Last updated on April 16, 2014 at 7:00 EDT

John Grunsfeld

John Grunsfeld is an American physicist and a former NASA astronaut. He was born John Mace Grunsfeld in October of 1958 in Chicago, Illinois. He remained in Illinois throughout his childhood and graduated from Highland Park High School in 1976. Upon his graduation, he attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in physics in 1980. He then furthered his education at the University of Chicago, where he earned a Master of Science in physics in 1984 and a Doctor of Philosophy in physics in 1988. From 1980 to 1981, Grunsfeld was a Visiting Scientist at the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Space and Astronautical Science. From 1981-1989 he served many roles at the University of Chicago, including Graduate Research Assistant, NASA Graduate Student Fellow, and W.D. Grainger Postdoctoral Fellow in Experimental Physics. In 1989, he went to the California Institute of Technology and served as a Senior Research Fellow studying x-ray and gamma-ray astronomy, high-energy cosmic rays, and development of new detectors and instrumentation. For his studies he was able to use the NASA Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, x-ray astronomy satellites, radio telescopes, and optical telescopes including the NASA Hubble Space Telescope.

In March 1992, Grunsfeld was selected to be a NASA astronaut candidate. He reported to the Johnson Space Center the following August and completed one year of training to become eligible to fly as a mission specialist. His initial assignment was as the lead for portable computers for use in space, in the Astronaut Office Mission Development Branch. His first flight to space was aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour on STS-67, which launched from the Kennedy Space Center on March 2, 1995. It was the second flight of the Astro observatory, and during the mission they constantly studied ultraviolet reservations. The mission ended with a landing at Edwards Air Force Base in March 18, 1995. Following his first spaceflight, he led a team of engineers and computer programmers working with the International Space Station. STS-81 was Grunsfeld’s second spaceflight, and he assumed the role of flight engineer. The Space Shuttle Atlantis launched from the Kennedy Space Center on January 12, 1997 and returned to Earth approximately 245 hours later. STS-81 was part of a series of joint missions between the U.S. Space Shuttle and the Russian Space Station Mir. It was the second that involved an exchange of U.S. astronauts. In five days of docked operations, over three tons of food, water, experiment equipment, and samples were moved back and forth between the two spacecrafts.

After his second flight, Grunsfeld assumed the position of Chief of the Computer Support Branch in the Astronaut Office until he was launched into space again. His next flight was on the space shuttle mission STS-103. The crew launched aboard Space Shuttle Discovery on December 19, 1999. During the mission, Grunsfeld performed two spacewalks and spent Christmas Day in space. They landed back at the Kennedy Space Center on December 27, 1999. Following STS-103, he served as Chief of the Extravehicular Activity Branch in the Astronaut Office. In June 2000, he climbed Mount McKinley for the first time. Grunsfeld’s fourth mission to space was STS-109 aboard Space Shuttle Columbia. They launched on March 1, 2002 to service and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope. As payload commander, he managed spacewalks. After completing 165 orbits of the Earth, STS-109 landed on March 12, 2002. Upon his return to Earth, Grunsfeld worked on the Orbital Space Plane and as an instructor in the Extravehicular Activity Branch. He also served as NASA Chief Scientist at NASA Headquarters from 2003 to 2004. He then returned to Mount McKinley in June 2004 and became the only astronaut to have climbed all the way to the top of Mount McKinley.

Grunsfeld ‘s fifth and final flight to space was aboard space shuttle Atlantis for the STS-125 mission. It launched on May 11, 2009 and successfully repaired the Hubble Space Telescope. They carried two new instruments to the telescope, the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph and the Wide Field Camera 3. Additionally, the mission replaced a Fine Guidance Sensor, six gyroscopes, and two battery unit modules, and also installed new thermal blanket insulating panels to provide improved thermal protection. The mission also carried an IMAX camera to document its progress. The mission ended successfully with a landing on May 24, 2009. In December 2011, he was appointed associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA’s headquarters in Washington.

Image Caption: John Grunsfeld. Credit: NASA/Wikipedia

John Grunsfeld