Meet Dawn's Science Operations System Engineer for the Dawn Mission, Carol Polanskey.The following interview is a written interview conducted by the Outreach team at Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL)
What is your job description at JPL related to Dawn?
I am the Science Operations System Engineer. This means that I am part of the interface between the instrument teams at their remote locations and the Project at JPL. I share this role with the Dawn Science Center at UCLA, which is the hub for science sequence planning and other instrument activities. I am also the connection between the Project at JPL and the Dawn Science Center. I am responsible for making sure that all of these different organizations function together in the flight operations environment. I also have a technical role in leading the instrument post-launch checkout activities and developing instrument contingency plans.
Now that Dawn has launched, what are the most critical aspects of your job in the next several months?
The most critical aspect of my job in the next few months is to conduct the series of instrument tests and calibrations scheduled for the first 80 days after launch and before Dawn begins thrusting to Vesta. Some of these tests were developed before launch and are well understood and tested, but others are only being planned now. It is vital that the instrument teams get a good initial calibration set to help them characterize their instrument performance at the beginning of the mission. In preparation for the decreased levels of flight team staffing in the long cruise period, which begins 80 days after launch, I also have to insure that we have fully documented all of our approaches and procedures for science operations developed over the last several years. We need to be able to retain that information until we need it again on our approach to Vesta.
Describe your feelings during and after the launch of the Dawn spacecraft?
I was very fortunate to be able to experience the Dawn launch with my family at Cape Canaveral. It was my second recent trip to the Cape since I had been there in July as well. Having gone through the first aborted launch attempt I was somewhat reserved this time, preparing myself for a long wait through possible weather-related delays. I had told my daughter's teacher that we could potentially be gone until October 15th. I was also sad because many of my family members who had been at the Cape in July could not make it for the September launch. A group of team members visited the rocket late the evening of September 26th to watch the gantry being rolled back and to say our final farewells. It was very cloudy so I had my doubts about the next morning. But when we walked out of the hotel at 4:30am, the sky was absolutely clear, and for the first time in months I began to think that this launch might actually happen. As we rode to the viewing site in the buses, the excitement of the crowd began to grow. The turning point was stepping off the bus and hearing the launch count-down coming from the loudspeakers. The sunrise was incredibly beautiful and it felt more and more like the perfect day for Dawn. Of course, I was very emotional as the rocket finally took off. It is somewhat like childbirth, sending your spacecraft off into the unknown - it is an awesome experience. Then after a few moments my thoughts went immediately to wondering when we would see some data. A group of us rushed back to the hotel and set up our laptops to be ready to receive the first telemetry. My greatest sense of relief and joy that day was finally seeing the screens light up with real data letting us know that we had a healthy spacecraft with deployed solar arrays. We all cheered and toasted the event. The crowd in the hotel lobby continued to grow as we poured over every bit of telemetry trying to figure out exactly how we were doing in the sequence of planned events. In my 19 years at JPL, this was only my 2nd launch, so I enjoyed it for as long as I could.