Since 1958, the NASA Explorer Program has conducted low-cost missions that were deemed relevant to the goals of the Science Mission Directorate (SMD), particularly where the study of our Sun and the deeper cosmic mysteries are concerned. Recently, the Explorer Program selected four missions that they considered to be well-suited to these goals, two of which will be selected for launch in the coming years.
Consisting of two astrophysics Small Explorer (SMEX) and two Missions of Opportunity (MO) proposals, these missions are designed to study cosmic explosions and the debris they leave behind, as well as monitor how nearby stellar flares may affect the atmospheres of orbiting planets. After detailed evaluations, two of these missions will be selected next year and will take to space sometime in 2025.
Five time space shuttle astronaut and current NASA science chief John Grunsfeld – best known as the ‘Hubble Hugger’ for three critical and dramatic servicing and upgrade missions to the iconic Hubble Space Telescope – his decided to retire from the space agency he faithfully served since being selected as an astronaut in 1992.
“John Grunsfeld will retire from NASA April 30, capping nearly four decades of science and exploration with the agency. His tenure includes serving as astronaut, chief scientist, and head of NASA’s Earth and space science activities,” NASA announced.
Indeed, Grunsfeld was the last human to touch the telescope during the STS-125 servicing mission in 2009 when he served as lead spacewalker.
The STS-125 mission successfully upgraded the observatory to the apex of its scientific capability during five spacewalks by four astronauts and extended the life of the aging telescope for many years. Hubble remains fully operable to this day!
In April 2015, Hubble celebrated 25 years of operations, vastly outperforming its planned lifetime of 15 years.
“Hubble has given us 25 years of great service. Hopefully we’ll get another 5 to 10 years of unraveling the mysteries of the Universe,” Grunsfeld told me during a recent interview at NASA Goddard.
In his most recent assignment, Grunsfeld was NASA’s Science Chief working as the Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate (SMD) at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. since January 2012.
“John leaves an extraordinary legacy of success that will forever remain a part of our nation’s historic science and exploration achievements,” said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, in a statement.
“Widely known as the ‘Hubble Repairman,’ it was an honor to serve with him in the astronaut corps and watch him lead NASA’s science portfolio during a time of remarkable discovery. These are discoveries that have rewritten science textbooks and inspired the next generation of space explorers.”
Grunsfeld was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2015.
He received his PhD in physics in 1988 and conducted extensive research as an astronomer in the fields of x-ray and gamma ray astronomy and high-energy cosmic ray studies.
NASA said that Grunsfeld’s deputy Geoff Yoder will serve as SMD acting associate administrator until a successor is named.
“After exploring strange new worlds and seeking out new life in the universe, I can now boldly go where I’ve rarely gone before – home,” said Grunsfeld.
“I’m grateful to have had this extraordinary opportunity to lead NASA science, and know that the agency is well-positioned to make the next giant leaps in exploration and discovery.”
During his tenure as science chief leading NASA’s Science Mission Directorate Grunsfeld was responsible for managing over 100 NASA science missions including the Mars orbital and surface assets like the Curiosity and Opportunity Mars rovers, New Horizons at Pluto, MESSENGER, upcoming Mars 2020 rover and OSIRIS-Rex as well as Earth science missions like the Deep Space Climate Observatory, Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, and Global Precipitation Measurement spacecraft -which resulted numerous groundbreaking science, findings and discoveries.
Dr. Grunsfeld is a veteran of five spaceflights: STS-67 (1995), STS-81 (1997), STS-103 (1999) STS-109 (2002) and STS-125 (2009), during which time he logged more than 58 days in space, including 58 hours and 30 minutes of EVA in 8 spacewalks.
He briefly retired from NASA in December 2009 to serve as Deputy Director of the Space Telescope Science Institute, in Baltimore, Maryland. He then returned to NASA in January 2012 to serve as SMD head for over four years until now.
From his NASA bio, here is a summary of John Grunsfeld’s space flight experience during five shuttle flights:
STS-67/Astro-2 Endeavour (March 2 to March 18, 1995) launched from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, and landed at Edwards Air Force Base, California. It was the second flight of the Astro observatory, a unique complement of three ultraviolet telescopes. During this record-setting 16-day mission, the crew conducted observations around the clock to study the far ultraviolet spectra of faint astronomical objects and the polarization of ultraviolet light coming from hot stars and distant galaxies. Mission duration was 399 hours and 9 minutes.
STS-81 Atlantis (January 12 to January 22, 1997) was a 10-day mission, the fifth to dock with Russia’s Space Station Mir and the second to exchange U.S. astronauts. The mission also carried the Spacehab double module, providing additional middeck locker space for secondary experiments. In 5 days of docked operations, more than 3 tons of food, water, experiment equipment and samples were moved back and forth between the two spacecraft. Grunsfeld served as the flight engineer on this flight. Following 160 orbits of the Earth, the STS-81 mission concluded with a landing on Kennedy Space Center’s Runway 33, ending a 3.9-million-mile journey. Mission duration was 244 hours and 56 minutes.
STS-103 Discovery (December 19 to December 27, 1999) was an 8-day mission, during which the crew successfully installed new gyroscopes and scientific instruments and upgraded systems on the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). Enhancing HST scientific capabilities required three spacewalks (EVAs). Grunsfeld performed two spacewalks, totaling 16 hours and 23 minutes. The STS-103 mission was accomplished in 120 Earth orbits, traveling 3.2 million miles in 191 hours and 11 minutes.
STS-109 Columbia (March 1 to March 12, 2002) was the fourth HST servicing mission. The crew of STS-109 successfully upgraded the HST, installing a new digital camera, a cooling system for the infrared camera, new solar arrays and a new power system. HST servicing and upgrades were accomplished by four crewmembers during a total of five EVAs in 5 consecutive days. As Payload Commander on STS-109, Grunsfeld was in charge of the spacewalking activities and the Hubble payload. He also performed three spacewalks totaling 21 hours and 9 minutes, including the installation of the new Power Control Unit. STS-109 orbited the Earth 165 times and covered 3.9 million miles in over 262 hours.
STS-125 Atlantis (May 11 to May 24, 2009) was the fifth and final Hubble servicing mission. After 19 years in orbit, the telescope received a major renovation that included the installation of a new wide-field camera, a new ultraviolet telescope, new batteries, a guidance sensor, gyroscopes and other repairs. Grunsfeld served as the lead spacewalker in charge of the spacewalking and Hubble activities. He performed three of the five spacewalks on this flight, totaling 20 hours and 58 minutes. For the first time while in orbit, two scientific instruments were surgically repaired in the telescope. The STS-125 mission was accomplished in 12 days, 21 hours, 37 minutes and 09 seconds, traveling 5,276,000 miles in 197 Earth orbits.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.
Learn more about Hubble, NASA Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, ISS, Orbital ATK, ULA, SpaceX, Boeing, Space Taxis, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:
Apr 9/10: “NASA and the Road to Mars Human Spaceflight programs” and “Curiosity explores Mars” at NEAF (NorthEast Astronomy and Space Forum), 9 AM to 5 PM, Suffern, NY, Rockland Community College and Rockland Astronomy Club – http://rocklandastronomy.com/neaf.html
Apr 12: Hosting Dr. Jim Green, NASA, Director Planetary Science, for a Planetary sciences talk about “Ceres, Pluto and Planet X” at Princeton University; 7:30 PM, Amateur Astronomers Assoc of Princeton, Peyton Hall, Princeton, NJ – http://www.princetonastronomy.org/
Apr 17: “NASA and the Road to Mars Human Spaceflight programs”- 1:30 PM at Washington Crossing State Park, Nature Center, Titusville, NJ – http://www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/washcros.html
Establishing a human settlement on Mars has been the fevered dream of space agencies for some time. Long before NASA announced its “Journey to Mars” – a plan that outlined the steps that need to be taken to mount a manned mission by the 2030s – the agency’s was planning how a crewed mission could lead to the establishing of stations on the planet’s surface. And it seems that in the coming decades, this could finally become a reality.
But when it comes to establishing a permanent colony – another point of interest when it comes to Mars missions – the coming decades might be a bit too soon. Such was the message during a recent colloquium hosted by NASA’s Future In-Space Operations (FISO) working group. Titled “Selecting a Landing Site for Humans on Mars”, this presentation set out the goals for NASA’s manned mission in the coming decades.
Ed Weiler, NASA’s Science leader in charge of the robotic missions that continually produce scientific breakthroughs that amaze all humanity and longtime Chief Scientist on the Hubble Space Telescope that has completely revolutionized our understanding of humanities place in the Universe, retired today (Sept. 30) from NASA after a distinguished career spanning almost 33 years.
Weiler is departing NASA during what has been dubbed the “Year of Space Science”- the best year ever for NASA Space Science research. The two most recent successes are the launch of JUNO to Jupiter and the twin GRAIL probes to the Moon. Blastoff of the Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory rover is slated for late November 2011.
Weiler’s official title is associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) at agency Headquarters in Washington, DC. In that capacity he was responsible for overseeing NASA’s science and research programs in Earth science, heliophysics, planetary science and astrophysics.
Weiler was appointed to lead SMD in 2008. He holds this position now for the second time after serving in between as Director of NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland from 2004 to 2008. His earlier stint as associate administrator lasted from 1998 to 2004 for what was then called the Space Science Enterprise.
Probably the job he loved best was as Chief Scientist of the Hubble Space Telescope from 1979 to 1998, until he was promoted to the top rung of NASA management.
I was very lucky to meet and chat with Ed Weiler while I was covering the final space shuttle flight – STS-125 – to repair and upgrade Hubble. STS 125 blasted off in May 2009 and accomplished every single objective to catapult Hubble to the apex of its capabilities.
At the recent launch of the twin GRAIL lunar mapping probes, I spoke with Weiler about a wide range of NASA missions. Watch for my upcoming interview with Ed.
Weiler is very hopeful that Hubble will continue to operate for several more years at least.
NASA issued this statement from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, “Ed leaves an enduring legacy of pride and success that forever will remain a part of NASA’s science history. His leadership helped inspire the public with each new scientific discovery, and enabled NASA to move forward with new capabilities to continue to explore our solar system and beyond.”
The successes under Weiler’s leadership include NASA’s great observatory missions, unprecedented advances in Earth science and extensive exploration of Mars and other planets in our solar system. These advances have rewritten science textbooks and earned enormous support for NASA’s science programs from the general public.
The Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity are just one example of the science missions approved and funded during Weiler’s tenure.
Weiler’s leadership has been instrumental in securing continued support and funding for NASA Space Science from Congress and the White House. He has received numerous prestigious awards including the NASA Distinguished Service Medal and several Presidential Rank Awards for Meritorious Executive and Distinguished Executive.