John Mace Grunsfeld (born October 10, 1958) is an American physicist and a former NASA astronaut. He is a veteran of five Space Shuttle flights and has served as NASA Chief Scientist. His academic background includes research in high energy astrophysics, cosmic ray physics and the emerging field of exoplanet studies with specific interest in future astronomical instrumentation. After retiring from NASA in 2009, he served as the Deputy Director of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. In January 2012, he returned to NASA and served as associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD). Grunsfeld announced his retirement from NASA in April 2016.
John Grunsfeld was born in Chicago, Illinois to Ernest Alton 'Tony' Grunsfeld III, a distinguished Chicago architect, and Sally Mace Grunsfeld; grandson of architect Ernest Grunsfeld Jr., architect of the Adler Planetarium. He is married to the former Carol E. Schiff, with whom he has two children. John enjoys mountaineering, flying, sailing, bicycling, and music. His father, Ernest Grunsfeld III, died in 2011 at the age of 81.
Grunsfeld graduated from Highland Park High School in Highland Park, Illinois in 1976. He attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, earning a Bachelor of Science in physics in 1980. He then attended the University of Chicago, earning a Master of Science in physics in 1984 and a Doctor of Philosophy in physics in 1988.
Grunsfeld's academic positions include that of visiting scientist, University of Tokyo/Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (1980–81); graduate research assistant, University of Chicago (1981–85); NASA Graduate Student Fellow, University of Chicago (1985–87); W.D. Grainger Postdoctoral Fellow in Experimental Physics, University of Chicago (1988–89); and senior research fellow, California Institute of Technology (1989–92). Grunsfeld's research has covered x-ray and gamma-ray astronomy, high-energy cosmic ray studies, and development of new detectors and instrumentation. Grunsfeld studied binary pulsars and energetic x-ray and gamma ray sources using the NASA Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, x-ray astronomy satellites, radio telescopes, and optical telescopes including the NASA Hubble Space Telescope.
Grunsfeld was selected by NASA in March 1992 as an astronaut candidate and reported to the Johnson Space Center in August 1992. He completed one year of training and qualified for flight selection as a mission specialist. Grunsfeld was initially detailed to the Astronaut Office Mission Development Branch and was assigned as the lead for portable computers for use in space. Following his first flight, he led a team of engineers and computer programmers tasked with defining and producing the crew displays for command and control of the International Space Station (ISS). As part of this activity he directed an effort combining the resources of the Mission Control Center (MCC) Display Team and the Space Station Training Facility. The result was the creation of the Common Display Development Facility (CDDF), responsible for the onboard and MCC displays for the International Space Station, using object-oriented programming techniques. Following his second flight, he was assigned as Chief of the Computer Support Branch in the Astronaut Office supporting Space Shuttle and International Space Station Programs and advanced technology development. Following STS-103, he served as Chief of the Extravehicular Activity Branch in the Astronaut Office. Following STS-109, Grunsfeld served as an instructor in the Extravehicular Activity Branch, and worked on the Orbital Space Plane, exploration concepts, and technologies for use beyond low earth orbit in the Advanced Programs Branch. He served as NASA Chief Scientist assigned to NASA Headquarters from 2003 to 2004. In January 2012, he became the associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA's headquarters in Washington, replacing Ed Weiler.
Grunsfeld has been actively engaged in communicating space science topics to the public through interviews, public lectures, and television appearances. He was recently interviewed by NASA's Astrobiology Magazine about the James Webb Telescope and at the Science with Hubble Space Telescope III conference in Venice, Italy, about carrying out repairs and upgrades on the Hubble Space Telescope. Recent public lectures include Hugging Hubble at the Space Telescope Science Institute's May 2010 Symposium, Big Science Questions at the 50th anniversary celebration of the Aspen Center for Physics and The Hubble Story presented as a special public lecture at Oxford University's Department of Physics. He has made several television appearances to discuss the successful landing of the Mars Curiosity Rover in August 2012 and its mission, including appearances on the PBS NewsHour with Judy Woodruff, the Colbert Report, and on NASAtelevision.
On April 5, 2016, Grunsfield announced his retirement from NASA, which starts from April 30.
STS-67/Astro-2 Space Shuttle Endeavour (March 2–18, 1995) was launched from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, and returned to land at Edwards Air Force Base, California . It was the second flight of the Astro observatory, a unique complement of three ultra-violet telescopes. During this record-setting 16-day mission, the crew conducted observations around the clock to study the far ultraviolet spectra of faint astronomical objects and the polarization of ultraviolet light coming from hot stars and distant galaxies. Mission duration was 399 hours and 9 minutes.
STS-81 Space Shuttle Atlantis (January 12–22, 1997) was a 10-day mission, the fifth to dock with Russia’s Mir space station, and the second to exchange U.S. astronauts. The mission also carried the Spacehab double module providing additional middeck locker space for secondary experiments. In five days of docked operations more than three tons of food, water, experiment equipment and samples were moved back and forth between the two spacecraft. Grunsfeld served as the flight engineer on this flight. Following 160 orbits of the Earth the STS-81 mission concluded with a landing on Kennedy Space Center’s Runway 33 ending a 3.9 million mile journey. Mission duration was 244 hours, 56 minutes. During this flight, Grunsfeld placed a phone call to NPR's auto-repair radio show, Car Talk. In this call he complained about his government Rockwell "van's" performance. To wit, it would run very loud and rough for about two minutes, quieter for another six and a half, and then the engine would quit. This created some consternation for the hosts until they realized that the van in question was, in fact, the Space Shuttle.
STS-103 Space Shuttle Discovery (December 19–27, 1999) was an eight-day mission during which the crew successfully installed new gyroscopes and scientific instruments and upgraded systems on the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). Enhancing HST scientific capabilities required three space walks (EVA). Grunsfeld performed two space walks totaling 16 hours and 23 minutes. The STS-103 mission was accomplished in 120 Earth orbits, traveling 3.2 million miles in 191 hours and 11 minutes.
STS-109 Space Shuttle Columbia (March 1–12, 2002) was the fourth Hubble Space Telescope (HST) servicing mission. The crew of STS-109 successfully upgraded the Hubble Space Telescope installing a new digital camera, a cooling system for the infrared camera, new solar arrays and a new power system. HST servicing and upgrades were accomplished by four crewmembers during a total of five EVAs in five consecutive days. Grunsfeld served as the Payload Commander on STS-109 in charge of the space walking activities and the Hubble payload. He also performed three space walks totaling 21 hours and 9 minutes, including the installation of the new Power Control Unit. STS-109 orbited the Earth 165 times, and covered 3.9 million miles in over 262 hours.
STS-125 Space Shuttle Atlantis (May 11–24, 2009) was the fifth and final servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. Atlantis launched from Kennedy Space Center Launch Pad 39A May 11, 2009 at 2:01 p.m. EDT, and landed on May 24, 2009 at California's Edwards Air Force Base. During the mission, Grunsfeld performed three of the mission's five back-to-back spacewalks, which installed two new instruments to the Hubble Space Telescope: The Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, and the Wide Field Camera 3. The mission also replaced a Fine Guidance Sensor, six new gyroscopes, and two battery unit modules, to allow the telescope to continue to function at least through 2014. One issue Grunsfeld and his crew experienced during the overhaul was the stripping of 10mm bolts due to improper assembly and technique which he discussed again on Car Talk.
According to a NASA press release in January 2010, Grunsfeld indicated he would leave the agency to serve as deputy director of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. There he helped prepare the institute for operations with NASA's planned James Webb Space Telescope. He also became a research professor in the Johns Hopkins University department of physics and astronomy in July, 2010.
Grunsfeld appeared on the PBS NOVA episode "Deadly Ascent", which showed him climbing Denali, the highest peak in North America, in June 2000. Grunsfeld, along with Dr. Howard Donner, (a consultant to NASA) conducted research into the effects of body temperature at high altitudes by using internal thermometers swallowed in pill form. He was able to climb to an altitude of 17,200 feet before acute altitude sickness forced him to turn back. Grunsfeld was really inspired by Edmund Hillary in mountaineering.
In June 2004, Grunsfeld returned to McKinley while on vacation from NASA and successfully led a team that summitted. He is the only astronaut to have climbed all the way to the top of Denali.