Week 7: A Holiday and a Tour

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015


Rachel Odessey

Despite having lived a mile outside Washington, DC my whole life I’ve never seen the fireworks on the Mall. When I was younger, no one wanted to deal with the crowds or the inevitable congestion of the metro with a small child and so we would usually see the smaller, more communal fireworks in Takoma Park on the Fourth of July. Then I went to summer camp, so this is actually the first year ever since I was young that I’ve been in the area on the Fourth, and…we still didn’t make it to the mall for fireworks. The rainstorms earlier in the day dampened the spirits of those who were hoping to picnic on the lawn to reserve a spot, but luckily we still found a friendly rooftop on H street from which to catch some of the show. On our trek home, we caught a neighborhood fireworks show that had commandeered an intersection to light off their own explosions, and whatever cars were unlucky enough to choose that route had to carefully drive over the shells of fireworks lit just minutes before. It was a nice break to have a long holiday weekend, so I felt rested by the time Sunday night rolled around. 

Monday saw me and Max putting the finishing touches on our tour for the other interns. After some running around campus (and narrowly missing the rain) we had a schedule. A chance encounter with the Hubble Deputy Project Manager yielded a willing tour guide for fifteen interns and their coordinators for the next day, and our only worry was that it seemed that some people—more concerningly, the adults with cars, had not been processed fast enough to be badged for the next day.

By some miracle of bureaucracy, however, when we all showed up at the main gate the next day the badges were ready and cars were brought on campus so we had ourselves a tour. We showed the crew around to our workspaces (Max’s lab is, of course, way more interesting than my cubicle) and all of us got to sit down for a little while with John Mather—the few times this summer I’ve been lucky enough to meet with or see him I’ve always been impressed by how down-to-earth he is. I guess I always expected a Nobel laureate to be more stuck up. Next was the NASA Jamboree, complete with barbecue food trucks and tables and tables of posters and demonstrations of projects from all corners of NASA, followed by a revisit to the clean rooms where the James Webb Telescope is being built and the other testing labs in the same building. Even though I’ve seen it a few times now, the giant scale of the projects at NASA always leaves me in awe.

The Hubble exhibit was the only part of the tour that I hadn’t seen before, and it didn’t disappoint. We saw the control rooms where scientists direct Hubble according to the many observations granted to different scientific groups by a panel (which has been a source of much conversation over the summer for the Eta Carinae group, since the Hubble grants were just given out a few weeks ago) and a few artifacts from Hubble itself, of which my favorite was the replaced failed power source for STIS, the spectrograph that my mentor, Ted, had a large part in developing earlier in his career. Overall, I think the tour went off well.

The rest of the week was pretty quiet—climbing, as usual (I’m making some progress!) but not too much else going on among the Woodley Park residents. I’ve gotten stuck on a pretty tricky programming problem at work, so hopefully I’ll be able to figure it out with my mentor later this week.

Until next time!

Interns + Giant Vacuum Chamber

Rachel Odessey