Tuesday, April 26, 2011

GOLD in Them Thar Hills


JPL Week! I won't spoil too much of the fun if you ever decide to go visit, but there is a beautiful hall of spacecrafts at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where the public can see mock-ups and scale models of the hardware designed and created by many decades worth of their scientists.

Explorer 1, anyone? Sputnik is probably a better-known name in terms of early satellites, but the first American-Sat in space was no small feat. Other gems include the Surveyor series, Cassini, MRO, Ulysses, Genesis, etc.

And if anyone can beat my new shirt for
sheer nerdity, I want to know about it!

My longtime friends here will know I harp on the Voyager Program [probably more than necessary], so it will come as no grand shock that the full-scale Voyager craft and Golden Records jumped right out at me! What a treat!

My host was kind enough to capture a photo of me in front of the gold-plated record, which I still think of as "belonging" to Carl Sagan. And didn't he capture an artful reflection? Unplanned, methinks, but aesthetically welcome... and the first time I have seen one of the copies close up!

Voyager 1 and 2 each carried discs, to serve as greetings for any intelligent life. Sagan chaired a selection committee that created a range of scientific data for the records, also visual images, video, music from varied cultures, samples of 55 languages, and sounds of nature –- such as whalesong, waves, storms, birds, a train and a Saturn V rocket launch.

The Voyagers are currently the farthest human-made objects from planet Earth. And I don't care who makes fun of them for being remnants of the disco era!

Galileo... Figaro... Magnifico!

Another full-scale museum piece is the giant Galileo craft, which claims to look very much here as it did when it orbited Jupiter, but one wonders who witnessed this, right? We'll take their word for it, as the sheer amount of thermal blanketing is so impressive.

Additional layers of dacron, mylar and kapton protected the major probe from micro-meteor hits, though from an intent look, I was most surprised at the small size of the propellant tanks! I don't precisely know why, but I always imagine them to be larger.

It is stunning to think this gorgeous gal went all the way to Jovian system in 1989, and orbited Jupiter 34 times before finally being guided into the atmosphere and destroyed in 2003.

Highlights of her hard work included the first asteroid flyby, discovery of the first asteroid moon, first direct observation of a comet collision (Shoemaker-Levy in 1994), and the first in-depth studies of Io, Europa, Callisto and Ganymede, revealing their saltwater and volcanoes.

It's no exaggeration to say that Galileo and Voyager, both in development and mission activities, truly changed the way Earthlings viewed and thought about our solar system as a whole. Go to my JPL Picasa Gallery to see close-up details and angles!