Friday, December 10, 2010

Astronaut John Grunsfeld - The Hubble Hugger

Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting Astronaut Dr. John Mace Grunsfeld! I was extremely looking forward to this meeting and his lecture. As you know, both Little SDO and I adore Hubble and its science.  If you followed the amazing STS-125 mission to upgrade our dear friend Hubble, then you are familiar with John Grunsfeld, Mike Massimino, Michael Good, Greg Johnson, Scott Altman, Megan McArthuer and Andrew Feustel. The crew of Atlantis repaired and upgraded the Hubble Space Telescope, conducting five spacewalks during that amazing mission to extend the life of the orbiting observatory. If you haven't seen the IMAX or 3D movie, go find a place and take it in!

Astronaut John Grunsfeld STS-125 mission specialist positioned on a foot restraint on the end of Atlantis remote manipulator system RMS, participates in the mission fifth and final session of extravehicular activity.

The other reason why I was looking forward to meeting John is that he flew with Swiss Astronaut Claude Nicollier on STS-103. Claude Nicollier was the very first Astronaut I got to meet and ever since, I have had a very special interest in Space Travel and Switzerland! (plus the chocolate and cheese made me like Switzerland even more!). So getting to meet Mr. Hubble Hugger was a great event for me. Why the nickname Hubble Hugger? Well, John visited Hubble three times and performed many important repair works, making the telescope even better!

In one of my earlier posts I talked about how small this Astro community is. Here is another example. John was part of the NASA Astronaut Group 14, which was nicknamed "The Hogs". Here are some of his class mates:

Scott Horowitz
Scott's first flight was on STS-75 also with Claude Nicollier and Scott's 2nd Flight was also the 2nd Hubble Servicing Mission.

Cady Coleman
I met Cady a couple of months ago at JSC and she is about to launch from Russia next week to join Expedition 26 aboard the International Space Station.

Scott Parazynski
Scott I have now met a couple of times and his stories are plain amazing! Not only has Scott been to Space and done some amazing repair work on the ISS solar panels, but he has also climbed Mt. Everest. And he flew with John Glenn!

Chris Hadfield
I also got to meet the first Canadian Astronaut in Space and the first soon-to-be Canadian ISS Commander. Chris and Scott actually few together on STS-100 to install the robotic arm Canadarm2 to the ISS.

It is enjoyable to see these connections and it just shows me again how important team-work is for these Astronauts and all of us.

Anyway, let's not loose our focus here. John asked a very good question - Why do we study astronomy? And after a few moments he answered his own question with two simple points:

Because it is Fun and Exciting

Because it answers Fundamental Questions
- How did the Universe form
- Where did we come from?
- Are we alone?

It got me thinking of how much we had already discovered before Hubble launched in 1990 and how much Hubble has taught us ever since. Hubble has provided us answers to How the Universe has been formed, given us an idea of where we came from and still let's us dream if we are really alone!

In regards to Hubble, I would make the claim that the Hubble Space Telescope is the most well known telescope there is. We all have seen at least one of its images, read about its successes and issues or heard somebody talk about the challenges with Hubble. Just a couple of weeks ago Little SDO and I introduced this amazing Hubble video

But what's next? John has retired from NASA and is a Deputy Director at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. STScI is the home of public outreach activities for Hubble and is also the science and operations center for the James Webb Space Telescope. When JWST launches and gets into position, 1,500,000 km away from Earth, it will become the most powerful scientific tool, looking even further into the Universe and back in time! Will JWST find answers to “Are we alone”? Only time will tell…

The JWST scale model on the lawn at NASA Goddard - takes some creative origami
to get it folded into the Ariane 5 fearing.
As for me, I left yesterday’s meeting with John fulfilled with joy, and amazement. I am thankful to the many people who make all of this possible. From the engineers who design and build these amazing instruments, the people who get them ready to fly, prepare the launch vehicles, guide and train the crews, to the actual heroes who strap themselves to the top of a burning rocket and perform the most dangerous spacewalks and repair works with such grace, it should become an Olympic event! But I am also thankful to the people who show interest, who attend lectures, listen to what scientists and astronauts have to say, who teach in schools, mentor our kids and the leaders of tomorrow and support space travel and exploration!

One final note – we are one blue marble in an endless sea of stars, planets, comets, meteorites and other beautiful things. But we only have this one blue planet and you and I can do so much to keep it blue, to keep it healthy. But we can also influence others, including corporations and Governments to improve processes and procedures, to create laws and to enforce them – we need to take care of mother Earth! Astronaut John Grunsfeld responded to the question of the future of manned space flight:

“It is our destiny to go and explore! Single planet species do not survive!”