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Repairs According to Plan

I was glad to see Anne Marie Corley’s profile of John Grunsfeld ‘80 in the last issue (“Hubble’s Mr. Fix-It,” May/June 2010). The fact that Grunsfeld was able to give Hubble its last “pat on the back” is especially gratifying to me because that final repair operation was completed as planned and designed.

The on-orbit maintenance concept that allowed Hubble to be “saved” (several times) was initiated in 1974 after Skylab demonstrated that suited astronauts could effectively make repairs in a weightless environment. That key knowledge was applied to Hubble, known then as LST (which stood for Large Space Telescope). We made certain that on-orbit astronaut repair capability would be an integral part of the design.

During the preliminary design phase, I made presentations to symposia in 1979 and 1980 explaining the concept and design intent. Although the calendar timeline turned out to be quite different decades later, replacement of actual equipment was remarkably similar to what was originally planned. Clearly, without astronauts in space to service and repair the Hubble, its remarkable scientific discoveries would never be known today.

The confluence of MIT grads who contributed to Hubble’s success should be noted. The article cites Grunsfeld’s final contact with Hubble. Fred Wojtalik, SM ‘69, served as Hubble’s project manager at the Marshall Space Flight Center during the development phase, and I was support systems module (spacecraft) manager during the design phase. Many more alumni surely worked on the telescope at various locations. The Institute contributed many helping hands to push the Hubble toward a very eventful and successful conclusion.

E. L. “Spike” Field, SM ‘66
Huntsville, AL

Doxsey’s Legacy

Reading “Hubble’s Mr. Fix-It” (May/June 2010), I am reminded of the classic story of the expert who fulfills a $10,000 contract to fix an ailing machine. After five minutes’ examination, he hits the machine in a critical spot, and it resumes functioning. He explains his subsequent billing as $100 for hitting the machine and $9,900 for knowing where to hit it. In the case of the Hubble Space Telescope, a large credit for knowing where John Grunsfeld ‘80 should “hit it” should go to the late Rodger Doxsey ‘69, head of mission operations at the Space Telescope Science Institute, who is eulogized in the Class Notes section of the March/April 2010 issue.

John McNamara ‘64
Maynard, MA

Women at MIT and Remembering Samuelson

Two items in the March/April issue prompted me to write.

The article about high-achieving female math students (“The Gender Equation,” March/April 2010) failed to mention the admirable role that women have played at MIT from its founding. The name or picture is never submitted to the acceptance committee, only the course grades and age.

The obituary of Paul Samuelson brought back memories of taking his course in economics. He never even pretended that it was a science. In fact, he kept reminding us that it was not. I told him about my father, who was a real-estate broker during the Depression. It was the only business that thrived, because the rich were selling off their property to survive and the banks were buying it to bolster their holdings. He thanked me for telling him and said that he would always use the example.

Peter Davis ‘48
Avon, CT

Churchill’s Visit

Sara Shay’s overview of Jack Baker’s experience with Winston Churchill (“The Most Important Meal of the Day,” March/April 2010) brought back some memories for me also. But my memory lingers as one of the worst decisions I’ve made during my lifetime. As a student, I had volunteered to usher at the Mid-Century Convocation at Boston Garden, but since the event occurred during spring break, I decided to journey home to New Jersey to visit my folks instead. I’ve been an enormous admirer of Mr. Churchill and obviously regret this decision not to have seen and heard the great man in person.

There is another story about Mr. Churchill’s presence that bears repeating, in case some are not familiar with it. Among other dignitaries, President Truman had also been invited to attend the Convocation. But pundits claimed that he declined at the last minute when he learned of Mr. Churchill’s presence because he had been overshadowed the year before when they appeared together in Missouri and Mr. Churchill gave his “Iron Curtain” speech. Mr. Truman reportedly claimed a previous engagement–and historians investigating this claim later confirmed that his calendar did have an appointment, with the then-president of the Screen Actors Guild, Ronald Reagan. An interesting coincidence!

Roy W. Roth ‘50, PhD ‘55
Chapel Hill, NC

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