Saturday, September 13, 2008

Boarding the Gould

Today was a day for last minute purchases in Punta Arenas and for meeting our boat. After we were issued the parkas, raingear and other clothing the the US Antarctic Program issues all participants, we boarded the R/V Laurence M. Gould. At 230 feet long, the Gould is a big red boat. She has double hulls and is strengthened to travel through ice. Her primary task, apart from supplying Palmer station, is transporting scientists on month-long scientific fishing cruises through the Southern Ocean.

Aboard we tried out the life boats and were assigned our cabins. My cabin, shared with Kelly, is on the starboard side, closest to the bow. This is a great location if the seas are calm but could be uncomfortable if the seas are big. We haven't heard anything from the captain on the weather yet but 30-60 foot seas are typical across the Drake Passage.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Punta Arenas Chile

After a connection in Santiago, Chile, we have arrived in Punta Arenas, Chile, the southernmost city in the world. We will be here long enough to collect our extreme cold weather gear and then will sail past the tip of South America to Antarctica.

Punta Arenas is a grand place with beautiful Spanish architecture and exploration history dripping from the street lights. Ernest Shackleton reached Punta Arenas and 1916 and it was from here that he launched his successful rescue attempts to Elephant Island.

There is an impressive monument in the central square and, according to legend, rubbing the toe of the one of the figures on the base of the statue is said to bring calm seas in the Drake Passage - the open water beyond Cape Horn that is legendary for huge seas and wind. I'm pretty sure everyone in the group has given the toe a good rub.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Saying Goodbye

This was my last day at work at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena and also the last day I was in California prior to leaving.

I thought it would be a good chance to look back at the projects I've been involved with in my career. Working at JPL so far has been a complete joy to me and I'm immensely proud of the projects I've had the opportunity to be involved with. Just getting to work at JPL has been a dream come true and then having such interesting project to contribute to has just made it better. I am taking a 7 month leave of absence but then I'm looking forward to getting back and getting involved at JPL again.

The first project I was involved in was Cassini-Huygens which arrived at Saturn in 2004 after an amazing voyage through the extended F and G rings. Cassini's mission is to study the Saturnian system, making close flybys of the rings and many moons. It carried the European Huygen's probe which descended into Titan's atmosphere in 2005. Cassini has made a number of remarkable discoveries including the three new Saturnine moons, giant lakes on Titan and ice volcanos on Enceladus. In addition to the scientific data, Cassini has returned reams of gobstoppingly gorgeous images. I chose four of my favorites and copied them below. See Casini's home on the web for more:

I worked in the Cassini Spacecraft Engineering Office as a sequencing engineer in 2000 and 2001.

The images are: 1. Taken in October 2005, the moon Dione outlined beautifully against the face of Saturn. The thin outlines of the B and C rings are visible. Cassini was almost even with the ring plane at the time. 2. Taken in 2006, Saturn against its rings. 3. Taken in 2006, Titan and Enceladus seen against the ring plane. 4. Taken in 2006, Water Geysers on Enceladus.

In 2001 and 2002 I worked on the Spitzer space telescope. Spitzer is an infrared telescope which gives it the ability to look through the dust around young stars to see galaxies as they form and give insight into planetary formation. Spitzer also returns stunningly beautiful images. All of them are false color, with the colors assigned by scientists. I put two of my favorites below. Spitzer can be found at:

The images are: 1. The Pleides, also named as the Seven Sisters, a very young star cluster located in the Taurus constellation. The image was taken in 2007. 2. The Pinwheel Galaxy. What's particularly interesting about this image is that it shows that organic compounds, present elsewhere, are nearly absent near the edge of the galaxy. This suggests that habitable planets will be found central to galaxies.

In 2003 and 2004, I was one of the design teams leads for a future mission called Terrestrial Planet Finder(TPF). TPF will be able to deteect the signatures of water and life processes in the atmosphere of extrasolar planets. Below is a sketch of what the telescope might look like:

Starting in 2006, I have been an engineer on the Kepler telescope mission. Kepler is designed to provide the first survey of solar-type stars for earth-like planets. Kepler is currently undergoing final testing at Ball Aerospace and will launch in April 2009. Of everything I have worked on so far at JPL, I think I am most proud of the work that will be done by Kepler. It will rewrite our understanding of galaxies and our place in the universe. Being on the team has been like being part of a small and extremely smart family. In addition to the engineering work, Kepler has also afforded me the opportunity of doing public speaking and outreach, soem of it in colloboration with JPL artist-in-residence Dan Goods. The pictures are of the telescope as it is today and some public events .

That wraps up the review of the projects I'll be saying a temporary" goodbye" to at JPL. There are also people to say goodbye to. My project manager on Kepler, Jim Fanson threw me a nice going away party at JPL and my coworker Roberta threw me a lovely dinner party. Thank you Jim and Roberta !

And finally, I'll be saying a temporary goodbye to my dog, Summer. Although huskies were used by the American, Australian, British and other bases as recently as the 1990s, the Antarctic conservation act now strictly prohibits all introduced plants or animals.

I'll miss you Summer, take care and have fun while I'm gone.