Veteran space walker could find three-point line during Hubble Space Telescope missionBy Steve Koppes
Even Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls would find it impossible to match the star power of the Chicago Maroons’ Big Ten champion basketball teams of 1907-08 and 1908-09. Playing forward for the Maroons during those seasons was a 6-foot-2-inch undergraduate named Edwin Hubble.
Most people know Hubble (S.B.,1910, Ph.D.,1917) as a famed astronomer, the namesake of the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope. But as an athlete he also helped the Maroons post records of 24-2 in 1907-08 and 10-3 in 1908-09. There was no post-season tournament back then, but the Helms Athletic Foundation assembled a panel of experts that retroactively named the Maroons national champions both years.
“It illustrates that scientists are people too, and that a great scientist can be a great athlete,” said Michael Turner, the Bruce V. and Diana M. Rauner Distinguished Service Professor in Astronomy & Astrophysics and the College.
Now another Chicago alumnus, astronaut John Grunsfeld (S.M.,’84, Ph.D.,’88), will fly into orbit a century-old basketball that Hubble tossed around in a 1909 victory against Indiana University. The space shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to launch Tuesday, May 12, which will be Grunsfeld’s third mission to refurbish and upgrade the Hubble Telescope.
“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.
Grunsfeld had borrowed the basketball from the Department of Physical Education and Athletics, with Turner serving as intermediary, so that he could fly it into orbit. He plans to return the basketball personally to the University after the mission, when it will go on display at the Gerald Ratner Athletics Center.
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,” said Grunsfeld, who studied physics at Chicago.
Before joining NASA in 1992, he had amassed research experience in X-ray and gamma-ray astronomy, high-energy cosmic ray studies and the development of new detectors and instrumentation. Grunsfeld has since used the Hubble Telescope in his own research. As NASA’s chief scientist from 2003 to 2004, Grunsfeld helped develop the President’s Vision for Space Exploration.
During his four previous space flights, he logged more than 45 days in space, including five spacewalks totaling more than 32 hours:
“It’s been a glorious career, and I’ve been incredibly privileged to fly in space and to work on the Hubble Space Telescope,” Grunsfeld said.