Press Release

2004 Van Biesbroeck Prize Awarded to Doxsey

By SpaceRef Editor
January 17, 2004
Filed under ,

Citing “his outstanding, unselfish dedication to making the Hubble Space
Telescope one of the most scientifically productive telescopes of all
time,” the American Astronomical Society (AAS) announced that
Dr. Rodger Doxsey of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore,
Md., will receive the 2004 George Van Biesbroeck Prize.

The prize “honors a living individual for long-term extraordinary or
unselfish service to astronomy, often beyond the requirements of his or
her paid position.” The announcement was made last week at the AAS
winter meeting in Atlanta, Ga. Doxsey is the second institute scientist
to win the award. The late Barry Lasker garnered the prize in 1999. The
award is named for astronomer George Van Biesbroeck (1880-1974), who
studied minor planets, comets, satellites, and double stars.

Doxsey, the head of the institute’s Hubble Mission Office, said he was
surprised at winning the award. So surprised, in fact, that he was
vacationing in Sicily when a AAS official called him with the news.

“I appreciate the recognition of the astronomy community,” said Doxsey,
who oversees Hubble’s science operations. “I really enjoy working with
the group of people here that operate Hubble, with the engineers at
NASA Goddard, and the scientists who use the telescope. There is an
enormous group of people that makes Hubble work, and I am privileged
to be part of that group, whose goal is getting the best science it can
out of Hubble.”

In its citation, the Van Biesbroeck Prize committee credited Doxsey with
helping to make Hubble a success. “The scientific success of the Hubble
Space Telescope owes much to his personal efforts over the past 22
years, including operational developments, efficiency innovations such
as the Snapshot Program, as well as the resolution of innumerable
problems and emergencies. His calm confidence and inspirational
leadership over many long hours have earned him the respect and
admiration of NASA space mission teams as well as the gratitude of the
international scientific community.”

Doxsey is one of the pioneers of the Hubble project. He arrived at the
institute in 1981, nine years before Hubble began looking at the
heavens. Riccardo Giacconi, then the institute director, and institute
astronomer Ethan Schreier recruited the young astronomer to be the
institute’s Mission Operations Scientist. Doxsey was part of the science
operations teams for the SAS-3 and HEAO-1 X-ray space observatories.
The science operations for those missions were at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, where Doxsey earned a doctorate in physics.

“When I came here 22 years ago, there were only 15 or 20 people. The
institute was just getting started,” Doxsey said. “My experience with
the X-ray satellites helped in understanding how science operations
work. But Hubble was different because it had much grander goals. It had
to have the support of the entire scientific community.”

But Hubble wasn’t destined for a smooth ride during its early years in
space. Just after launch, scientists discovered that the telescope’s
primary mirror was flawed. “When you launch any spacecraft there are
always little things that you don’t expect,” Doxsey explained. “The
mirror’s aberration was a big thing, though. NASA and the institute were
determined to figure out how to fix the problem. It was a very hectic
time. In the meantime, we took the opportunity to learn a lot of lessons
on how to run the telescope more efficiently. These lessons are still
valuable for the telescope today.”

An important moment for Doxsey occurred during the first servicing
mission in 1993, when astronauts installed the Wide Field Planetary
Camera 2 (WFPC2), which helped fix the aberration. “The most exciting
moment of my Hubble career came when we watched the first WFPC2 images
come down from the telescope,” Doxsey said. “They were wonderful.”

Institute Director Steven Beckwith credits Doxsey with helping
astronomers use Hubble to make important scientific discoveries. “We
often say that Rodger is the only living person who really understands
how the Hubble Space Telescope works. He has worked unselfishly for 22
years to make Hubble the greatest scientific facility in the world, and
I am delighted that the AAS has rewarded him with the Van Biesbroeck
prize, a most appropriate award to someone who has given his life to
enabling others to do great science. The world owes him their gratitude.”

Doxsey is currently working on another challenging problem: how to
operate the telescope on only two gyroscopes. The telescope
operates on three gyroscopes and has three in reserve. But with the next
servicing mission delayed due to the grounding of the shuttle fleet,
NASA is concerned that Hubble may have only two working gyroscopes
before astronauts make another house call.

“Our goal is to make the telescope as scientifically productive as we
can,” Doxsey said. “There are always challenges with this job. After
22 years, the job has never gotten old or has never been routine. And
any time I see a science result or a pretty picture, I get a lot of
satisfaction knowing that I played a role in making that happen.”

An electronic image and additional information are available at:
http://hubblesite.org/news/2004/03

The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) is operated by the
Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. (AURA),
for NASA, under contract with the Goddard Space Flight Center,
Greenbelt, MD. The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of
international cooperation between NASA and the European Space
Agency (ESA).

SpaceRef staff editor.