John Grunsfeld has a personal relationship with the Hubble Space Telescope, says Dennis Overbye in The New York Times. For the past decade the MIT-trained cosmologist and astronaut has been the chief repairman of the optical instrument that has opened a new window on the universe. In 1999, Grunsfeld was sent aloft on the space shuttle to fix the telescope’s broken gyroscopes, a task that required him to make his first spacewalk. “Three hundred miles below me is the Earth. There I was a meter away from the Hubble Space Telescope. I couldn’t resist. I had to take a finger and reach out and touch it.” He spent the next eight hours doing the tricky work of replacing the gyroscopes, barely noticing the passage of time. “Once you’re outside working, all the rest of the world disappears. Once in a while the universe lets you be free alone and in peace. In space you can get in touch with your quantum self. To be the Hubble repairman is really just unbelievable.” He went back in 2002. But when Grunsfeld tends to the Hubble during next month’s space shuttle mission, his heart will be heavy: NASA has decided to let the telescope’s batteries expire and eventually bring it down for a controlled crash in the ocean. “I try and tell myself,” he says, “that it’s just a satellite.”
The keeper of the Hubble
April 23, 2009
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