In Their Own Words: Astronauts on 25 Years of Hubble (Part 2)

The Hubble Space Telescope appears to "fly" over Earth as it is photographed during STS-109. Photo Credit: NASA

The Hubble Space Telescope appears to “fly” over Earth as it is photographed during STS-109. Photo Credit: NASA

Today marks 25 years since the launch of the STS-31 mission (Discovery), which lofted the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) into orbit. AmericaSpace continues its tribute to the service life and achievements of HST, which began yesterday with contributions from astronauts Charles Bolden, Steven Hawley, and Story Musgrave. Today, European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Claude Nicollier and NASA astronauts Joe Tanner and James Newman reflect upon 25 years of Hubble.

Claude Nicollier, Mission Specialist, STS-61 (Servicing Mission 1, 1993) and STS-103 (Servicing Mission 3A, 1999)

Anniversaries give us an opportunity to focus on a project, its goals, past achievements, current output, and future. It also raises awareness of the scientific community and the public on a given program, and this is very positive for the Hubble program. I think that HST gave us an opportunity to demonstrate the huge capability of servicing a complex (and delicate) scientific instrument in the space environment. We have learned that with motivation, proper training, and adequate support from the ground, we can achieve a lot with humans in space!

Astronauts Michael Foale and Claude Nicollier perform an EVA during the STS-103 mission, Hubble Servicing Mission 3A. Photo Credit: NASA

Astronauts Michael Foale and Claude Nicollier perform an EVA during the STS-103 mission, Hubble Servicing Mission 3A. Photo Credit: NASA

Releasing HST with the shuttle’s robot arm at the end of a servicing mission was like saying goodbye to a really good friend, but if the mission had gone well (and it was the case for ALL servicing missions), we had the real satisfaction to have given a new life to the orbiting observatory, and this was a really good feeling.

I believe that the greatest legacy of HST will be the “can do” attitude of the whole team, resulting in real achievements, even when our baby was in intensive care! Another great achievement is of course the wonderful science that came out of HST, and still does come out of it today. The HDF (Hubble Deep Field) and UDF (Hubble Ultra-Deep Field) are incredible results that have shown us the nature and content of the far-away Universe. … [This is an] absolutely superb achievement.

How could we imagine not to have a follow-on to HST after these 2.5 decades of marvels!

Joe Tanner, Mission Specialist, STS-82 (Servicing Mission 2, 1997)

Anniversaries are times to celebrate significant events in our individual lives or our society. The launch of the Hubble Space Telescope is one of those events. The launch of HST was a milestone day 25 years ago, but has become even more significant with every scientific discovery made by the telescope. Celebrating the launch anniversary is an opportunity to honor all those who designed, built, maintained, and continue to operate HST. It is a day worthy of remembering.

The first Hubble repair mission, STS-61, proved that humans could perform very complex tasks on a delicate instrument in space. The mission taught us how to prepare for and execute multiple complex EVAs on a single mission. Lessons learned from the mission laid the groundwork for what we needed to know to assemble the International Space Station.

A view of the Hubble Space Telescope during STS-82. Photo Credit: NASA

A view of the Hubble Space Telescope during STS-82. Photo Credit: NASA

Our dominant feeling on the release of HST after the second service mission was relief! We had successfully completed five challenging EVAs, and the telescope was in better shape than when we arrived. All of the instruments we installed were functioning at the power on level, but it would be some time before they would operate in the science mode. We were quite satisfied we had done our jobs. Our hope was they would produce the treasure trove of science for which they were designed. They did!

The obvious legacy of HST is the knowledge gained of the nature and structure of the Universe. Data from HST has caused the rewriting of our astronomy body of knowledge many times over. Perhaps of equal importance is the inspiration it provides to countless people—young and old—to explore the wonders of our Universe on their own. It truly is the telescope of the people.

Human beings are meant to explore. To do otherwise would be to betray the hopes and trust of those who preceded us. [The James Webb Space Telescope, or JWST] is the next step in our exploration of the Universe. I am excited about what it might reveal, but also hope that HST can be kept operational as long as it is able to produce science.

James Newman, Mission Specialist, STS-109 (Servicing Mission 3B, 2002)

People now take the Hubble Space Telescope and its pictures for granted. In truth, I think that a lot of people are going to be quite surprised that there will NOT be an HST 2.0 to take its place. As you know, JWST is not a replacement, but a successor to HST, as it has its own distinct capabilities, seeing primarily in the infrared (IR). It is bound to provide very exciting pictures, but I bet people will miss HST when it is finally done! Celebrating the 25th anniversary of HST reminds us all how long it has been successfully working in space. It is, I have heard, one of the most scientifically productive national facilities ever built.

Hubble being serviced by astronauts from the space shuttle Discovery on mission STS-103 in December 1999. Astronauts Steven L. Smith, and John M. Grunsfeld, appear as small figures in this wide scene photographed during a space walk to replace Hubble's gyroscopes. Photo Credit: NASA

Hubble being serviced by astronauts from the space shuttle Discovery on mission STS-103 in December 1999. Astronauts Steven L. Smith, and John M. Grunsfeld appear as small figures in this wide scene photographed during a space walk to replace Hubble’s gyroscopes. Photo Credit: NASA

Servicing HST proved the value of having people be able to fix, repair, and upgrade a valuable space asset. Since some of the most important tasks included working on things that were not designed to be worked on by people in space, being able to do so proves the value of the flexibility and capability that people have.

After watching HST released, I felt quite relieved. Relieved that we had successfully powered it down for the first time and done a lot of work to improve it, and that it had powered back up without any problems. It has certainly achieved above and beyond my personal hopes that it simply continue to do great science and astronomy.

On a human scale, the HST Deep Field photographs showing that there are more galaxies in the Universe than stars in a galaxy is quite a legacy. Doing so in such an impressive, visual way really hits home. In each galaxy, typically with about 100 billion stars, if there were only one star system that harbored life at any given time, that would still be about a trillion homes to life right now, with some number of them potentially harboring “intelligent” life as well. Sobering.

Whenever we field a new sensor of any kind, and JWST certainly promises to have impressive sensing capabilities, we learn SO MUCH. There is no doubt in my mind that we will find tremendous surprises as well as expected results when we turn JWST on.

*****

Many thanks to Claude Nicollier, Joe Tanner, and James Newman for their participation. Also thanks to Ben Evans for his assistance.

 

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1 comment to In Their Own Words: Astronauts on 25 Years of Hubble (Part 2)

  • Ruth Hansen

    Enjoyed the comments of the Astronauts who actually worked on the Hubble in space! What an accomplishment! And it keeps on going, a true miracle! Particularly to someone born in 1930, when only fiction could conceive of anything as fantastic as the whole space program and all of its accomplishments! A wonderful time to be alive! Thanks so much!