NASA Science Head John Grunsfeld is Retiring

NASA Science Head John Grunsfeld is Retiring

John Grunsfeld, NASA’s Associate Administrator (AA) for the Science Mission Directorate (SMD), is retiring from the agency on April 30.  In a NASA press release he joked that he is going where he has rarely gone before — home.   A five time space shuttle astronaut, he is often heralded as “the Hubble Repairman” for his three visits to the Hubble Space Telescope to repair and replace instruments.

SMD Deputy Associate Administrator Geoff Yoder will serve as Acting AA until a new appointment is made.

Grunsfeld has held his current job since January 2012.  A physicist by training, he joined the astronaut corps in 1992 and flew on space shuttle missions in 1995, 1997, 1999, 2002 and 2009.  He accumulated 58 days in space over all of those missions including 58 hours and 30 minutes of spacewalk time.  The shuttle flights in 1999, 2002 and 2009 were all to service Hubble.

John Grunsfeld.  Photo Credit: NASA

From 2003-2004, he served at NASA Headquarters as Chief Scientist under NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe, a difficult period of time following the space shuttle Columbia tragedy.  In the wake of Columbia, O’Keefe decided to not send a space shuttle crew on a planned fifth and final servicing mission to Hubble.  He proposed using robotic spacecraft instead.  O’Keefe’s decision was very controversial and Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) insisted on a review by the National Research Council of the state of in-space robotic servicing.  That report was skeptical that technologies were sufficiently advanced to execute such complex activities.   NASA Administrator Michael Griffin subsequently reversed O’Keefe’s decision and the fifth servicing mission was flown in 2009 (STS-125).  Grunsfeld had returned to the astronaut corps after his stint at Headquarters and was a member of the STS-125 crew. 

Grunsfeld retired from NASA after STS-125 and became Deputy Director of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, MD that manages Hubble.  He returned to NASA Headquarters as AA for Science in 2012 at an another challenging moment when NASA’s expectations of robust science budgets hit the turbulence caused by the Budget Control Act of 2011 and sequestration.  He has led NASA’s science projects through the twists and turns of Continuing Resolutions (CRs) and unexpected budget boosts by Congress, especially for a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa, since then.

As an individual whose career embraces both space science and human spaceflight, he has been in a unique position to encourage both communities to work together in the cause of space exploration instead of their traditional chilly relationship.

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