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February 10, 1997

Key contributors to Hubble Telescope mission have UCSC ties

By Robert Irion

This week's mission to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope has a distinctly blue-and-gold flair: UCSC alumnus Steven Hawley will be one of seven astronauts aboard the space shuttle Discovery, while professor of astronomy and astrophysics Harland Epps helped design one of the telescope's sophisticated new instruments.

Discovery is scheduled to lift off for mission STS-82 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in the predawn hours of Tuesday, February 11. During four space walks, astronauts will replace two of Hubble's observing instruments and upgrade its sensors and electronics.

Hawley, age 45, will fly on his fourth shuttle mission and his first since April 1990, when he and fellow UCSC graduate Kathryn Sullivan deployed the Hubble Space Telescope in orbit. Hawley will stay inside Discovery to operate the shuttle's 50-foot robot arm, which plucks the telescope from orbit and provides an operating platform for the astronauts as they work outside the shuttle.

Hawley earned his Ph.D. in astronomy and astrophysics from UCSC in 1977. He flew aboard Discovery in 1984 and 1990 and on Columbia in 1986. STS-82 marks a return for Hawley to NASA's active corps of astronauts, from which he "retired" in 1990 to become associate director of the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View. From 1992 to 1996, Hawley served as deputy director of flight crew operations at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Epps is one of 18 astronomers on the science team for the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS), a powerful new observing tool that promises unprecedented views of the universe. Sensitive to infrared ("heat") radiation rather than visible light, NICMOS will search for newborn solar systems around relatively nearby stars, peer into the dust-shrouded cores of galaxies, and look back in time to the primeval stages of galaxy formation in the cosmos. As its name implies, its optics will allow researchers to examine several objects at once.

Epps joined the NICMOS team in 1985 at the behest of its lead investigator, astronomer Rodger Thompson of the University of Arizona. Epps became one of the principal optical designers for the instrument, devising lenses, mirrors, gratings, and other components that would fit within the tight confines of Hubble's instrument bay.

As a reward for their work on NICMOS, Epps and his colleagues will receive substantial observing time with the instrument. Epps plans to study the inner regions of active galaxies known as "Seyfert galaxies" with his postdoctoral researcher, Nadine Dinshaw, and with future graduate students. He will receive nearly $1 million from NASA during the next five years to support his NICMOS research program.

"Our team is extremely excited that after more than a decade of work, the instrument will finally be launched and will begin to produce scientific results," Epps says. "We've designed NICMOS to take advantage of Hubble's precise optics and to provide us with views of the universe that we cannot obtain from the ground."

Epps specializes in designing high-performance optical systems for the UC Observatories/ Lick Observatory, UC Santa Cruz, and for other facilities around the world. He joined the UCSC faculty in 1989 after 24 years on the astronomy faculty at UCLA.

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