“To Infinity And Beyond”
Ed Weiler’s work on the Hubble Space Telescope allows views of the universe.
It’s been five years since Ed Weiler has worked for NASA and he’s just found a box of videotapes of interviews he did with “Good Morning America” and “60 Minutes” over his 33-year career. “These were before the days of DVDs,” he tells me. They were before the days of Mars rovers and the Hubble Space Telescope, too. There’s a whole world in that box – an ever-expanding world – largely thanks to Weiler’s work and more specifically to his words. As one of NASA’s most prominent voices during a time of exponential growth, Weiler often explained highly technical missions in an everyday way, so everyone could grasp the vastness of the universe.
At one time – long before VHS tapes – Weiler’s purpose and perspective were considerably more limited. Growing up in a tough inner city neighborhood in Chicago, he had to think on his feet. “The only way you ended up staying alive was learning how to communicate,” he says. So he learned to survive the streets and found solace in the sky. When he was 11, his father bought him a mail-order, cardboard tube telescope with a one-inch lens. “I remember seeing craters on the moon,” he says. “You’ve got to understand the time frame, the 1950s. There were three channels on TV. There was no computer, no Internet, no iPhones. What entertainment did you have other than looking at the sky?”
When his dad bought him a “real telescope” for Christmas – a 2.4-inch refractor with a lens – he saw as far as the moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn, prompting him to check out books on building a telescope. The following summer he built a 100-pound, 4-foot-long instrument with a 6-inch reflector. By the age of 13, Weiler had determined his life’s direction: he would be an astronomer, he would go to Northwestern University and he would work for NASA.