Oct. 23, 2014
— Astronaut Mike Massimino is sitting on the floor, completely fixated on the video showing him and his former space shuttle crewmates training underwater to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope. On display nearby, eight of the actual tools they used during that training, and later in space, to service the orbiting observatory one last time.
"I get goose bumps looking at this stuff. To me, it is very, very personal," Massimino says. "I do not know if anyone else is going to like it as much as me."
Eric Boehm, the curator at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, is betting they will.
Massimino and Boehm are discussing "Hubble@25," the new exhibition that opens in New York City on board the USS Intrepid, a converted World War II aircraft carrier, on Thursday (Oct. 23). The display, which is positioned under and around the museum's exhibit of the prototype space shuttle Enterprise, commemorates the 25th anniversary of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope next April.
Hubble@25 includes an immersive audio-visual environment that shows how astronauts trained to upgrade the space telescope in a large pool, called the Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL). (Intrepid)
Massimino, who retired from NASA in July, has joined the Intrepid's staff as their senior advisor for space programs. His first project was to help shape Hubble@25, which tells the story of the Hubble Space Telescope's past, present and future, including his own two space shuttle missions to service it in orbit.
"It is a very fond memory, that time of my life, when I was training to go fix the Hubble with my best friends and what those days were like," Massimino told collectSPACE. "It was easily the best part of my professional life ... and now it is here in the museum."
The temporary exhibit, which runs through mid-September 2015, brings together a collection of space-flown artifacts, large models, artistic photos and immersive experiences, many of which have never been on display before.
Human side of Hubble
"I wanted to add the human touch to it," Boehm said about the direction he chose for Hubble@25. "You can look at machines and tools and see the images that the machine took. You can look at all that stuff, but what is the human element of it?"
The fastener capture plate for the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) is one of the specialized tools Massimino and his STS-125 crewmates used during the final servicing mission. (Intrepid)
Other museums, including the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., display some of the large instruments returned from the Hubble. Where the Intrepid's exhibit differs is its focus on the smaller artifacts that have played a big role in the telescope's past quarter-century.
"They show the items we flew in space," Massimino said. "They show the actual tools we used to train with and the ones we flew in space. Our personal equipment that we were very intimate with for years, during training and then in flight."
Among the items are a checklist used by Massimino and his STS-125 crew, a U.S. flag flown to honor the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the home plate from the New York Mets' former home baseball park, Shea Stadium, which Massimino, as a devoted fan, arranged to fly to space and back.
In addition to the shuttle Discovery mission that deployed the Hubble in April 1990, five crews launched to repair and upgrade the space telescope between 1993 and 2009.
The Hubble@25 exhibition includes a spacewalk checklist used on space shuttle Atlantis during the STS-125 mission. (Intrepid)
The astronaut spacewalkers who serviced the observatory spent hundreds of hours preparing for the task in the large Neutral Buoyancy Tank at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. The Hubble@25 exhibit provides visitors the chance to virtually join the crews in that training.
"It is an immersive environment, so when you go in to the dark room there are all these lighting effects going on so it feels like you are in the water," Boehm described. "I think kids are going to get trapped in there and be hard to drag out, because the guy who lived it got enthralled by it."
"They had to pull me out of there," Massimino quipped.
The full picture
Of course, no exhibit about the Hubble Space Telescope would be complete without the images it has captured and the Intrepid displays a number of large format photographs of some of the observatory's most spectacular shots.
Hubble@25 also includes a hands-on interactive to show how the space telescope uses its various instruments and sensors to "see" the universe.
The Hubble@25 exhibit occupies the space under and around the prototype space shuttle Enterprise. (Intrepid)
Photographs factor into sharing the human story, too. The exhibit features imagery by photographer Michael Soluri, who was granted unrestricted access to Massimino and his STS-125 crewmates during their training for the fifth and final mission to the Hubble Space Telescope in May 2009. Soluri's photos capture both the human elements of exploration and the curiosity of spaceflight, along with the tools and hardware that the astronauts employed.
Soluri will visit the Intrepid in December to discuss Hubble and his photographs.
"One the great things about [Hubble@25]," Boehm stated, "is that we are wrapping some programming around it."
The museum is planning events spanning the length of the exhibit, but one of the first highlights is a panel discussion with Massimino and all but one of his STS-125 mission crewmates. The Nov. 12 evening event, to be moderated by ABC News' Charlie Gibson, marks the astronauts' first chance to reminisce together since returning from Hubble.
For more about the Hubble@25 exhibition, see the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum's website.