Astronaut Prepares For Final Hubble Mission

The space shuttle Atlantis and seven astronauts embark May 11 on a fifth and final mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope, the most famous camera in the solar system. Astronaut John Grunsfeld, who's leading the mission, talks to host Jacki Lyden about the telescope's final chapter.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

It's given us some of the most mesmerizing photos we have of the universe, the Hubble Space Telescope, but it's entering its final chapter.

NASA plans to launch one last mission to repair the Hubble in a little over a week. Astronaut John Grunsfeld will be on that trip, his third Hubble mission. He'll be upgrading the Hubble's camera, but he'll have another one along on the trip.

Mr. JOHN GRUNSFELD (Astronaut): I'm bringing up a remarkable antique camera. It's a 1929 Zeiss Ikon Maximar B camera.

LYDEN: It belonged to his friend, the explorer Bradford Washburn, who died two years ago at age 96.

Mr. GRUNSFELD: Brad lived just a tremendous life. He is one of my heroes and during the 1920s did just a fantastic number of tremendous climbs all over. As part of that, he started pioneering the use of cameras from airplanes. So, he would literally have somebody tie a rope around his waist, he'd hang out of an airplane as they flew along at high altitude around some of these great mountain ranges, and he would shoot pictures that would then be used for scientific research but also to explore new climbing routes.

LYDEN: Did he do that with the very camera that you're going to be taking with you?

Mr. GRUNSFELD: So, this very camera was used in aviation photography but also very much so because it was his pocket camera on the ground as he would climb.

LYDEN: Are you going to take a picture with this camera?

Mr. GRUNSFELD: I definitely plan to take some pictures of Hubble with the Zeiss camera but also of mountains, which I know Brad would appreciate.

LYDEN: Where are you taking them from?

Mr. GRUNSFELD: The pictures that I'll take with the Zeiss camera will be taken from inside of the space shuttle, shooting out. This is a camera that I don't think would survive the vacuum of space.

LYDEN: You have said that this is probably your last time in space, and I would just like to ask you your reflections about that. I mean, you've also said that there's a very zen experience for you when you're up there.

Mr. GRUNSFELD: When I got to space the first time, which was 1995, sort of for the first time in my life I felt truly at peace with the universe. It was just a remarkable, magical feeling, and I feel like, you know, that's my true home, is in space. And we have a remarkable capability now with the International Space Station, where astronauts and cosmonauts get to live in space. You know, that would be a great chance for me, but hard to say whether I'll ever get that.

LYDEN: When these repairs are completed, NASA says that the Hubble is going to go out of operation, and I'm just wondering, since you have had such a long and intimate relationship, how do you feel about that?

Mr. GRUNSFELD: We're hoping for a five - or maybe at best, a 10-year additional lifetime with the repairs and upgrades that we're doing to the telescope on this mission. But someday, it's going to re-enter the atmosphere, and I think at that time, you know, there'll be a great deal of sadness that we won't have the Hubble anymore, but we'll have other observatories. And I anticipate we'll get a large number of people and rent a cruise ship and head out in the Pacific to see it fly over and splash into the water and have a huge party in celebration of a job well done.

LYDEN: The final mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope is set to lift off on May 11th. It'll be astronaut John Grunsfeld's third time fixing the Hubble and his fifth space mission, and I hope not your last, John Grunsfeld.

Mr. GRUNSFELD: Well, thank you very much. I appreciate it.

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