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Archive for Tuesday, April 7, 1998

ASTRONAUT FOR LIFE NOT LIFE FOR HAWLEY

April 7, 1998

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Nine months before his fifth liftoff, NASA astronaut and KU graduate Steve Hawley visited Lawrence to talk about the Hubble telescope and other interstellar matters.

Apparently, Steve Hawley will not be making the switch from Tang to Ensure in deep space.

Hawley, a Kansas University graduate and NASA astronaut, was happy to see his childhood hero, John Glenn, 76, announce that he would head into space in October. Nevertheless, Hawley, 46, said he won't be an astronaut in 30 years.

As far as an astronaut's age, ``there is no upper limit,'' Hawley said. ``But I don't see myself flying when I'm 65.''

Hawley was in Lawrence Monday to speak to the KU chapter of the Scientific Research Society about the Hubble telescope, which he helped launch during a 1990 flight.

Despite its early status as the ``trouble-plagued Hubble,'' the orbiting telescope has shed light on a wealth of previously inaccurate astronomical information.

And knowledge gleaned from Hubble has assisted the advance of science on earth. The technology has been used to improve the detection of breast cancer.

In December, Hawley will be going on his fifth mission.

He will begin training this month as a member of a five-person crew destined for the shuttle Columbia. In addition to his Hubble trek, Hawley's flights have included the maiden voyage of the shuttle Discovery.

The December mission will be the first to be helmed by a female commander, Eileen Collins, which is particularly poetic for Hawley, who was on the selection crew in 1990 when Collins was chosen as a NASA astronaut.

Columbia will be deploying the Advanced X-Ray Astrophysics Facility (AXAF) -- a telescope that will be used to view X-rays emitted by interstellar objects but invisible from Earth. AXAF will use Columbia as a launching pad. A booster rocket will take it halfway to the moon.

The telescope, the third of four to be launched in the ``Great Observatories'' program, could help answer some fundamental questions about the universe, including the origins of stars and the future of our galaxy's sun.

``Those are the kinds of things that fascinated me while I was in school,'' said Hawley, a 1973 graduate of the KU physics and astronomy program.

NASA's other goals range from assembling an international space station to flying to Mars. NASA is also in the midst of developing new means of propulsion, such as ion rockets.

However, the goals will be difficult if not impossible to achieve without support from the public and Congress.

In this age of government downsizing, some would prefer federal dollars be spent on education or other more earthly needs.

But NASA's funding, he said, ``is less than 1 percent of the federal budget,'' Hawley said. ``We get a lot of publicity per unit dollar spent.''

-- Matt Gowen's phone message number is 832-7222. His e-mail address is gowen@ljworld.com.

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