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What about the danger?
One of my pet peeves is that to get the American public behind space exploration, NASA has deliberately downplayed the risk. That’s why there was such an outcry after the Challenger and Columbia disasters. Of course it’s risky to go into space. But we do it for the same reason that Lewis and Clark crossed the continent. The push to go out and find new places is important to humankind. If we’d had live helicopter coverage at Donner Pass, we’d have stopped exploring.

There’s been talk about a “one-way” expedition to Mars, staffed by astronauts willing to die there. What do you think?
There’d be no shortage of volunteers. But I think we’d be disappointed. Consider Lewis and Clark. We needed them to come back as well as go out.

I’d certainly like to go to Mars myself. I’d volunteer in a heartbeat. But I’d like it to be a two-way trip.

This mission to Hubble was deemed the last ever. What’s the prognosis?
It was a perfect fix. We have every expectation that Hubble will continue to operate for three to five years. And it’s within the realm of possibility that it can go on for 15 more years.

Did anything go wrong last May?
The only glitch happened when there was a distraction in the cabin. I lost focus for a minute. My backpack grazed the antenna and knocked off a “bottle cap” put on to protect it years ago. The ground crew in Houston reassured me that Hubble was still operating perfectly, but I felt bad about bonking his antenna.

“His” antenna? Sounds like you’re talking about an old friend.
When it was time to say goodbye, I laid my hand on the telescope, and I said, “Sorry, Mister Hubble.” Then I let go and whispered, “Have a good voyage.”

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