Hand-Held Hubble: PVC Model


Browse the photo gallery and get some ideas for your own model.

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Difficulty: Average
Durability: High
Detail: Low

This basic model of the Hubble Space Telescope is made out of PVC pipe. You can find the parts at local hardware and craft stores for under $20, and it should take about 1-3 hours to build. You’ll need an adult’s help for some of the construction.

This model reflects the state of the telescope after Servicing Mission 3B, which took place in March 2002. For more about the changes that were made to Hubble during the mission, visit the Servicing Mission 3B page.


Important — Printing the Wrapper

You may need to adust your printer options in order to print the wrapper at the correct size. On the first page of the printout is a gauge that allows you to check the printout’s scale. Use a ruler to make sure the "1 inch" mark is actually an inch long. If your printout doesn’t measure up, make the following adjustments in the Print dialog box:

  • If you’re using Adobe Reader 6 or higher, set "Page Scaling" to "None."
  • If you’re using Acrobat 5, deselect "Shrink Oversized Pages to Paper Size" and "Expand Small Pages to Paper."
  • If you’re using Acrobat 4, deselect "Fit to Page."

We provide downloadable wrappers to put around your model. Choose either a black-and-white or color wrapper from the box on the right, then print the wrapper on regular paper.

Tools Needed (read the safety info before using!):

  • Drill with 3/16"drill bit
  • Saw
  • Miter box (optional)
  • C-clamp or vise
  • Sandpaper or file
  • Scissors or craft knife
  • Stapler
  • Ruler
  • Pencil

FIRST: The full shopping list

This model requires supplies from your local hardware and/or craft shop. See the full shopping list for details and shopping advice.

NEXT: The complete building instructions

See the complete instructions on a printer-friendly Web page.



Alert symbolThis symbol, which appears throughout the instructions for building the model, reminds you to use caution when performing certain tasks and to have an adult present. You can click on this symbol anywhere you see it to return to the Safety First! page.

This model requires the use of power tools. Adults must be present to supervise children attempting to construct this model. Eye protection is strongly advised.


Max Mutchler, 42, was born in the town of Racine, Wis. Scientists were few and far between in the area, but he grew up watching Carl Sagan discuss the wonders of the universe on television. By the time he hit his early teens, he’d joined up with the local amateur astronomer club. The members had to create a junior membership just for him, their youngest space enthusiast, and let him marvel at the view through their telescopes.

He moved on to college at the University of Wisconsin, majoring in astronomy and physics, then obtained a master’s degree in space sciences at the Florida Institute of Technology. He finished school in 1990 and got a job with the Hubble project just before the telescope launched, enabling him to watch from a VIP site at Kennedy Space Center, along with his future co-workers, as Discovery took the telescope into orbit.

He’s been working for Hubble ever since. As a science instruments analyst, Mutchler works with Hubble’s cameras, helping determine how to most effectively point the cameras to achieve the best results. His most recent Hubble science projects have been solar system studies of Jupiter, dwarf planets Pluto and Ceres, and asteroids Vesta and Pallas. Mutchler is also a member of the Hubble Heritage team, which has produced many of Hubble’s most iconic images.

Mutchler started visiting classrooms as part of a public outreach effort, inspiring him to create the Hubble PVC model.

"You don’t want to stand there and lecture, especially not to young kids," Mutchler said. He sought a more tactile and interactive way for students to learn about the telescope, but there was little prepared for that at the time. "We had models around the institute but they were these fancy ones that cost thousands of dollars."

So, figuring Hubble was a fairly simple shape – "It’s mostly tubes." – Mutchler went to the local hardware store, bought some PVC pipes and worked out the scale measurements. When he was done, he had a durable model that could be used in the classroom.

Today the plans for that model are available on HubbleSite for children to construct with their parents, teachers to build in the classroom, and a host of other uses. One recent event had blind middle and high school students assembling their own models from previously prepared parts while Mutchler described the telescope.

Mutchler now gets e-mails from around the world about the model – messages from science teachers, museums, and kids who write to thank him for the plans or tell him they won their science fairs. "The ones from the kids are the most fun," he said. "To see them inspired and excited was my main goal."

He remembers his own fascination as a child with space and its many mysteries, and the welcome of the adult astronomy group that encouraged his interest. The Hubble model, he said, is one of his ways of doing the same. "It’s fun for me to return the favor."

Mutchler lives in Towson, Md, with his wife and two children.