After his tense space walk with astronaut Andrew Feustel to finish fixing the survey camera, Grunsfeld was elated–and exhausted. “I slept sounder than ever in my life,” he recalls. “I slept through the wake-up call and the wake-up music [the next morning].” He was so sound asleep, in fact, that crew member K. Megan McArthur asked, “Is John dead?”
Explorer sans Frontiers
Space isn’t the only backdrop for Grunsfeld’s adventures. He also climbs mountains, flies planes, cycles, and sails. “I thrive with high-performance challenges in front of me,” he says. An avid mountaineer, he was anxious to return to technical climbing after his mission. But a bum shoulder from a preflight training injury kept him in rehab for months, and he had to put his plans on hold.
Undaunted, the explorer still hopes to pay a few visits to the mountains, including Mt. Lucania, a 5,226-meter peak along the Alaska-Canada border: you can “count on one or two hands” the number of people who’ve scaled it. The late Bradford Washburn–a friend and fellow mountaineer who founded the Boston Museum of Science–was the first to do so, in 1937. To honor that climb and his friend’s exploring spirit, Grunsfeld took Washburn’s expedition camera, a 1929 Zeiss Maximar B, for a ride in space. He used it to take pictures of Hubble and of Earth’s mountains.
Grunsfeld dreams of using the camera one more time: to take pictures at Mt. Lucania of the same spots Washburn photographed, which could reveal how the area has been affected by climate change. There’s a “reasonable possibility that you’d see significant changes,” he says.
Like mountain climbing, spaceflight is sometimes pure fun for him. On the final Hubble repair mission, Grunsfeld got to kick back during the last two days, when bad weather over Florida, the primary shuttle landing site, temporarily stranded the crew in space. He took the opportunity to do “all the stupid astronaut tricks” he’d never gotten to do on past missions, he says. He and Feustel particularly enjoyed “fluid-physics experiments” (playing with water and juice balls in zero gravity), and he and fellow MIT graduate Mike Massimino, SM ‘88, MEng ‘90, PhD ‘92, had fun studying the “stability of rotating systems and conservation of angular momentum” (doing somersaults). They joked about sending their videos back to MIT to be used in basic mechanics courses.
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.