Newswise — Most people know University of Chicago alumnus Edwin Hubble (S.B.,1910, Ph.D.,1917) as a famed astronomer, the namesake of the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope (HST). But he also starred as a forward on the University of Chicago Maroons' Big Ten-champion basketball teams of 1907-08 and 1908-09.
Now another Chicago alumnus, astronaut John Grunsfeld (S.M.,'84, Ph.D.,'88) will fly into orbit a century-old ball that Hubble had tossed around in a 1909 victory against Indiana University. The space shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to launch May 12 with Grunsfeld on his third mission to refurbish and upgrade the HST.
Grunsfeld plans to return the basketball personally to the University after the mission, when it will go on display at the Gerald Ratner Athletics Center. On his two previous HST missions, Grunsfeld flew with the eyepiece of a telescope that Hubble had peered through at Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wis., and the cover of Hubble's doctoral dissertation.
"Chicago has always been at the forefront of exploration through the Laboratory for Astrophysics and Space Research, South Pole research and so much more," Grunsfeld said.
As an astronomer, Hubble showed that galaxies besides our own existed in the universe, and that the universe is expanding. These findings form the cornerstone of the Big Bang theory of the universe's origin and opened the field of cosmology.
As a basketball player, the 6-foot-2 Hubble was a member of Chicago teams that posted records of 24-2 in 1907-08 and 10-3 in 1908-09. Grunsfeld will link the two facets of Hubble's life on the shuttle's next mission, scheduled for 11 days.
Grunsfeld grew up near the University's campus on Chicago's South Side, where Nobel laureate Enrico Fermi oversaw construction of the first nuclear reactor during World War II. "I was inspired as a young man by the exploits of Enrico Fermi as a scientist and as a mountaineer in the Dolomites, and he became a role model for me," Grunsfeld said.
A physics student at the University of Chicago, Grunsfeld is a veteran of four previous shuttle missions:
STS-67, Endeavor, March 2-18, 1995: This was the second flight of the Astro observatory, a complement of three ultraviolet telescopes. The crew, including mission specialist Grunsfeld, conducted around-the-clock observations of faint astronomical objects and ultraviolet light coming from hot stars and distant galaxies.
STS-81, Atlantis, Jan. 12-22, 1997: This was the fifth mission to dock with Russia's Space Station Mir, and the second to exchange U.S. astronauts. Grunsfeld served as flight engineer.
STS-103, Discovery, Dec. 19-27, 1999: During this mission, the crew installed new gyroscopes and scientific instruments and upgraded systems on the Hubble Telescope. Grunsfeld performed two spacewalks totaling 16 hours and 23 minutes.
STS-109, Columbia, March 1-12, 2002: The crew upgraded the Hubble Telescope, installing a new digital camera, a cooling system for the infrared camera, new solar arrays and a new power system. Grunsfeld served as the payload commander in charge of spacewalking activities and the Hubble payload. He performed three spacewalks totaling 21 hours and 9 minutes.
"It's been a glorious career, and I've been incredibly privileged to fly in space and to work on the Hubble Space Telesope," Grunsfeld said.