November 5, 2014 8:00 pm

Last Mission to Hubble

Last Mission to Hubble

Today’s guest blog post is from StarTalk Volunteer Megan Bednarz, who works at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum Complex as an educator and part of their Community Engagement Team.

To be honest, I’m still figuring out how the whole Microsoft Outlook calendar thing works – but thankfully I did know enough to instantaneously click accept when “Photo with Mike” popped up for 2:30pm on Thursday October 30, 2014. This meeting of minds seamlessly turned into one of my fondest days spent at the Intrepid Museum to date!

Photo of StarTalk Radio volunteer Megan Bednarz and Astronaut Mike Massimino, taken by Caitlin Ballingall

On the flight deck! Megan and Astro Mike. Photo Credit: Caitlin Ballingall

The Mike I am referring to is the former NASA astronaut and StarTalk Radio veteran Michael J. Massimino. This man has been to space. He left planet Earth and came back. And he did this twice. He was also the first person to Tweet from space, as @Astro_MikeWe are now lucky enough to have him here at the Intrepid Museum as our Senior Advisor for Space Programs. Our newest exhibition, HUBBLE@25, is co-curated by Eric Boehm, our Curator of Aviation, and Mike Massimino. Together they have created a visually impressive and sweetly human look at the telescope that has been unlocking secrets to the universe since 1990. Mike was a mission specialist on the crew of two space shuttle missions, STS-109 and STS-125, both of which were to service the Hubble Space Telescope.

During my meeting with Mike he told me that this exhibit is very personal to him and it is one of his favorite places in the world right now. This means a lot coming from a man who has traveled to more than 300 miles above the Earth’s surface and back… He has surely seen some stuff. We got the chance to visit the exhibit together and Mike showed me his favorite tool! The Mini Power Tool! It’s like a power screwdriver only it can withstand a temperature range of -53 degrees Fahrenheit to 163 degrees Fahrenheit. Nifty.

Photo of Mike Massimino showing Megan Bednarz his favorite tool, taken by Caitlin Ballingall.

Mike’s favorite tool! Photo Credit: Caitlin Ballingall

The exhibition is divided thematically and in the engineering section you will find Mike’s self-proclaimed “Happy Place.” It is an immersive experience built to give visitors a sense of what takes place in NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL.) Video of the STS-125 crew towers before you, blue lights stream along the walls, and underwater sounds flood your ears. I had to ask “…does being in the tank really feel like being in space?” Mike did tell me that his training in the NBL was the perfect way to practice for his spacewalks and did prepare him very well. But then he began to laugh, and as the footage continued to roll he pointed out a section of video that shows him underwater using his favorite tool to carefully remove the mock Hubble Space Telescope handhold.

Now… earlier I had asked him if spacewalks generally go as planned or if there are… emergencies, and he very matter-of-factly told me emergencies happen all the time! (Of course to me this was terrifying. An emergency is one thing… but an emergency in space?) Well, as he continued to laugh at the video he said, “That’s how the handle was supposed to come off.” This particular handhold is the one that Mike needed remove to help complete the final Hubble servicing mission… and as it turned out the handle had a stripped screw… so what he was practicing so carefully in that tank… was simply not going to work. The STS-125 crew communicated with Mission Control to devise an alternate plan to forcefully break off that handle in a way to capture any possible jagged debris that could have punctured Mike’s spacesuit! It all worked out and everyone made it home safe and now the handhold can be seen in our exhibit alongside dual footage from the helmets of Michael T. Good and Massimino who were getting the job done.

Spending time with Mike Massimino was a sincere pleasure and reminded me why I enjoy working here as much as I do. The great synergy between HUBBLE@25 and the Space Shuttle Pavilion is inarguable. There is something magical about walking directly beneath the payload bay of Enterprise, the first space shuttle orbiter, while engrossed in the story of the Hubble Space Telescope, a telescope tailored to the capabilities Space Shuttle Program..

Looking ahead at our upcoming Astronomy Nights and Public Programs schedule has me smiling from ear to ear. Come join us at the Intrepid Museum on Wednesday November 12 for “Last Mission to Hubble”, a panel discussion featuring mission commander Scott D. Altman, pilot Gregory C. Johnson and mission specialists John Grunsfeld, Megan McArthur Behnken, Michael T. Good and our very own Michael J. Massimino. The panel will be moderated by Charlie Gibson, journalist and former ABC News anchor and this will be the first time the STS-125 crew has reunited since their mission in 2009. Grab your tickets here!