Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Discovery Program Series: Lucy (PI: Hal Levison, Southwest Research Institute, Managed by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

This post is part of a series discussing the recent NASA Discovery Program mission selections for further refinement.  From the 27 proposals submitted in November of 2014, NASA has selected 5 missions for further refinement in the next year. Part 1 of the series focused on the overview of the Discovery refinement selections and an interview with the Lead Program Scientist for the Discovery Program, Dr. Michael New. Part II focussed on the Psyche Mission (PI: Linda Elkins-Tanton, Arizona State University, Managed by JPL). Part III will focus on the NEOCam Mission (PI: Amy Mainzer, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Managed by JPL).  Part IV will focus on the Lucy Mission (PI: Hal Levison, Southwest Research Institute, Managed by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center).

Mission Overview: Lucy

Lucy is a survey of the Trojan asteroids.  Because of their location near Jupiter's orbit, Trojans are a unique resource for deciphering the history of the outer Solar System, which includes the formation of the giant planets and Kuiper belt, planet migration, and delivery of volatiles to the terrestrial planets.  Theories predict that these objects formed throughout the outer planetary system and were captured in their current orbits as the planets grew and moved around. This is evidenced by the fact that we see three distinctly different types of objects in the Trojan swarms. Thus, in order to truly understand what these objects are telling us about the history of the Solar System, we must survey this diversity - Lucy is designed to do just that.  Lucy will flyby at least 4, and probably 5, Trojans covering all the known spectral types in both the L4 and L5 swarms.  It will visit the largest member of a catastrophic collisional family, thereby supplying vital clues about accretional process.  It will also study a near-equal mass binary, which may be a rare survivor from the first generation of planetesimals.  Lucy's payload includes a high resolution panchromatic camera (based on New Horrizon's LORRI), a color imager and NIR spectroscopic mapper (based on New Horrizon's Ralph), and Thermal IR spectrometer (based on OSIRIS-REx's OTES).



Lucy: Deputy PI Cathy Olkin and PI Hal Levison 
About the Mission PI (Hal Levison):

I took a circuitous path in my career. As an undergraduate and early graduate student I was mainly interested in becoming an instrumentalists for large telescopes.  My first publication was as an undergraduate in Byte magazine where I developed an early, automated photometer.  As a graduate student at The University of Michigan, I pursued degrees in both astronomy and electrical engineering (which I never completed) and helped develop the electronics for Michigan's new 2.4 meter being constructed on Kitt Peak. I was soon seduced by theory and developed an interest in dynamics and computer simulations. My 1986 dissertation studied the orbits of stars in elliptical galaxies.  My two postdocs spanned my interests.  From 1986 to 1988, I had an NRC fellowship at NASA Ames studying galaxy dynamics with N-body codes. From 1988 to 1991, I was developing CCD control and reduction software at the US Naval Observatory/Flagstaff.  While at the USNO, I had access to what at that time was the world's largest CCD, which I used to perform an early search for the Kuiper belt.  That got me interested in the dynamical evolution of the Solar System, and I have been working in that field ever since.  After a brief stint at the Naval Observatory in DC, I joined the Southwest Research Institute in 1992. My research there has involved performing large-scale numerical simulations of the formation and evolution of the Solar System. Perhaps I am best known as an author of the Nice model.  I recently have been active in the development of the pebble accretion model of planet formation.  Lucy is my first space mission.

About the Mission Deputy PI (Cathy Olkin):

I also took a circuitous path. I studied Aerospace Engineering at both MIT and Stanford then joined the Jet Propulsion Laboratory working on navigation and orbit determination for a number of missions including Cassini.  Motivated by the exciting science of the Cassini mission, I decided to go study planetary science and obtained a PhD (in 1996) based largely on airborne astronomical observations to study the atmosphere of Triton. From there, I worked at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona investigating the rings of Saturn and using the Hubble Space Telescope data to measure the mass ratio of Charon to Pluto. In 2004, I joined Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado where I am currently the Deputy Project Scientist for the New Horizons mission to Pluto.  I am also the Co-Principal Investigator for Ralph instrument on New Horizons, a visible imager and infrared imaging spectrometer. In addition to these technical responsibilities, I have managed the day-to-day operations of the New Horizons mission at Southwest Research Institute including budgets, schedules, and personnel. Beyond these mission responsibilities, I am actively involved in ground-based astronomical observations including stellar occultations.  I was part of the team that successfully observed the stellar occultation of one of the largest Trojan asteroids and its satellite, Patroclus and Menoetius which are targets of the Lucy mission.

Interview with PI (Hal Levison) and Deputy PI (Cathy Olkin):

What previous mission experience do you have?

PI Levison: Lucy is my first mission.  Over the last decade or so, my research into the formation and dynamical evolution of the Kuiper belt and outer planets has driven me to conclude that that theory is outpacing the data, and the best way to advance our understanding of these topics is to take a closeup look at the small body population that survived these processes – the Trojan asteroids.  My background has given me the knowledge base to design a science program that can directly address the most pressing issues.   Fortunately, working at SwRI has allowed me to construct a world-class team of individuals, including my DPI Cathy Olkin, with the ample experience in mission management, design, and implementation. This combination of talent has designed an exciting mission that will be able to address some of the leading questions in planetary science.

DPI Olkin: My most significant mission experience has been on New Horizons.  I have been working on New Horizons for more than a decade having joined the team during development.  I was fortunate to get to work on the Ralph instrument (a visible imager and near-infrared imaging spectrometer) during build and test. After launch, I had a number of different roles on the team including PM for the Ralph instrument, Co-Investigator on the Science Team, liaison between the science team and the EPO team, a core member of the Pluto Encounter Planning team, Director of the Office of the PI, and eventually Deputy Project Scientist. It has been very satisfying to see the mission from these different perspectives, from financials to instrument command checking.

What has been your career steps to this point?  Had you always wanted to be a mission scientist?

PI Levison: My career steps have been driven primarily by scientific interest.  Most people in our field could probably make much more money doing something else.  We do what we do because we love it and curiosity drive us to do it.  My advice is to peruse your passion.  If that leads you to a mission, that is great.  If not, that is great too.

DPI Olkin: My career path was not straightforward. At first, I wanted to be an aerospace engineer and I worked in that field for a while.  Then I decided I wanted to be a planetary scientist and spent years as a planetary astronomer observing from telescopes both small and large across many continents.  When I had the opportunity to work on New Horizons, I jumped at the chance and it worked out great because it used the skills I had developed both as an engineer and a scientist.

What are your next steps and main challenges moving forward?

PI and DPI: Our next steps are to make Lucy a great mission that is selected for the next Discovery mission.  We have a great team and we look forward in making Lucy a reality.

What advice would you give to a new comer in the field looking to go into mission work?

PI and DPI: We always encourage people to follow their passions.  If you really want to work on spacecraft missions, there are many ways to do that. It takes people from many different disciplines to make a spacecraft mission successful.  Given the audience here are astronomers, probably most people would want to work as a mission scientist or as a member of an instrument team.  Mission scientists are chosen because they have some expertise to lend to the mission, so once again follow your passion and become the expert and this will open up possibilities and even if you don’t end up doing mission work, you are doing something you love.

What is it like to work on soft money?

PI Levison: This is the most common question I get from young scientists, and, although it is not directly related to missions, I think that it is worth addressing it here.  The fact that NASA's unmanned planetary missions require the support of an active and productive scientific community has led to the development of a long-term soft-money community.  I have been a member of that community since arriving at SwRI in 1992.  I have never really considered a faculty position. Being on soft-money has allowed me to peruse research full-time.  Interruptions due to  teaching and administration have basically been nonexistent.  However, it requires a personality that is not adverse to risk.  I know many excellent scientists who would be paralyzed by the stress and uncertainty of soft-money.  However, if you are not afraid of risk, and remember that R&A selection rates are near 20%, soft-money can be a rewarding career path.

Was it worth it to spend more than a decade on one mission?

DPI Olkin: Most definitely! I have been working on New Horizons for more than a decade.  It has been very satisfying to be a part of this effort from hardware on the ground, through launch and the long voyage across the Solar System.  Even as we were flying for 9.5 years, there was important work to do planning our Pluto encounter and sheparding the spacecraft and instruments safely to Pluto.  The flyby of Pluto was very exciting being the culmination of years of work.  One other highlight about working on one project for so many years has been the great sense of teamwork.