Jim Odom served as project manager on the Hubble Space Telescope from 1983 to 1986. As the world celebrates Hubble’s 25th anniversary, Mr. Odom shared some of his experiences on the project.
Photonics Tech Briefs: What was the biggest technical challenge you faced during your tenure as project manager?
Jim Odom: I would put the pointing system at the top. The requirement to point at .067 arc seconds and then hold it there while it was in orbit around the Earth was a pretty tough requirement.
PTB: When the Challenger accident happened in 1986, Hubble’s planned launch was cancelled. What impact did that have on your life?
Odom: It was pretty significant. I had pretty well fulfilled my commitment on Hubble, and it was obviously going to have to stand down for a while until the shuttle was ready, so I headed to the engineering organization at Marshall Space Flight Center. For 11 years I was the project manager for the external tank on the shuttle. So when that happened, it was a tremendous blow to all of us to lose that first one. It’s the kind of thing that impacts you all your life.
PTB: During that time, NASA made upgrades and enhancements to the Hubble. What effect did they have on Hubble’s performance?
Odom: They did a good number of upgrades to the computer systems, to the software systems, to the ground systems, and to some of the pointing and technical systems on the spacecraft itself. So they took good advantage of that three-year stand-down.
PTB: You retired from NASA in 1989, shortly before Hubble launched. What was your reaction when you heard about the critical error in Hubble’s optics?
Odom: It was disappointing to us. When I took over the Hubble, the mirror was already built and in storage so the mirror, from my standpoint, wasn’t a concern because it was there waiting on the rest of the spacecraft to get built around it at Perkin-Elmer.
But the beauty of it was that we had some very good people that could take the data from the first images that it took in orbit, and could deduce very accurately what was needed to correct the optics and the whole optical chain, including the big mirror. They had the data then to build, basically, the prescription for the glasses that they put on it to correct the error in the mirror.
PTB: Are you surprised that Hubble has continued to perform so well more than ten years beyond its forecasted life expectancy?
Odom: Yes. To think of how much extra time we spent on the ground and how old some of the hardware was, the one that surprised me the most was the life of the batteries. We went to the nickel-hydrogen batteries not long before we launched, so we took a risk, and I really worried about that. Because I just knew [on] the first servicing mission we would change out the batteries. But instead they lasted 15 or 18 years. We were just talking about this with Gene Oliver, who was the chief engineer on Hubble through the development. To the best of his knowledge, we still had almost all of the redundancy in the systems that we launched with. In other words, we’ve had to go to very few, if any, of the backup systems onboard, which is really pretty phenomenal to have been up there now 25 years.
PTB: Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
Odom: It was probably one of the most difficult, but one of the most rewarding and most exciting projects I’ve run. And the people I was associated with at Goddard, at JPL, and the [Hubble] working group were all phenomenal people. They were some of the most capable people I’ve come in contact with throughout my career. All the programs I’ve worked on have been rewarding, but Hubble has been especially rewarding just because of the performance and the life that its had.
To listen to a downloadable podcast of the complete interview, visit www.techbriefs.com/pod315.