CHHS grad honored for work on Hubble telescope

Dr. Rodger E. Doxsey. Photo courtesy of the CH-UH City School District.

Dr. Rodger Evans Doxsey will be among those inducted into the Cleveland Heights High School Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame on May 6. Doxsey, an astronomer known by his colleagues as "the heart and soul of the Hubble," was a 1965 graduate of CHHS.

His interest in mathematics and physics took him to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned his doctorate as prelude to a lifelong career in guiding the Hubble mission to explore far distant galaxies from the Space Telescope Science Institute near Baltimore.

"He understood this observatory from top to bottom, and knew it like few others out there," said Kenneth Sembach, a project scientist at the institute. Doxsey started work on the mission a decade before the launching. At the time, NASA lacked a good plan for enabling astronomers to use the telescope. That became Doxsey’s job.

He was responsible "for all the work necessary to support the science operations, planning and scheduling, the calibration of the data, . . . all the commanding necessary to tell the instruments what they needed to do," Dr. Sembach said.

Doxsey became a master of the complex computer program that actually runs the telescope on a minute-to-minute basis. In the early days, "when the spacecraft was crabby and cranky," said Tod Lauer of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, Doxsey was adept at getting it to work.

"In simpler terms," Lauer continued, "he figured out how to get the trains to run on time, during a period when it wasn’t quite clear if the train was even on the track."

For his services, Doxsey received the Distinguished Public Service Medal from NASA in 1991. In 2004, for "his outstanding, unselfish dedication to making the Hubble Space Telescope one of the most scientifically productive telescopes of all time," he received the Van Biesbroeck Prize from the American Astronomical Society.

Doxsey died in October 2009 after a long battle with cancer. Even while ill, his dedication to Hubble found him in the control room during the final repair mission—which is depicted in the IMAX film, "Hubble," showing at the Great Lakes Science Center through the end of May.

Scientists will rely on Hubble's revelations for years as they continue in their quest to understand the cosmos — a quest that has attained clarity, focus, and triumph through Doxsey’s role in the Hubble legacy. His part in showing us the universe in unparalleled detail make him an outstanding role model for CHHS students.

Evan Komito, CHHS '65 currently resides in Cleveland Heights after a 35-year hiatus on the east coast.

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Volume 3, Issue 5, Posted 12:51 PM, 04.10.2010