Mad Scientess Jane Expat (nanila) wrote,
Mad Scientess Jane Expat

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Cassini End of Mission events, Part 2 of ?

On Wednesday morning, [personal profile] emelbe and I saddled up and drove over to the Jet Propulsion Lab for a tour. We put her trusty sat nav on, and I noticed that instead of a car, the little icon was an x-wing. She turned the audio on. “Driven well you have,” said Yoda. “In a quarter of a mile, turn left. It is your destiny.”

It was decided that it was fitting for Yoda to be allowed to direct us to JPL.

JPL tour badge with Curiosity on the front. We got to keep these.

Some of my colleagues from RPWS (the radio & plasma wave instrument) waiting for the tour to begin. Bonus game: guess which ones are French!

There were banners for the Cassini Grand Finale up all over campus. This one is in the courtyard outside the science building, where I used to work, and go for a coffee in the mornings.

We filed into the Pickering Auditorium, next to the Flight Projects Center, to watch a short and slightly dated film about the Solar System, narrated by Harrison Ford. I have to admit that I was a little distracted whilst watching it, because the first scientist to appear in it, to talk about Mercury, was Claudia Alexander. She died of cancer, when in her fifties, a couple of years ago. I only met her a few times, but it was sufficient to discern that she was an absolutely delightful human being as well as a successful researcher. Despite my relatively small stature on the Cassini team, she always remembered my name. My eyes filled with tears when she appeared and they never quite cleared up.

Our next stop was the Mars Rover test facility.

I used to come here occasionally at lunch when I worked at JPL. Keep in mind this was back when they were testing Spirit and Oppy. (I’m getting old.) In those days pretty much the entire floor was covered in red rock and dust, but a couple of years ago, the engineers got fed up with constantly cleaning pulverised dust out of everything, and switched to the current setup. This has a contained pit filled with crushed garnet that apparently does an acceptable job of simulating most Martian terrain, and also features a nice swathe of clean linoleum so they can actually pull test vehicles out of it and do work on them without having to spend half a day dragging them somewhere else and cleaning them off.

I was happy to see that whatever the vehicle they’re currently testing, they still use Marvin the Martian as a calibration target.

We then traipsed up the hill to Mission Control. This building is tucked away behind the much more impressive edifice that is Building 180 (where the pomp and circumstance usually takes place at JPL). Mission Control had been redone in the eleven years since I last visited JPL, so I was chuffed that we were going to be allowed in.

Entering the building. Note the “Limited Area” sign on the right.

“Space Flight Operations Facility has been designated a national historic landmark. This building possesses national significance in commemorating the history of the United States of America. 1985, National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior.”

We filed into the operations room, where we got to sit at the desks of the flight team on the condition that we touch nothing.
The view from “my” (one of the Thermal guys’) desk. The big screen shows one of the Deep Space Network’s 70-metre antennas. You can also see into the depths of the showy bit of Mission Control.

You’d better believe it was Selfie Central in there!

Don’t you worry, I got mine too.

Sun Microsystems, oh yes.

Everyone keeps their kit super-shiny.

Call it in.

I don’t know how well it can be seen, but in the centre-left of this image is a set of three digital clocks with white digits on a black background. The top clock is UTC, the bottom clock is time since Juno JOI (Jupiter Orbiter Insertion) and the middle one is the Cassini Plunge countdown: 1 day, 18 hours, 18 minutes and 40 seconds when I took the photo.

You can also see where the Voyager ACE (mission controller) sits. People have been occupying that chair nearly continuously for forty years. Is that not a delightful thought?

In the foyer, where there is a model of Cassini suspended from the ceiling, [personal profile] emelbe took what is now in my top five favourite photos of me of all time. I am pointing at the most important instrument on board Cassini and wearing my serious face.

Our final stop was the Spacecraft Assembly Facility or SAF building. I don’t think this has changed since I last visited it. It is pretty much just a gigantic clean room.

Sign directing visitors up the stairs to the viewing gallery.

It is big.

Very big. But, as it turns out, not actually big enough for the Cassini spacecraft, which had to be assembled in a different, even larger building.

I spent a lot of time peering out the end window of the viewing gallery in the company of a small girl with a comfort-pillow. We were the only two to spot the person who climbed up the ladder to a small platform and then fished up their bucket after themselves. (The version of this video on Instagram is better but I can’t figure out (a) how to embed that here or (b) how to get the darn thing to back itself up to Flickr even though all my IG photos do automatically.)

We meandered slowly back toward reception - and the gift shop. We may not have quite cleaned the place out of Cassini swag, but we certainly gave it a go.

Yoda took us back to Caltech, and thence to the flat, where another afternoon spent horizontal was necessitated due to illness-related weakness. Nevertheless, the tour was definitely worth the expense of precious energy.

This entry was originally posted at The titration count is at comment count unavailable.0 pKa.
Tags: caltech, cassini, cassini grand finale, feelings so many feelings, los angeles, milestone, photo, space, swag, travel, vanity

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