Week 6: Tour de Goddard

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Friday, July 12, 2013


Darren McKinnon

Following the fun of the 4th, it was back to work on Monday. Most of the week was taken up with familiarizing myself with writing scripts in Linux and working my way through the modeling code that we would be utilizing. Tom and Nicola had to fix one final bug, and then we’d be off to the races (which may prove to be a poor analogy). They finished fixing the code, and I was able to begin the first tests. I wrote a script that allowed me to log out and leave the computer if the need arose. I then prepped the files, called up the script, and let the code start running. Estimated time until first data output: 1 day. Number of outputs requested: 12. I instantly became quite fond of my script. Personally, I didn’t really want to stay at Goddard for 12 straight days, regardless of how awesome it is.

Speaking of how awesome Goddard is, this was the week that Alec and I hosted a tour of our offices. Though Alec’s office is rife with exciting equipment, mine leans toward the drab. It consists of 2 bookshelves, 1 filing cabinet, 3 chairs, 3 desks, 1 computer, and 1 me. Since I lack officemates, I couldn’t even make introductions. To compensate, we chose to spice up our tour. We asked my mentor, Ted Gull, and Nobel Laureate John Mather to join us. Both kindly obliged. The tour began at the Goddard Visitor’s Center with “Science on a Sphere,” an incredible bit of technology consisting of a white sphere capable of displaying any number of things at the whim of the guide. The sphere can become planet Earth with all of the airline flights shown as little red dots traversing the globe. It can become the massive giant Jupiter, with our tiny Earth projected along side for scale. It’s highly interactive, including a wii remote the guide can use to rotate the planets every which way.

Following that, we had the opportunity to sit in on a presentation by Charlie Bowden, the administrator of NASA. I found it highly informative to see where NASA was headed. We then journeyed to where they test numerous spacecraft, including the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). John Mather, the senior project scientist for JWST, led us around the testing center where he iterated incredible facts about JWST and other spacecraft. We walked inside NASA’s massive centrifuge, where they subject spacecraft to incredible acceleration forces. Along with that, we were able to see WFC2, a camera that was used in Hubble Space Telescope for 15 years. The final servicing mission replaced it, then returned this historic instrument back to Earth. Later it will be in the Smithsonian for Hubble’s 20th anniversary. We concluded with building 34 where Alec and I work. I was able to show them my office, a tour that lasted roughly three minutes.

It’s sad to think that there is less than a month left of the internship. It’s been so much fun and incredibly educational. Working alongside numerous scientists has whetted my interest in astronomy and science. I anxiously anticipate further participation.

Darren McKinnon