Sam Durrance, who rode two space shuttles into orbit as
Johns Hopkins' first and only astronaut, has left the university
to take a job with a private telecommunications company.
After 16 years at Hopkins, the astrophysicist was honored during a sendoff last month at the Bloomberg Center for Physics and Astronomy.
"It's been an incredible 16 years," Durrance told his colleagues. "I hate to leave ... I've done things I never dreamed of, and you've been a part of that and always will be."
He officially left the university the end of August, and on Sept. 3 he began his new job as director of science and technology programs at Final Analysis Inc., in Lanham, Md.
The company is planning to build and launch a constellation of 30 low-Earth orbiting communications satellites, primarily to be used for transmitting digital data.
But Durrance will develop and market secondary payloads, which will be designed to study and monitor the Earth and its ecosystems.
The 52-year-old Durrance has cultivated a personal and professional interest in earth science after orbiting the planet so many times and seeing how fragile and alive it looks against the contrasting blackness of space.
While at Johns Hopkins, Durrance had worked on the Astro program since 1984. The Hopkins Ultraviolet Telescope, one of several telescopes making up the Astro observatory, was flown on two missions, in 1990 and 1995. But funding has dried up because the Astro program is over.
"It's sort of the end of an era," said William Blair, an astrophysicist who worked on both Astro missions. "Slowly, one person after another after another has left and gone on to bigger and better things."
During last month's reception, Durrance received the Gilman Award from Alumni Relations, and his colleagues in the Department of Physics and Astronomy gave him a large crystal-lined rock formation, known as a geode. The gift was chosen because of Durrance's fondness for earth science.
As a tribute to his contributions to the department, a poster-size photo of Durrance, taken inside the space shuttle Columbia as it orbited the Earth, will be permanently displayed in the second-floor lobby of the Physics and Astronomy building.
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