Tuesday, July 14, 2015

New Horizons

This year has been quite an interesting one when it comes to parenting. In many ways I've played the role of single parent for extended amounts of time. Why, you might ask?

Michael plays a significant role on NASA's New Horizons mission, which flew by Pluto on July 14th, 2015. He plays a few different roles. He's Payload Systems Engineer, RF Engineer and helped a lot on the REX sensor that's on board.

It's been an interesting journey for us. Michael started working on New Horizons as his first project straight out of college. He's been on the project ever since, even though he now works for a different employer. He was present to watch the launch in early 2006, when New Horizons launched as the fasted moving manmade vehicle in history. And he and the rest of the team has been patiently waiting for 9.5 years for New Horizons to reach Pluto.

9.5 years! Think about that. In fact, New Horizons was a planet when it launched and was demoted since! 9.5 years to see the fruit of your labor. WOW.

I suppose you know you really truly "made it" when Google changes their search logo to match the project you're working on. Not many people can claim a connection to that milestone.

The New Horizons team experienced a big hurdle a week before launch when their main computer went down and the system flipped to the back-up processor. They didn't get the system up and running completely until less than a day prior to encounter. 9.5 years of travel, and they nearly missed the window of opportunity by 8 or so hours!

When the day finally came, I dutifully stayed home with the girls to watch NASA TV live, not sure what to expect. We watched them countdown to the closest encounter (which actually ended up being a countdown to the wrong time, but really... 9.5 years of travel, you can expect your calculations to be only so close).

So just how far away is Pluto? Ellie tried to put it into perspective.
ELLIE: If you were to go faster than fast, faster than you can imagine, even faster than any plane, it would take you 9.5 years to get to Pluto!
ADDIE: (un-phased) Oh yeah? But how long does it take Flash to get there?
ELLEI: I think it would even take Flash 9.5 years to get there too!
ADDIE: (now her eyes are popping) WHOA!!! That **IS** far away!
(For the record, I looked it up. The Flash would take significantly longer than a measly 9.5 years to reach Pluto)

And now it takes 9 hours, round trip to send a command and receive an acknowledgement. Michael says they're communicating at 1982 modem speeds, so the data will take over a year to download. 1982 modems? Did such a thing even exist?!

Later in the day, we watched as the New Horizons team re-established communication with the spacecraft (Michael makes an appearance right around the 2 minute mark). The girls got a kick out of Daddy being on TV so much and they kept yelling at the TV "Daddy, stop clapping and wave to the camera!" or "Daddy, stop hugging that person and wave to us!" Alas, he never waved. He was too caught up in enjoying the moment. And it was a moment that he truly deserved to soak in.

1 comment:

Jen H said...

This is awesome! Somehow I didn't remember Michael worked on this. Big, big deal, and huge congratulations!