Most people know Edwin Hubble as a famed astronomer, the namesake of the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope (HST).  Most probably don't know he also starred as a forward on the University of Chicago Maroons' Big Ten-champion basketball teams in the early part of the 20th century.  

As an astronomer, Hubble showed that galaxies besides our own existed in the universe, and that the universe is expanding. These findings formed the cornerstone of the Big Bang theory of the universe's origin and opened the field of cosmology.  As a basketball player, the 6-foot-2 Hubble was a member of Chicago teams that posted records of 24-2 in 1907-08 and 10-3 in 1908-09.

Now another Chicago alumnus, astronaut John Grunsfeld, is flying into space with a century-old ball that Hubble had tossed around in a 1909 victory against Indiana University. The space shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to launch May 12 with Grunsfeld on his third mission to refurbish and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope.

Edwin Hubble, University of Chicago, circa 1910.  
Is this a track or basketball uniform?  Hard to tell.

After the mission, the even-more-famous basketball will go on display at the Gerald Ratner Athletics Center. On previous HST missions, Grunsfeld flew with the eyepiece of a telescope that Hubble had peered through at Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wis., and also the cover of Hubble's doctoral dissertation.

Grunsfeld has a keen grasp of science history.   He grew up near the University's campus on Chicago's South Side, where Nobel laureate Enrico Fermi oversaw construction of the first nuclear reactor during World War II. "I was inspired as a young man by the exploits of Enrico Fermi as a scientist and as a mountaineer in the Dolomites, and he became a role model for me," Grunsfeld said.

A physics student at the University of Chicago (PhD, 1988), Grunsfeld is a veteran of four previous shuttle missions.   Two of those involved upgrades to the Hubble Telescope.

"It's been a glorious career, and I've been incredibly privileged to fly in space and to work on the Hubble Space Telesope," Grunsfeld said.