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Arthur H. Vaughan ’52 recounts launch of Hubble repair mission

Arthur H. Vaughan's memories of the Space Shuttle Endeavour's take-off at 4:27 a.m. on December 2, 1993, are filled with emotion.nasa2

“It was really a dramatic event,ˮ Vaughan said, describing in a recent interview the rockets' intense light filling up everything “as far as you can seeˮ though it was before dawn. As a optical scientist with a PhD in physics, mathematics, and astronomy, Vaughan could appreciate the astrophysics of the launch from an academic and scientific perspective.

The 1952 graduate of Salem High School also had a deeply personal stake in the Endeavour's payload. He was THE optical scientist for the Hubble Space Telescope's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, a critical instrument in the astronauts' repair mission.

After years of work with Jet Propulsion Laboratory colleagues on correcting the Hubble's vision, Vaughan said the shuttle launch was an exciting way to let go and hope for the best. “We had done all we could to build this thing correctly,ˮ Vaughan recalled. The California Institute of Technology manages the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA. “JPL is a great institution and they do things really right,ˮ Vaughan said of his employer from 1985 to 2001.

A 1990 Orlando Sentinel article, “Perfect Imperfection May Save Hubble and NASAˮ captures what was at stake for Vaughan and others involved in the Hubble Space Telescope. It begins: “Arthur Vaughan is an astronomer. In three years, he will be something else as well—a nationally recognized hero, or a man living in exile. Vaughan, who works at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is coordinating the effort to fix the ailing $1.5 billion Hubble Space Telescope.ˮ

The links that follow show how well Vaughan's design of the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 worked.

The views the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 processed from 1994 until it was replaced in 2009 exceeded all expectations and provided astronomers and other scientists with 135,000 incredible space images for study. They are collected in this Jet Propulsion Laboratory video.

This Space.com article summarizes the Endeavour astronauts' memories of the Hubble repair mission.

This 1994 NASA press release and photo announces the successful lens correction and technical advances Vaughan incorporated in the Hubble's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2.

This Jet Propulsion Laboratory webpage celebrates “the camera that saved Hubble.ˮ

This five-minute Discovery Channel video summarizes the Hubble Space Telescope's history and shows the dramatic improvement provided by the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2. The camera—with optics designed by Vaughan and installed by Space Shuttle Endeavour astronauts in December 1993—corrected for the error in the Hubble's primary mirror.

In addition to explaining what scientists have learned with the significantly improved view of distant galaxies, the Discovery Channel video has historic footage of Astronomer Edwin Hubble working at the Mount Wilson Observatory where Vaughan began his professional career as optical scientist in 1964. For the past three decades Vaughan has led efforts to operate the Mount Wilson Observatory as a non-profit organization that provides for educational astronomical studies and public access to the observatory's extraordinary telescopes.

Vaughan's account of his work correcting the optics of the Hubble Space Telescope was published in 1991 by the Journal of The British Interplanetary Society.

His breakthrough research on the magnetic activity of sun-like stars was published by SCIENCE on August 24, 1984.