For many years, a growing problem in astronomical research (as in other academic disciplines) was that the number of papers published in the major astronomical journals was increasing steadily, meaning astronomers were able to read less and less of the latest research findings. During the 1980s, astronomers saw that the nascent technologies which formed the basis of the Internet could eventually be used to build an electronic indexing system of astronomical research papers which would allow astronomers to keep abreast of a much greater range of research.
The first suggestion of a database of journal paper abstracts was made at a conference on Astronomy from Large Data-bases held in Garching, Germany in 1987. Initial development of an electronic system for accessing astrophysical abstracts took place during the following two years; in 1991 discussions took place on how to integrate ADS with the SIMBAD database to create a system where astronomers could search for all the papers written about a given object.
An initial version of ADS, with a database consisting of 40 papers, was created as a proof of concept in 1988, and the ADS database was successfully connected with the SIMBAD database in the summer of 1993. Until 1994, the service was available via proprietary network software, but it was transferred to the nascent world-wide web early that year.
At first, the journal articles available via ADS were scanned bitmaps created from the paper journals, but from 1995 onwards, the Astrophysical Journal began to publish an online edition, soon followed by the other main journals such as Astronomy and Astrophysics and the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. ADS provided links to these electronic editions from their first appearance. ADS now has agreements with almost all astronomical journals, who supply abstracts. Scanned articles from as far back as the early 19th century are available via the service, which now contains over eight million documents. The service is distributed worldwide, with twelve mirror sites in twelve countries on five continents, with the database synchronized by means of weekly updates.
In 2011 the ADS launched ADS Labs Streamlined Search which introduced facets for query refinement and selection. In 2013 ADS Labs 2.0 featuring a new search engine, full-text search functionality, scalable facets and an API was introduced. In 2015 ADS Bumblebee was released as ADS-beta. The ADS-beta system features a microservices API, client-side dynamic page loading being served on a cloud platform. In 2018 the beta label will be dropped and Bumblebee will become the default ADS interface.