An Interview with David Blewett

Meet Dawn Participating Scientist David Blewett
The following interview is a written interview conducted by the Outreach team at Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL)
Dawn's Deputy Principal Investigator, Carol Raymond

What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Dawn mission?

Vesta is one of the largest asteroids, and is sometimes called the "sixth terrestrial planet" (after Mercury, Venus, Earth, the Moon, and Mars) because it is a rocky body and there is good evidence that it has experienced a complex geological evolution. I think it is tremendously exciting that we will be seeing a Solar System body of Vesta's size for the first time. There will be many surprises, and many new questions to ask.

How are you participating in Dawn science as it relates to the Dawn mission?

I plan to work with multispectral images from Dawn's Framing Camera (FC) and the hyperspectral images from the Visible and InfraRed imaging spectrometer (VIR). I will use these datasets to map color units on the surface and to determine the mineralogical composition of the rocks and soils that we see. I am especially interested in studying how exposure to the space environment (mainly solar wind bombardment and the impact of micro-meteoroids) changes the colors of the surface materials.

What are some of the challenges that accompany your job with the Dawn mission?

I am a Participating Scientist, so I have only recently joined the Dawn science team. There is a lot to learn! But there is a great group of other team members who have been with the project from the beginning, and I am very privileged to have the chance to learn and work with them. My previous research has been on the Moon and the planet Mercury, so much of my experience is applicable to an airless, rocky object like Vesta. However, there is also a whole body of knowledge about asteroids and meteorites that I must become familiar with.

What do you enjoy most about your work with the Dawn mission?

I enjoy the opportunity to explore a new world, to contribute to our understanding of this world, to share the new knowledge with the public, and to work with a wonderful bunch of smart, dedicated people.

Describe your thoughts and feelings as the Dawn spacecraft is approaching at Vesta?

I feel great anticipation as the spacecraft approaches Vesta. What will we see? Which of our predictions will be correct, which will be wrong, and what will we learn?

What are the most critical aspects of your job in the next several months in preparation for Vesta arrival?

In the time before Dawn reaches Vesta, I will be striving to familiarize myself with key aspects of the mission, the instruments, and the science plan so that I can contribute as much as possible to the team's efforts to study the asteroid.

What are your leisure time activities?

Away from work, I enjoy reading contemporary literary and crime fiction and classic novels, hiking, and sleeping. I am fascinated by religion and other supernatural beliefs, and like to read about efforts to understand this aspect of the human experience. I enjoy watching pro ice hockey and college lacrosse on TV. Musically I like rock, with an emphasis on the post-punk and new wave bands of the decade 1979-1989. My wife and I have been doing Bikram yoga for about three years. This stretching/strengthening activity is great for those of us who spend much of the day hunched over a computer analyzing spacecraft data!

Do you have a yet-to-be-achieved life goal?

I hope to be knighted, receive the Nobel prize for physics, start at left wing for Liverpool, have my short stories published in The New Yorker, and be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I seem to recall having the usual small-boy ambitions to be a fireman, racecar driver, and policeman. I am old enough to remember the Apollo flights to the Moon; those tremendous missions of human exploration kindled an interest in astronauts and outer space.

At what point did you determine that you would pursue a career in space science? Tell about the path that led you to this field.

In high school I was interested in physics and astronomy, and I majored in astrophysics in college. The wonders of particle physics and the depths of the universe are fascinating, but I realized that no one would ever go to a quasar. So my interests became focused on our Solar System, and I found that my talents were more in line with the geological sciences than hard-core physics (though physics and astronomy make an excellent foundation for a planetary scientist).

Who inspired you? Why?

My dad spent his career teaching math, physics, astronomy and geology at a community college, so I must have inherited my interests from him. I was also fortunate to have some wonderful professors in graduate school who helped to shape my research and career path.

What subjects were you interested in as a young student?

Apart from my science classes in high school, I particularly enjoyed English literature, including British novels and the romantic poets.

What was your favorite book as a child and why?

As a very young kid, I loved a book of stories by Richard Scarry. I remember "Couscous the Algerian Detective" and the story of Pierre Bear ("In a wind-swept cabin, a way up north …"). The stories were set all over the world, and the illustrations were great.

What advice would you give to aspiring engineers or scientists?

To a young person interested in science or engineering, I would say "Stay Curious!" Creativity and curiosity are key qualities for a person in those fields. While in high school or college, try to get some research experience. The material you will learn in your formal classes is very important, but it is through involvement in research that you will see how science works and how science actually gets done. Helping to figure out what the universe is like, and how it works, is really exciting, and is very important for our technologically based society. Strive to communicate this excitement and importance to your family and friends.

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