversary memorabilia.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, seen here in 2016 with then-Goddard Space Flight Center director Chris Scolese, receives a framed collection of Hubble Space Telescope 25th anniversary memorabilia. (Image credit: NASA)

STScI hosts the science operations center for the Hubble Space Telescope (opens in new tab), the science and mission operations centers for the James Webb Space Telescope and the science operations center for the still-to-be-launched Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope.

The institute honored Mikulski in 2012 by giving the world's largest astronomical data archives her name. Called the Barbara A. Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes, or MAST, the database contains astronomical observations from several NASA astronomy missions, including Hubble, as well as some ground-based observatories.

Mikulski received another honor in 2012 when a distant, exploding star observed by Hubble was named "Supernova Mikulski."

As a senator representing the state of Maryland (opens in new tab) from 1987 to 2017, Mikulski advocated for Hubble and for the next-generation space telescope, now named the James Webb Space Telescope (opens in new tab). When the last scheduled Hubble servicing mission was canceled in 2004, Mikulski helped lead the cause to reinstate the space shuttle visit. The repairs performed by Atlantis' STS-125 crew in 2009 are credited with keeping Hubble still functioning today.

Senator Barbara Mikulski seen in 2012 with then-Space Telescope Science Institute director Matt Mountain and STScI deputy director Kathryn Flanagan with a photo of "Supernova Milkuski" inside the Barbara A. Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST).

Senator Barbara Mikulski seen in 2012 with then-Space Telescope Science Institute director Matt Mountain and STScI deputy director Kathryn Flanagan with a photo of "Supernova Milkuski" inside the Barbara A. Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST). (Image credit: STScI)

The donation comes as Mikulski is wrapping up her tenure as a Johns Hopkins professor of public policy and an advisor to the university's president this spring semester.

"We are gratified and honored to house Senator Mikulski's space memorabilia collection here at the Space Telescope Science Institute, where service and science are essential elements of our mission to help humanity explore the universe with advanced space telescopes and her namesake data archive," said Kenneth Sembach, STScI director. "We cherish her continued relationship with the Institute and our staff."

"Her unparalleled efforts to advance astronomical research and her legacy of accomplishment embodied in this collection serve as an inspiration and a reminder to all who see it that anything is possible when we work together and reach for the stars," Sembach said.

The items being donated by Mikulski will be displayed in the lobby and in the library of the Muller Building on the Johns Hopkins University Homewood campus.

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Robert Z. Pearlman
collectSPACE.com Editor, Space.com Contributor

Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for Space.com and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.