Colorado, New York, Colorado, California, Colorado...this is basically what my last month has looked like. I'm happy to say the travel and long work days have been totally worth while, as my team successfully completed our Engineering Peer Review yesterday. This is an exciting time for OSIRIS-REx, as we kick off our Critical Design Review season, and in a few weeks, start the 1000 day countdown to launch. This is also an exciting time for space exploration. Our sister project, MAVEN, is set to launch next week and begin its journey to Mars, while India's Mars Orbiter Mission is already completing orbit maneuvers around the Earth to build up enough momentum to "launch" itself toward the red planet. To many people, these space missions seem like a "waste" of taxpayer money, but these missions increase our knowledge about the inner workings of the universe and tell us the story of the creation of our very own solar system. Not to mention these missions can tell us a lot about our own life on Earth.
The image you see above was released by NASA back in July. You are looking at a real image of Saturn, taken by the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft. This image was created by sewing together thousands of tiny "thumbnail" size pictures taken over a period of 4 hours. At the point this image was taken, Saturn was positioned right in front of the Sun, while the spacecraft was on the opposite side of the planet. It's like a lunar eclipse, where the moon is positioned in between the Earth and the Sun, but instead Saturn is positioned in between the Sun and the spacecraft. The importance of having Saturn backlit by the Sun means that less solar light reached Cassini's cameras and Cassini was able to capture brighter images of Saturn's rings (and otherwise faint stars and planets). The image on the below right is a scaled-in (zoomed-in) version of the same image you see above. You see that arrow pointing to a tiny white dot? That tiny white dot is the Earth & Moon. Yep, Cassini captured an image of the Earth from a distance of 100 million miles away. The image on the right is the raw thumbnail image take by Cassini that captured the Earth and the Moon. Pretty amazing to think what human knowledge can accomplish thanks to the Space industry. Somewhere on that little gleam of white light you were probably busy cooking dinner, filling your gas tank, or enjoying a glass of wine. Ever hear the saying a picture tells a thousand words???
Images courtesy of: http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov