Figure 1. Comet Sliding Sprng as seen by the NEOWISE space telescope. (C) NASA
All images in this article are courtesy NASA and JPL, and are in the public domain.
Comments & Submissions ____________
NASA/JPL Comet Social and Press Conference
If you want to get right to the video presentation, here it is. http://rosetta.jpl.nasa.gov/news/comet-nasa-social
IntroductionOn Sunday, October 19, 2014, comet Siding Spring will pass closer to Mars than any comet has passed to any planet in recorded history, except for comet Shoemaker-Levy, which struck Jupiter. Around November 15, the ESA - Rosetta probe's lander Philae, will land on Comet 56P-CG. These are big events for solar system exploraion, and especially for our understanding of comets.
NASA held a "Social" event on Monday, October 13, at JPL, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, next to Pasadena, California. The invitation to apply for press credentials to this even went out on Reddit about a month ago, and on Twitter, Facebook, and several other social media, at the same time. Seating was limited, as the briefing was held in JPL's Mission Control Room. I was lucky to be one of the 2 Redditors accepted to the conference. Emily Lacdawalla, Bill Nye's number 2 person at The Planetary Society, sat in (I believe) the same chair Bobak Ferdowsi sat in, during the landing of Curiosity.
Also listed as an accepted registrant was Emma Watson, but sadly, she did not show up. I wonder how serious she is about her side-career in journalism?
There were other Redditors there. I wonder why no one has written it up before? There was
Section 1: The TourBefore the press conference, JPL gave us a tour of the facilities, similar to the NASA Open House, the weekend before. The Open House had recoer attendance, about 45,000 people total. It was jam-packed. Over 20,000 on Saturday, and over 25,000 on Sunday. I've been there a couple of times before, and the attenadce was about 15,000, ~7,000 on Saturday and 8,000 on Sunday.
First item on the tour was a visit to the ion engine testing facility.
I've written about this before, but never visited. Ion engines permit much
greater fuel efficiency, so a small spacecraft can do a lot more. During the questions
and answers, a JPL scientist, possibly John Brophy, mentioned that this
ion engine could be used for asteroid retreival, or for a Phobos/Deimos
sample return mission. Much larger ion engines are a goal, to permit
manned expeditions to Mars and the outer planets. My photos did not turn
out well, so here is a NASA file photo.
The tour was mostly interviews with engineers from various space missions. This is Kristina Larson of the Dawn Mission Software Team, at the open house the day before. I did not take pictures of the engineers during the tour, but this picture is representative. Kristina talked about driving the Dawn spacecraft, double checking commands using a copy of the spacecraft before they are sent to Dawn, and she also answered questions about the reaction wheel failure last year, and how they came up with software fixes that will allow Dawn to complete its mission.
Below is the Insight Mars lander, under construction. You may notice its resemblance to the Phoenix lander from a few years ago. That is because JPL saves a lot of money on space probes by recycling old parts and chassis. At the moment they are testing the arm, which will carefully place the sizemometer, the orange object in the foreground, on the surface.
Phoenix landed near the (North?) pole, and looked for water. Insight will land near the equator, and do geology and weather. Both are very cheap missions compared to rovers. NASA does what it can, with the money it gets. There is an advantage to doing sizemometry with a lander. A rover rolling around on rocks near by, would interfere with readings of distant Earthquakes. Mars is geologically active, and Insight will gather plenty of earthquake data over its life.
The last item on the tour was a visit to the Vehicle Assembly Building. This is the building where the Voyagers, Vikings, and the Gallileo probe to Jupiter were built. The SMAP spacecraft is an Eartyh orbiter, but it is still a rare treat to see a spacecraft ready for shipping, folded up and ready to be placed on top of a rocket, and surrounded by a fairing.
Section 2: The Presentation
After lunch, we were led back to Mission control, for the televised presentation and press conference. Here is the televised conference, a bit edited. There I am, in the front row. I'm the ugly one.
After the cameras went off, I cornered Dr. Weissman from Rosetta, and asked about the electrical conductivity of the surface of the comet. My reasoning was that grapite is dark, so could graphite be present? It turns out that the Philae lander will measure the electrical conductivity directly, by sticking wires into the comet and measuring resistance.
It also turned out that Dr. Weissman had also made this measurement indirectly with the instruments on Rosetta he is responsible for. His 500 micron and 1500 micron cameras indicate the surface has about the conductivity of granite, based on the penetration depth of the microwaves. So, no graphite. If there was graphite or another conductor like iron present on the surface, the images would be much more hard edged.
Here are some photos from Rosetta to finish.
Funny Pictures from Orbit