The faces behind Hubble - personal connections behind powerful engines

The first images provided by the Hubble Space Telescope, vividly showcasing an expansive universe reaching beyond one’s wildest dreams, touched the lives of many here on earth. From the engineers and scientists who managed the mission from earth to orbit and ensured the safety of the Hubble and its astronauts, to astronomers whose research led to discoveries that forever expanded our understanding of the universe, to the average citizen who could hardly imagine a world beyond our galaxy, the Hubble Telescope opened to all a new world ready for discovery.

​For retired Colonel Loren Shriver, the commander of the first mission placing the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit 18 years ago, every image sent by the telescope is as thrilling as the first. Shriver still feels an immense sense of pride for his role in sending the first major optical telescope into space, 366 miles above planet earth, with the help of three Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME).

“I didn’t make the Hubble, but I flew on a potentially dangerous mission to get it up there into orbit and we as a crew accomplished that,” said Shriver, now vice president of a major space contractor in Houston, Texas. “Being a part of that process, the pride and sense of connection never goes away and it’s always there.”

On May 11, three of Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne’s Space Shuttle Main Engines launched astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis for the Hubble’s fifth and final servicing mission. Atlantis delivered state-of-the art instruments to upgrade the Hubble and enable it to look into the universe with new eyes, surpassing its previous visual power and scope. This technology will remain in service until at least 2013.

“Our primary focus is to ensure the astronauts have a safe ride and return to their families – whether it’s a mission to the International Space Station or the Hubble Space Telescope,” said Jim Paulsen, SSME program manager. “No one – from the engineers and mechanics, to the administrative assistants, program managers and NASA administrators involved with the SSME program – takes their job lightly.”

The care and attention to detail is evident in the work performed by hundreds of Rocketdyne employees in California, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. Engineers of PWR in Florida work on SSME’s high-pressure turbopumps – the hearts of the engines that pump propellants for space shuttle lift-off. Analysts at the company’s California offices monitor data and use computer models to predict SSME performance before and during flight. PWR engineers at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. test and produce software for the engine’s computers which monitor and control its many functions during flight. Rocketdyne mechanics at Stennis Space Flight Center in Mississippi hot-fire test the engines to certify them for flight and mechanics at Kennedy Space Center assemble and install the engines for launch.

Those who work directly or indirectly with the SSMEs say they feel privileged to be among the few to be involved with manned space flight, space exploration or anything as important as the Hubble Space Telescope and its missions. They express a tremendous sense of connection knowing that their work is supporting the completion of an International Space Station, which will help NASA and its international partners unlock more secrets of science and technology. Rocketdyne’s employees feel as equally responsible for and thrilled by the images sent back to earth by the Hubble as Colonel Shriver and they look forward to telling their grandchildren they were part of a mission that placed the Hubble back into orbit.

Few can appreciate that sense of dedication more than Shriver.

“It’s a pretty dynamic ride,” said Shriver, who flew on two other shuttle missions in 1985 and 1992. “Everyone says this, but it’s an understatement. It’s a very powerful ride out to orbit, but there’s a lot of confidence because we know that everyone who works on the engines and supports our mission is highly skilled and dedicated to our success and safety,” said Shriver.

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