Space scientist Edward Weiler (WCAS71, G73, 76) lives a dream launched by an early fascination with the universe.
When he was 10, Edward Weiler’s father bought him a $4 telescope. Through it he had his first close-up glimpses of the moon.
Now Weiler (WCAS71, G73, 76), as director of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, is preparing for new views of the celestial body as part of NASA’s Vision for Space Exploration program, an initiative to explore the solar system, first with robotic, unmanned missions followed by a human return to the moon and an eventual human spaceflight to Mars.
“When NASA tries to convince workers to retire the space shuttle [scheduled to end in 2010] and stop work on the International Space Station, Weiler will have a prominent position in this new vision of returning to the moon. That’s the attitude that’s needed right now. No politics, just practicality,” says Mark Robinson, a Northwestern research associate professor of geological sciences who is participating in the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter project.
As director of the Goddard Center, Weiler oversees 8,000 scientists and engineers charged with researching the Earth, the solar system and the universe. He joined NASA’s administration after nearly 20 years as the chief scientist for the Hubble Space Telescope. From 1979 to 1998 Weiler was responsible for the scientific integrity of the Hubble program.
“I had to defend the science specifications of the telescopes from project managers who wanted to cut corners and costs by cutting back on science capabilities,” says Weiler, who helped steer the telescope through those troubled days after its 1990 launch when astronomers discovered a defect built into the telescope mirror. Astronauts corrected the defective mirrors in 1993.
Then the pictures came back.
“Hubble is the greatest tool for studying the universe since Galileo invented the telescope,” longtime Hubble supporter U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland said in a statement on the telescope’s 15th anniversary in April.
Weiler’s own interest in the heavens took off with his first childhood views of the moon and Venus. At age 12, Weiler, who grew up on Chicago’s southwest side, went to Northwestern’s Dearborn Observatory. The late J. Allen Hynek, then chair of the Northwestern astronomy department and an expert on UFOs, inspired Weiler with his thoughts on life in space.
At Northwestern, Weiler earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees and doctorate in astronomy. Weiler then joined a Princeton University research team at the Goddard Center with help from his Northwestern adviser John Bahng, associate professor emeritus of physics and astronomy. Weiler became a staff scientist at the NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., in 1978. After his work with Hubble, Weiler served as director of NASA’s Astronomical Search for Origins Program and then as an administrator for NASA’s Space Science Enterprise.
After more than 27 years at NASA Weiler remains a tireless advocate for exploration of the great beyond. Still, Weiler admits there are limits to his devotion. As a single father Weiler says he avoids travel. He limits himself to eight-hour days at the office. And when it’s time to head home for the day, he’ll tell others to take off, too. “Do your e-mailing and computer work at home,” he tells his staff. “At least the kids will know you exist.”
— Christina Dreher (J07)