Cassini at Saturn:
A Personal 32 Year Journey
|Steve Edberg (left), the outreach manager for the Cassini mission, and myself pose for a picture in a cleanroom at the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL). Standing in front of a full-scale mockup of the Cassini spacecraft, it is inspiring to think that this huge machine will cause a rewrite of all the astronomy textbooks in the world.|
|Another picture of the behemoth with the 4-meter diameter dish on the top. A goal of the design of this amazing machine was to have as few moving parts as possible. For that reason, the plethora of science instruments are pretty much fixed meaning that essentially the entire spacecraft must rotate to point the desired instrument at the desired target.|
|At the JPL on August 17, 1999, the big event was the Cassini Earth Flyby. Posing with me is Nancy Tashima, a very dear friend who is also the director of Onizuka Space Science Center in Kona, Hawaii. If you don't think that the JPL has a sense of humor, check out the next encounters for the two Voyager spacecraft on the billboard's upper right.|
Cassini Earth Flyby was marked by a standing-room-only press conference
at the JPL. Since Cassini contains three radioisotope thermal
generators, called RTGs and are powered by plutonium, justifiable
concern was apparent (but not at the JPL) that a navigation error or
some other problem would cause Cassini to return home dispersing is
nuclear payload into our atmosphere along the way.
Of course Cassini behaved herself and continued on her way to Saturn. This picture is at the press conference in the Von Karman auditorium at the JPL. Notice the commemorative Cassini-Huygens Earth Swingby tee shirt in the front row-right, and the countdown clock just above the tee shirt. Nancy and I have the same tee shirt in the above billboard picture as well.
|In this closeup picture of the Cassini clock, you can see that the Earth Closest Approach clock (the bottom one) has turned to zero meaning that at the moment this picture was taken, the nuclear powered Cassini spacecraft is as close to earth as it will ever get again since its launch on October 15, 1997.|
|Talking to Cassini looks like this. This computer bank is at the Goldstone Deep Space Network (DSN) near Barstow, California. Goldstone is one of three DSN sites spaced roughly 120 degrees apart around the earth (three times 120 degrees equals 360 degrees or a complete circle).|
|Behind me is a 34-meter radio dish at the Goldstone DNS site. This dish, one of many, is used to send and receive data at the speed of light across the billions of kilometers of space.|