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Scientist, then astronaut, now lecturer, Hoffman returns to MIT

Former astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman is now a senior  lecturer in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
Former astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman is now a senior lecturer in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
Photo courtesy / NASA

After performing five space missions as a NASA astronaut, Jeffrey A. Hoffman has returned to MIT as a senior lecturer in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Hoffman was a project scientist at the Center for Space Research (CSR) in 1978 when he was among the first group of astronauts chosen for NASA's new space shuttle program.


His first space mission was in 1985. He performed the first contingency space walk in an attempt to repair a faulty communications satellite.

During his second space flight in 1990, the crew conducted the ASTRO-1 ultraviolet astronomy mission using specialized telescopes in the space shuttle's cargo bay.

Two of Hoffman's missions, in 1992 and 1996, involved the Tethered Satellite System that was jointly developed by NASA and the Italian Space Agency to demonstrate the generation of electricity from tethered satellites.

On his fourth space flight, in 1993, Hoffman participated in the first Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission. Widely regarded as one of the most ambitious missions ever attempted by NASA, the astronauts restored Hubble's optical performance by adding instruments that corrected the spherical aberration problem inherent in the telescope's primary mirror when it was launched in 1990.

During his fifth flight, Hoffman became the first astronaut to log more than 1,000 hours in space aboard the space shuttle. On that same mission, MIT alumnus Franklin Chang-Diaz (Sc.D. 1977) became the second.

Hoffman has extensive extravehicular activity (EVA) experience, with more than 25 hours spent outside the space shuttle on four separate space walks. Only seven active NASA astronauts have more EVA experience.

"I had the satisfaction of knowing that I probably did more good for astronomy by fixing the Hubble Space Telescope than I ever would have done as a practicing astronomer," Hoffman said.


At MIT, Hoffman hopes to share his operational knowledge and spaceflight experience with students within the context of the Conceive-Design-Implement-Operate (CDIO) paradigm that the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics is pursuing to educate the next generation of engineering leaders.

"Jeffrey Hoffman is an outstanding addition to the department," said Professor Ed Crawley, head of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. "He brings extensive space flight experience that will provide valuable insights to students and faculty members alike."

Hoffman is teaching two courses: Space Systems Engineering (16.83) and Introduction to Aerospace and Design (16.00). During IAP in January, he presented three lectures on human spaceflight operations: "Entering Space," "Working in a Vacuum: Extravehicular Activity," and "Doing Science in a Human Spaceflight Environment."

He is working with Professor David W. Miller to develop astronaut training programs and procedures for the SPHERES project, a technology demonstration program at MIT's Space Systems Laboratory to test the performance of distributed satellites and automated docking systems in space using microsatellites flying in formation. Hoffman also is working with Professor Dava Newman on research involving the use of mechanical counter pressure in improved space suit technology.

Hoffman, who served as NASA's European Representative in Paris from 1997 to 2001 and helped coordinate NASA's relationship with its key European partners, hopes to get involved in the International Space Station research program.

"I think that the future of human spaceflight in our generation is on the line if we don't make good use of the space station for scientific and engineering research," Hoffman said. "Although research isn't the sole justification for building the space station, we have an absolute responsibility to make good use of it for research. I think the idea of involving universities and the user community in managing the research on the station in the way that the Space Telescope Science Institute manages Hubble space telescope research makes a lot of sense."
Hoffman's office is in Building 37, which was dedicated to astronaut Ronald E. McNair (Ph.D. 1977). McNair died in the Challenger explosion in 1986.

"Ron was a colleague and a friend," Hoffman said. "I see his name everyday when I enter the building and am glad that this building is a place where high-quality space research continues to take place."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 13, 2002.

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