Brent Barbee returns to the show to talk about deflecting asteroids. He explains how an asteroid might react to an impact, and also talks about the proposed DART mission, which would change the orbit of a small asteroid moon.
Mario Cabrera tells us about the specialized detectors used in professional telescopes. He talks about how he’s helping to develop new detectors that don’t require coolant and provide more science for less money. He talks about the ways a detector is tested, and how he’s walked through miles of waist-deep snow (both ways!) in the name of science.
Cassini’s spacecraft operations team manager, Julie Webster, stops by the show to reflect on Cassini. We chat about the time Cassini dove through Titan’s atmosphere, how Julie monitored thousands of channels of telemetry at once, and how she’s happy that she doesn’t have to spend her time thinking through worst-case scenarios (or “awfulizing”) now that the spacecraft is no more.
Julie's view of her desktop while she was monitoring Cassini's telemetry.
Credit: Julie Webster
Cassini's loss of signal, as described by Julie on the show.
Professor Jay McMahon stops by the show to explain the YORP effect and how it changes asteroid spins and shapes. He also describes his NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) project that is investigating the use of soft robots to explore rubble-pile asteroids.
Image: Artist’s impression of an asteroid breakup. NASA/JPL-Caltech
Dr. Raymond Francis talks about a rock-vaporizing laser and the software that controls it. He describes how he and colleagues programmed a computer to make choices like a geologist would, allowing the Curiosity rover to do more science on Mars.
Also be sure to check out the podcast Western Worlds, for more interviews with space scientists.
Dr. Norna Robertson shares a drink from her home country and talks about a specific part of LIGO. She explains that LIGO’s eighty-pound mirrors are suspended by four, incredibly thin, silica fibers that were developed just for this project.
Eric Rice talks about systems engineering and we drink what turns out to be the most disgusting beverage yet. He talks about what it is like to control a spacecraft, and explains why predicting what can go wrong with a spacecraft is a lot simpler than predicting what can go wrong at a wedding.
Dr. Sona Hosseini talks about spectroscopy, a technique that allows scientists to determine what celestial bodies are made of. She’s developing new spectrometer that will allow her to look at an entire planet, or comet, all at once.
Project Manager Suzy Dodd tells us about the continuing missions of the Voyager spacecraft. These spacecraft are still collecting unique and valuable data, and Suzy explains how engineers hack the spacecraft to extend their lifespan.
Jon Giorgini talks about JPL’s Horizons, an amazing, publicly available system that keeps track of every known object in the solar system. Planets, moons, asteroids, spacecraft, you name it: over 715,000 in total. We discuss how this system is used by engineers, scientists, lawyers, art fans, and marine biologists.
Dr. Lisa Storrie-Lombardi talks about the Spitzer Space Telescope. She tells us how Spitzer made the first observation of light from a planet outside our solar system. She also describes how engineers are constantly innovating, letting Spitzer make better and more sensitive observations.
Dr. Kimberly Litchtenburg explains what it is like to explore Mars with the Curiosity rover. It involves daily discussions with scientists, careful programming, and sometimes, fantastic discoveries, like the discovery of a stream bed that once had enough water “to splash around in”.
The James Webb Space Telescope is the biggest astronomy project in the world right now. It’s an amazingly complex robot, and some of its sensors need to be kept cool. Dr Kris Stone talks about the cooling system, and how it will be tested during the longest continuous test ever conducted at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The New Horizons mission revealed Pluto's jaw-dropping vistas and geophysical mysteries. One listener wanted to know why the spacecraft didn't go into orbit around Pluto. Tom Spilker, interplanetary travel expert, tells us the answer.
Tom made some slides to accompany this podcast! You can download them here:
Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the successful deployment of a probe into Jupiter's atmosphere, this episode is a series of interviews with the engineers who worked on this challenging, historic mission. Image: "Galileo Probe - AC81-0174" by NASA Artwork by Ken Hodges.