Aug. 24, 1999 When the first images from the world's most powerful X-ray telescope are released this week, no one awaits them with greater anticipation than the scientist who's spent 22 years helping make those images possible.
Dr. Martin Weisskopf of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., is the project scientist for the Chandra X-ray Observatory. Responsible for the scientific integrity of the program, he's spent every day of his life for two decades "breathing it."
On joining the project in 1977, Weisskopf took out a piece of paper and wrote his estimate when the telescope would launch: the year 2000.
"I did not expect it to go fast," he says today. "We've actually exceeded my expectations." Chandra was launched in July.
Since committing his prediction to paper, Weisskopf saw his children grow up, watched them have children, and held on to that piece of paper.
"Right now we're smiling," he says as he anticipates the first Chandra images. "Things are going very well."
The son of two lawyers from Vienna, Weisskopf grew up on the South Side of Chicago and went to college to follow in his parents' professional footsteps. Soon, however, he discovered his love of physics over law.
That preference was fueled by a discovery he made researching a term paper on quantum mechanics. A favorite uncle, he learned, was a famous scientist -- Victor Frederik Weisskopf, former Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor and director-general of the prestigious CERN European Laboratory for Particle Physics in Geneva, Switzerland.
"I've always wanted to be like my parents and my uncle and aunt," says Weisskopf. "They were of a different age. They were intellectuals, which I am not."
Martin Weisskopf found he was "really interested in astrophysics and pursuing new frontiers." Today, 30 years after receiving a doctorate in physics from Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., Weisskopf is on the verge of realizing the dream he's clung to for two-decades.
Images from the Chandra Observatory, Weisskopf believes, are vital to our understanding of the universe and basic physics. "In trying to understand the universe, we try to understand where and what the dark matter is," he said.
"And in that pursuit, we might discover some strange forms of matter that cause us to take a new look at our laws of basic physics.
"Moreover, the universe is a wonderful lab that allows us to test laws of physics that we can't test on Earth," said Weisskopf. Thousands of people have helped make the first images possible, yet the work is far from over.
"Many additional people and future scientists will make unsuspecting discoveries, broaden our scientific knowledge of physics, and write wonderful papers on their findings -- all as a result of Chandra," says Weisskopf.
Looking to the future, Weisskopf has added another piece of paper to his collection. It reads 2020 -- his estimated launch date of the next project he hopes to tackle, another great observatory still in its infancy.
Weisskopf and his wife, Mary Ellen, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, reside in the Huntsville area. Weisskopf has two children, two stepchildren and three grandchildren.
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Note to Editors / News Directors: Dr. Weisskopf will participate in the unveiling of the first images during a televised press briefing Aug. 26 at 1 p.m. EDT from NASA Headquarters in Washington D.C. He will also be available for satellite and telephone interviews following the briefing. For additional information, media representatives may contact Dave Drachlis of the Marshall Media Relations Department at (256) 544-0034. For an electronic version of this release or more information, visit Chandra's News Center on the Web at: http://chandra.nasa.gov
Dr. Martin Weisskopf's biography is available at: http://www1.msfc.nasa.gov/NEWSROOM/chandra/weisskopf.html
A photo of Dr. Martin Weisskopf is available at: http://www1.msfc.nasa.gov/NEWSROOM/news/photos/1999/photos99-196.htm
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The above story is based on materials provided by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.
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