Jeffrey Hoffman—Giant Leaps (Excerpt)

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HOFFMAN: I had been intrigued with the idea of human space flight. Always thought it would be a neat thing to do, but by and large all the astronauts were military test pilots. I had no interest in that. In fact when I was a kid, I was not particularly interested in airplanes because they didn't go fast enough or high enough. I used to draw pictures of rocket ships in class.

NASA made it clear in '76, '77 I guess, that they were going to need more astronauts to fly the shuttle. And you didn't have to be a pilot. Sure, they wanted pilots to fly the shuttle. But with a crew of seven, they also needed engineers and scientists.

My career as an astronaut was very fortunate. Getting assigned to my first space flight was incredibly exciting. I think that must be true for everybody. I guess of all my flights, the initial rescue mission of the Hubble Space Telescope was certainly the most significant in terms of its larger context. And what can I say? For me as an astronomer and an astronaut, to put my two hands on the Hubble Telescope in space, was the thrill of a lifetime.

And of course it was such a success. We fixed it. And it's just been probably NASA's most successful mission, certainly in terms of public awareness and popularity. More people around the world know about Hubble certainly than any other telescope. And it's just changed our views of the universe over and over again.