“The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size.”
I learned about the Dawn spacecraft that would use ion propulsion to study two asteroids, Vesta and then Ceres, and stream the information back to earth. The scientist spoke about spiral orbits and slingshot moves as if it was everyday stuff. OK, maybe it was to him, but to me, it felt like my brain was scrambling to find new cells to absorb everything. And that was just the beginning of the day.
More than a dozen speakers took the time out of their busy workdays to share their knowledge and excitement about their projects. It was so awesome that “awesome” doesn’t begin to describe it.
Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, the original explorers of our solar system, were presented, with a great graphic that showed just how far it is to the end of our solar system. 16+ light years away, they’ve been moving away from Earth since 1977 and they’re still going, transmitting bits of data back to JPL. As the program manager spoke, a replica of Voyager, down to the Golden Record, was sitting to my left. Now *that* is a cool auditorium.
Aquarius, the Earth-orbiting mission to study water and salinity, came complete with a demonstration of how global warming works by heating a balloon filled with air and watching it burst, then seeing the same flame not cause a water-filled ballon to blow up. Water absorbs heat better than air, that was the lesson, but I have to admit the balloon demo was cool all on its own. My high school science class was never like that, sadly.
We heard about GRAIL, the twin spacecraft that would map the moon more closely than ever before and Juno, soon to start its five-year trip to Jupiter, my favorite planet. Forget Star Trek, this is a real five-year mission, one tiny little spacecraft crossing most of the solar system to get to the gas giant. In the Visitor Center, I got to hold a model of Juno, which was a thrill hard to explain.
And here’s everyone without the paper…
For one special day, all of us were treated to insider’s view of JPL and NASA projects and it’s something I’ll remember forever. I’ll remember how as projects were presented, the back of the auditorium would fill up with team members, wanting to see what we thought of their work, excited to share it with us. I’ll remember the rock-star standing ovation given to John Casani, who’s been working at JPL since the 1950s on everything from Pioneer and Mariner to Galileo, Voyager, and Cassini and the surprise on his face as the whistles and cheers lasted more than a minute. I’ll remember seeing a moon rock from a foot away, looking down at Mission Control, and seeing people who make scientific discoveries and then figure out ways like NASA Eyes to share them with the rest of us.
Most of all, I’ll remember that this one day expanded my world from our Moon where Grail has now finished the initial mapping work, to Mars, home to two Rovers and soon to Curiosity, on to the asteriod belt where Dawn is now finishing up the investigation of Vesta before turing to Ceres; to Saturn where Cassini still toils, on to Jupiter where Juno is headed, and all the way to the edge of our solar system where the Voyagers continue on where we can only dream of going ourselves some day.
Bonus Content: Here’s a boatload more pictures from that day…
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