Monday, December 19, 2011

'Hubble-Hugger" To Head NASA Science Division

Physicist and former astronaut John Grunsfeld, a self-described 'Hubble hugger" who serviced NASA's flagship space telescope three times, will take the helm at NASA's Science Mission Directorate on Jan. 4.

Now deputy director of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Grunsfeld will replace Ed Weiler, who retired on Sept. 30. Grunsfeld will report to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who also is a former astronaut.

"John's understanding of the critical connection between scientific research and the human exploration of space makes him an ideal choice for this job," Bolden said in a statement. "I look forward to working with him to take the agency's science programs to even greater heights and make more of the ground-breaking discoveries about Earth and our universe for which NASA is known."

Prior to joining the NASA Astronaut Corps. in 1992, Grunsfeld conducted research in high energy astrophysics, cosmic ray physics, exoplanet studies and astronomical instrumentation. Grunsfeld graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a bachelor's degree in physics. He earned a master's degree a doctorate in physics from the University of Chicago using a cosmic ray experiment on shuttle Challenger for his doctoral thesis. The Chicago native subsequently joined the faculty of the California Institute of Technology as a Senior Research Fellow in Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy.

A veteran of five space shuttle flights, Grunsfeld performed eight spacewalks to service and upgrade the observatory. He logged over 58 days in space on five shuttle missions, including 58 hours and 30 minutes of spacewalk time.

Grunsfeld flew aboard Endeavour during a March 1995 astronomy mission. His second flight was a mission to the Russian space station Mir aboard Atlantis. His three Hubble servicing missions included a flight aboard Discovery in December 1999, Columbia in March 2002 and Atlantis in May 2009.

"It is an honor and a privilege to be offered the opportunity to lead NASA's Science Mission Directorate during this exciting time in the agency's history," Grunsfeld said in a statement. "Science at NASA is all about exploring the endless frontier of the Earth and space. I look forward to working with the NASA team to help enable new discoveries in our quest to understand our home planet and unravel the mysteries of the universe."

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