Monday, November 16, 2009

Today I saw Atlantis Launch

I started working at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center as a part-time grad student researcher in 1992. Over the years I have transitioned from planetary geology to science education at NASA. As an education and outreach lead I've seen three spacecraft launched from Kennedy Space Center - MESSENGER on a Delta II in 2004, New Horizons on an Atlas V in 2006 and LRO on an Atlas V in June. MESSENGER was a 2:30 AM launch and lit up the night sky well before the booming sound of the rocket reached us. New Horizons seemed to disappear out of site in an instant..with it's tiny payload atop the giant Atlas V. And LRO seemed to hesitate, as if it wasn't quite ready to leave the Earth.

Witnessing Atlantis was something completely different--human beings in a glider attached to multiple rockets, initially hidden behind the launch structure

Suddenly a cloud of exhaust appears- and Atlantis takes off. I am not quite prepared as the sound rolls toward me and shakes my chest-leaving a euphoric feeling behind. It is a shared feeling, we all linger watching Atlantis streak away, catching a glimpse as the tanks are ejected and the shuttle begins to curve around the Earth.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

LRO Enters Orbit Around the Moon

Early this morning the LRO spacecraft completed LOI (Lunar Orbit Insertion) ....changing LRO's trajectory so the moon captured LRO--So LRO is now orbiting the moon!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

LRO Launches!

I'm in Cocoa Beach Florida a few days after LRO's launch. The spacecraft is now on it's way to the moon. It has been quite a ride for me- I became involved in the project before there was even a spacecraft. I was asked to develop and education and outreach plan for LOLA ( Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter) to go along with Goddard's proposal for an instrument to provide detail topography of the moon. Long story short- LOLA was selected and Goddard Space Flight Center was asked to build the spacecraft to carry LOLA and the other selected instruments into orbit around the moon.

About a year later I began working with the LRO team to develop an Education and Outeach program for LRO. I worked very closely with Nancy Neal Jones who oversees the Public Affairs component of LRO. We worked closely with six other instruments selected to go on the spacecraft and developed a comprehensive plan to engage folks about our mission. It has been an incredible 5+ year ride- watching the spacecraft and instruments move from CAD drawings and requierment documents to actual hardware. Watching the spacecraft being built in one of the Goddard cleanrooms, seeing the instruments delivered and integrated into the spacecraft...going a series of tests...all to prepare for launch and lunar orbit.
About 6 months ago I got the job opportunity of a lifetime- a chance to lead education and public outreach for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. I have continued to follow LRO closely and keep track of the teams' progress to launch...completing thermal vac, shipping to the Cape, integrated into the launch vehicle and finally on Thursday late afternoon witnessing the launch in person at Bananna Creek.

It was absolutely wonderful to share this with my family, friends and colleagues from the LRO family as we shared tears of joy and immense relief when LRO lifted off during the last launch opportunity of the day. I really believe the the folks collected on those bleachers collectively willed the approaching thunderstorms to retreat so we could all send LRO on its way to the moon!