From Our Chief Engineer
I was delighted to be asked to name my top five accomplishments for the Dawn mission in 2013. This is a very ambitious and exciting interplanetary adventure, exploring some of the last uncharted worlds in the inner solar system. Thanks to its advanced ion propulsion system, this is the only spacecraft ever targeted to orbit two extraterrestrial destinations, and it leaves behind a blue-green wisp of xenon ions as it blazes a unique trail in humankind’s efforts to know the cosmos.
2013 was an extremely successful year, and it is not easy to select only five accomplishments (especially for someone as enthusiastic and wordy as I am), but it also was gratifying to review the year. The specific activities in 2013 may not be as obviously spectacular as in some other years, in which the spacecraft left its home planet behind, swooped past Mars on its way to more distant places, maneuvered into orbit around a giant protoplanet, spiraled down to a daringly low altitude for astonishing views, or climbed away from a world it unveiled, breaking free of its gravity to journey elsewhere in the solar system. But the many accomplishments of 2013 are valuable and impressive, and it will be interesting to see what different members of the team choose for their top five. Here are mine:
Artist’s concept of Dawn thrusting with its ion engine over a view of the actual rugged surface of the giant protoplanet Vesta. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
1) Delivery of large volumes of richly detailed observations of Vesta with the science camera, the gamma-ray and neutron spectrometer, and the visible and infrared mapping spectrometer to the repository used by the scientific community (the Planetary Data System, or PDS). We went to Vesta to collect these data, and now they are available for use by scientists (and the public) around the world for generations to come, ensuring there will continue to be many wonderful discoveries about this fascinating, complex protoplanet. (The gravity measurements will be available at the PDS in 2014.) For a summary of some of Dawn’s findings at Vesta, which is more closely related to Earth and the other terrestrial planets than to typical asteroids, see the January 2013 Dawn Journal.
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