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2002 SPS National Interns
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Brent Janus Brent Janus
Fort Lewis College, CO

Internship: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Online Journal
Week of July 19, 2006 Week of June 28, 2006
Week of July 12, 2006 Week of June 21, 2006
Week of July 5, 2006  
July 19, 2002
This week I began to learn how the spectra data is analyzed to both identify particular elements within the asteroid and determine how much of those elements are present. The first is standard spectroscopy stuff. Using a program that plots the data and fits a line peaks occur at different energy levels. Since different elements emit gamma rays at different energies then a peak at a certain energy indicates a particular element. For example, a peak at 320 keV indicates 51Cr, which is an isotope generally used to calibrate the instrument. Elemental abundance is determined through a calculation relating the number of times the detector was set off to the number of photons (in this case, gamma rays) required to do so.
That's all very scientific to the average person. I apologize. Needless to say, I am learning a lot. Very shortly we will all be attending a tour at Eva's workplace, NIST. Hopefully, we will get to see some of their physics labs and stuff. It should be interesting.

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July 12, 2002

After last week it was time to get back to serious work. I had the task of going through the orbital data very carefully. It was important to weed out data that had been corrupted but at the same time preserve as much as possible to limit the uncertainty of our conclusions. Also, for the purposes of analysis I had to divide the data into two categories-high (~200 km) and low (~35 km) orbit. Having uncorrupted data for the Gamma Ray Spectrometer from these two points will help in determining overall composition. Around Friday I had finished and had finally produced my first spectrum.

The rest of the spectra will probably be finished early next week. The programs that will be used to analyze them for elemental composition are being constructed here at NASA. Interactive Data Language (IDL) is the platform being used to construct the programs. As they are not finished quite yet I will probably take a few days to work with IDL and the main programmer and then start my analysis late next week. I'll let you know.

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July 5, 2002

This week I spent a few days looking through the data and clearing out certain dates with obvious problems. At times major solar events or other phenomenon increased the count rate in the detectors by several orders of magnitude. It was sheer bad luck that NEAR was in orbit at the peak of the Sun's active cycle. Nevertheless, there still appears to be a large amount of data that is usable and plans are to finish cleaning the spectra by next week.

The last couple of days were dominated by the 4th of July celebrations. A combination of patriotism in the wake of September 11th and being in our nation's capital made this a huge celebration throughout the city. It was very hot and muggy but no one cared. The fireworks were scheduled for around 9:00 but that was just the finale. Everything from live music to street theater performances took place throughout the day from the Mall to the Capitol building. I spent several hours just visiting different acts and then returned to the dorm for a while. Due to the tremendous security it was necessary to leave for the fireworks at 7:00 even though it was only a 20-minute walk. The show was well worth it though. The fireworks were launched from near the base of the Washington Monument on the Reflecting Pool side. I watched from the top step of the Lincoln Memorial. It is hard to describe in words so as they become available I will provide a few pictures, but it was, to say the least, mesmerizing.

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June 28, 2002

After completing the reading assignments I had been given the previous week I was finally in a position to decipher what everyone was talking about. I had a firm grip on the science behind the instrumentation I would be using. Not all of this came through reading though. Everyday I spent an hour discussing topics with my lead advisor so that he could explain or clarify anything I was struggling to understand. This is when he introduced me to the primary means of data collection and analysis. All of the data NEAR collected before it went into darkness are stored in a restricted database online. This made retrieval easy and convenient. I had finally begun my work.

Since I will be analyzing the Gamma-Ray Spectrometer readings throughout NEAR's orbit around Eros, it took me two days to download all the data one day at a time. As I finish this I have just begun the analysis on Excel (another surprise) in an attempt to filter out anomalies.

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June 21, 2002

The first week was like nothing I expected. Television and movies have given us a vision of NASA that, upon reflection, is unrealistic. I am talking about that image of Mission Control rooms, giant video screens feeding images of space, and super-fast computers found nowhere else. It was quite the surprise, and admittedly, a let down when I was shown my office. It consisted of a desk, phone, and PC older than my one at home. However, I quickly came to see what was special about NASA. While the supercomputers and control centers were a fantasy, the accomplishments that the organization have achieved are very real. My disappointment turned to excitement as I began talking with my advisors, a group of highly skilled veterans of NASA more than willing to share their time and knowledge with an undergraduate.

All that was required to be excited about an old PC and a bunch of physicists was to realize that this was how it worked. These guys had been on the inside of many of the unmanned missions throughout the Solar System for the last several decades. This was exciting in itself, but nothing was as thrilling as realizing that for the next eight weeks, I would be one of them.

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