Hubble Servicing Mission 4 Blog

Interview with Jim Garvin, Chief Scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

by colleen on May.20, 2009, under SM4

Jim Garvin, chief scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center poses in front of a model of Hubble with ESA HST team members Lothar Gerlach and Manfred Schmid.

Jim Garvin, Chief Scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center poses in front of a model of Hubble with ESA HST team members Lothar Gerlach and Manfred Schmid.

This Servicing Mission was long awaited. What does it mean to you and to GSFC to get a final chance to improve and enhance Hubble so that it operates for another 5 - 7 years?

It means more than just to us here at GSFC, but to everyone who has an interest in our Universe. Hubble has been our portal to our own Universe. To me, what it really means is that we’re extending an icon and has the same deep meaning of the writings of Da Vinci and the first Galileo observations.
It’s a testament to the human/machine relationship and a forerunner to how to explore the Universe collectively, as a science community. It just doesn’t get any better than this!

Can you go over, briefly, some of the technological advancements and new tools that GSFC has developed and provided?

There’s something like 60 new ones of a tool kit of more than 120. Perhaps most interesting to me are the power tools that help us make very precise rotations of fasteners and screws. The new tools for ACS and for STIS - they were modification of things because these instruments were not intended to be serviced by humans in space. Those are special to me because the used them to make precise changes and change out instruments. These tools are totally new - a technological breakthrough; it bodes well for other even more challenging services beyond Hubble.

This question is certainly over-asked, but what has Hubble meant to the astronomical community and to the public at large?

What I always say, and I mean it, is that it’s the inspiration that allows our young people to catch the astronomy bug. Their generation has lived in the era of Hubble. They’ve seen the legacy of HST. That will build the pipeline for engineers and scientists. What HST’s done - even in our own solar system - has sometimes been overlooked; it’s captured dust storms on Mars and looked at the moon for science and resources. Hubble touches everyone; its images are science, written beautifully. That’s intangible - you can’t put a metric in it except for the faces of people seeing these images for the first time. They’re not seeing science fiction; they’re seeing science fact.

What about the European engineering contribution - the solar arrays over the years and now Solar Array Drive Electronics (SADE) and Solar Array Drive Mechanisms (SADM ) support.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has been a huge contributor - not only for hardware but also in the science. HST is truly and international mission.  And, the Hubble community is truly international as well, including NASA/ESA and Canadian contributions. And, David Southwood (ESA Director of Science and Robotic Exploration) would say this better than I but the Hubble mission is as broadly reaching as anything we’ve ever done in space science and it bodes well for future endeavours like NASA/ESA’s James Webb Space Telescope. ESA has always been part of the equation and it’s a true partnership that makes it all happen.

The work on HST is going well so far but will you be on pins and needles until the EROs (Early Release Observations - the first images from the new/repaired instruments) are down and processed?

Of course and I’m just one user. Astronaut John Grunsfeld is a close friend so it’s been even more nerve-wracking and tense for me. He’s putting his life on the line in the name of science and exploration. Until they’re down and safe, we’ll all be nervous - that’s what working in space is all about.
But first light on the instruments - I think I’ll be dazzled!

I heard that you’ve sent e-mails to John Grunsfeld in space.

Yes, I have had e-mail contact with John. I sent him a picture of the Tycho Crater on the Moon to remind him of the science he’ll do with the new Wide Field Camera 3. I just think to myself, what better person to have up there?

Do you have a favourite Hubble image?

I have several and, I have to be frank, it was my dream in 1991 to observe the Moon in ultraviolet. I led the team that imaged Aristarchus in August of 2005 - just as NASA was preparing for Return to Flight. Aristarchus is a 14,000-foot fresh crater on the Moon that humans would love to go to. It’s a rich place in the history of our natural satellite. I worked on this with Ed Weiler (NASA’s Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate) and astronaut John Grunsfeld who is, himself, and astrophysicist. It was a stupendous day in the summer of 2005.

Also, the images of the Shoemaker-Levy impact at Jupiter. What an example of science and agility in space.  To understand that with Hubble vision -wow- there’s the energy of the Universe, locally (in our Solar System). For me, I think the other one that’s most telling - and just the sheer beauty of it is the Hubble Deep Field; it bespeaks what we don’t yet know. We’re starting to open our eyes to the Universe that we thought we knew but we don’t. Astrophysics textbooks were meant to be changed and, as Ed Weiler said, HST is changing them! What an exciting time and what a magical Universe!

Watch a Hubblecast about what Hubble has taught us about our Solar System

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