NASA’s chief ‘Hubble-Hugger’ announces retirement from agency
At the end of this month, on April 30, NASA will lose one of the space agency’s most experienced spaceflight veterans when five-time shuttle astronaut John Grunsfeld retires from NASA. Grunsfeld is currently serving as the agency’s associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, a role he has held for the past four years. His departure is the latest for an agency that has seen much of its skilled astronaut corps depart in recent years.
Grunsfeld’s almost four decades with NASA has provided him with a resume that has stretched across a broad range of professional fields – as well as beyond Earth’s atmosphere.
This is not the first time that Grunsfeld has retired from NASA. After his last shuttle mission, he left the agency in 2009 – only to return three years later.
“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 via a NASA-issued release. “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 came to be known as a “Hubble-hugger” for his love and repair missions to the iconic space-based observatory. Perhaps less known are his roles as NASA’s Chief Scientist and as the head of NASA’s Earth and space science activities.
“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,” Grunsfeld said. “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.”
Until NASA can determine who will take over for Grunsfeld in his current position, Geoff Yoder, who is currently serving as the directorate’s deputy, will assume the position of acting associate administrator.
Grunsfeld’s influence has stretched much further than just space shuttle servicing missions to Hubble, however. In the other roles he has held with the agency, the space flight veteran has also been involved with the landing of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover Curiosity on the Red Planet in August of 2012 as well as the historic flyby of the New Horizons spacecraft to the distant Kuiper Belt Object Pluto and its system of moons (conducted in July of 2015).
NASA also noted that Grunsfeld has been instrumental in missions to a world we are all a little more familiar with – Earth. Grunsfeld was involved with the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) as well as the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, and Global Precipitation Measurement missions designed to provide data on how our home planet is being altered through natural processes as well as humanity’s activities.
Grunsfeld’s last trip to orbit was as a Mission Specialist on STS-125 (Atlantis) in 2009, the final servicing mission to be sent to Hubble. It was far from his only foray to the telescope, however. He first traveled to Hubble in 1999 as a member of the crew of STS-103 (Discovery) he visited the telescope again on another servicing mission in 2002 as a member of STS-109 (Columbia).
His efforts, as well as those of the crews he rode fire into the black with, have provided an incredible legacy which has revolutionized how humanity sees itself and the universe. Hubble, which was supposed to have an operational life of some 15 years, has been in service for more than 25. This would not be the case had it not been for crewed missions to the observatory of which Grunsfeld played a pivotal role.
Grunsfeld has been recognized numerous times for his efforts on the high frontier; in 2015, he was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame.
Grunsfeld also flew to the Russian space station Mir in 1997 as a member of STS-81 on shuttle Atlantis and on STS-67 in 1995 on Endeavour. It is that experience that will perhaps be most missed by an agency that has seen many of its more experienced space flyers leave for positions in the private sector or academia since the close of the Shuttle Program in 2011.
Video courtesy of HubbleESA
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.