Grunsfeld also posed with MIT paraphernalia, including a pennant that he presented to the MIT athletics department in November. (His picture from a previous mission also hangs in the MIT sailing pavilion.) He spent much of his free time looking down at Earth and taking pictures.
Before the mission launched, Grunsfeld says, he was often asked how it would feel to say good-bye to Hubble.
When the time came, he gave the telescope one last pat, a salute, and a mumbled farewell. “I said something subaudible, which is how I wanted it,” he says. “Something like, ‘Good-bye, Mr. Hubble–have happy voyages.’ “
After the crew released the telescope from the shuttle’s cargo bay (using an egg timer for the countdown), it flew past the windows on its way to its own orbit. “I’ve done this three times now,” Grunsfeld says with a laugh. “And every time Hubble goes by the overhead windows, everybody ducks.”
Then the astronauts watched as Hubble literally disappeared into the sunset.
“I actually was not particularly sad,” Grunsfeld recalls. Once they finished everything on their checklist, he adds, “there wasn’t anything more we could do for Hubble.” Still, his tone is wistful as he recalls thinking, “That may be the last time human eyeballs look at Hubble … the last time people will ever crawl around with the telescope.”
The team’s repairs and additions should keep the telescope going until at least 2014, with more capability and sensitivity than ever. Hubble can now directly image planets in other solar systems, and thanks to its increased range in the infrared, it can see through cosmic dust to peek at stars being born. It has already produced spectacular images of the most distant sections of the universe ever seen–galaxies as they appeared just 600 million to 800 million years after the Big Bang. In a universe estimated to be 13.7 billion years old, that’s almost the first generation of galaxies, Grunsfeld says.
“These are the things we never expected Hubble to be able to do,” he told MIT students. “[It’s] a fun time to be in science and to have these great tools.”
In January, Grunsfeld left NASA to become deputy director of the Space Telescope Science Institute, a job he got after e-mailing his résumé from space with the message “I am holding Hubble hostage until you read my application.” There he will help keep Hubble’s science operations on track and gear up for the launch of the next-generation James Webb Space Telescope, planned for 2014. He will also continue his astronomical work with Hubble, this time using the telescope’s new capability in the ultraviolet spectrum to study cratering effects on the moon. Just as excited about science and the stars as when he began, Grunsfeld shows no signs of slowing down
Nor, with its brand-new equipment, does the Hubble Space Telescope. “We’ve reinvented the Hubble with what we did on orbit,” Grunsfeld says. “The Hubble story is really just beginning.”
Service Call At left, John Grunsfeld uses a power tool on the mid deck of the space shuttle Atlantis on May 13, 2009. Above, Grunsfeld is positioned on a foot restraint on the end of Atlantis’s remote manipulator system as he and his colleague Andrew Feustel (bottom center) participate in the mission’s fifth and final space walk. At right, Grunsfeld works on the Hubble Space Telescope during the first STS-125 space walk, during which Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 was removed and Wide Field Camera 3 was installed.
See more photos of the Hubble repair mission:e_SFlbtechnologyreview.com/Hubble