STEM 2021 - Goddard Space Center keynote address and Q&A session

A panel of experts discuss their role at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Six specialists from Goddard Space Flight Center discuss their journey to Goddard. They share examples of the work their team are doing in areas such as Heliophysics, Earth and Planetary sciences and Astrophysics. The panel also host a Q&A session.

Watch 'STEM 2021 - Goddard Space Center keynote address and Q&A session' (58:07)

STEM 2021 - Goddard Space Center keynote address and Q&A session

(Duration: 58 minutes 07 seconds)

Briana Horton:
Hi, Everyone thank you for joining us today for this wonderful event. Thank you to COSpark and all of the partners for asking Goddard Space Flight Center to be a part of this amazing virtual event that you guys have going on today. My name is Briana Horton, and I am one of the 10,000 employees that work for NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Goddard Space Flight Center is one of NASA's 10 centers and the best, but I'm not biased. So, I want to make sure that everybody gets to fully engage with this amazing panel that we have today. And so, the chat feature has been enabled. So, please, make sure to drop your comments and questions for amazing panelists throughout the entire one hour that we have to spend with you. We will get to your questions at the end, but without further ado, I would like to queue up the video about NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

[Video plays. Various pictures of space are featured between shots of the speakers]

Speaker 2:
At NASA Goddard, we build space telescopes.

Speaker 3:
To explore the evolution of galaxies, stars, and planets that make up our universe.

Speaker 4:
We discover planets around other stars and investigate whether they can support life, and what that life might look like.

Speaker 5:
We imagine then engineer far out missions to answer questions about how galaxies and planets formed and evolved over time.

Speaker 6:
At NASA Goddard, we study the sun's dynamic behavior and the space weather that it generates so, we can protect astronauts and satellites in space as well as our technology on the ground.

Speaker 7:
At NASA Goddard, we use the data from a constellation of satellites to generate global maps of rain and snow pummeling the Earth.

Speaker 8:
To monitor how greenhouse gases move through the atmosphere.

Speaker 9:
And to model all of the Earth systems to create a dynamic portrait of our planet.

Speaker 10:
We launch small rockets carrying university-developed experiments in the space.

Speaker 11:
And provide low-cost space platform for testing new instrument concepts and engineering techniques.

Speaker 12:
At NASA Goddard, we ensure every craft is space ready.

Speaker 13:
We blast noise and shake instruments to simulate stresses at launch.

Speaker 14:
We expose them to the unforgiving vacuum of space and to the powerful magnetic fields.

Speaker 15:
At NASA Goddard, we develop and maintain communication links between Earth and spacecrafts in orbit.

Speaker 16:
We evaluate and improve system software to reduce risk in our missions, large and small.

Speaker 17:
Innovation and science never sleep.

Speaker 18:
And new discoveries never get old.

At NASA Goddard.

[End of video]

Joe Hill-Kittle:

Good morning. Welcome to the What is Goddard panel. I'd like to welcome you on behalf of the director of NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre, Dennis Andrucyk. I'm Dr. Joe Hill-Kittle, and I'm the deputy director for the sciences and exploration directorate at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre. Before we get started with the panel, I just want to take a couple of minutes to give you a bit of background on Goddard.

Goddard was established in 1959 as NASA's first space flight centre. As pre-mentioned, Goddard has about 10 000 people and is one of 10 major NASA field centres, and it's called Goddard in a recognition of American rocket propulsion pioneer, Robert H. Goddard.

As you just saw in the movie, engineers, project managers, and scientists at Goddard work on the entire life cycle of a mission. It starts with the development of the initial science questions that lead to a mission idea, and then the design through the building of the mission launch, and then, there's the on- orbit operations, the gathering and analysing of the data to then answer the science questions which then leads to new questions and new missions?

Goddard Sciences and Exploration Directorate is the largest Earth and space science research organization in the world. And so, here, we have to talk with you about some of the amazing science technology and missions is our panel. I'd like to introduce to you Mr. Brian Roberts, deputy director of NASA's Exploration & In-Space Services, NExIs, who'll be describing some of the satellite servicing technologies.

Dr. Dalia Kirschbaum, our chief of Hydrological Sciences Laboratory in our Earth Science division, will share how we strive to understand our changing planet. Dr. Antti Pulkkinen, acting director of Heliophysics Science Division who described the exciting missions and science in his division. Mr.

Michael Amato, the manager and lead engineer for our Goddard's Planetary and Lunar line of business and is responsible for identifying the next generation of missions. Dr. Knicole Colon, an astrophysicist who works on the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite and also the deputy project scientist for the Exoplanet Science for the James Webb Space Telescope, and he'll discuss our search for planets outside our solar system. And finally, we have Miss Bree Horton who'll be our moderator for today, and will be helping ask the questions of the panel. And so, Brian, it's over to you.

Brian Roberts:

[Slide reads: Living longer and journeying father: In-Space servicing and refueling technologies]

Great. Thank you. Well, hello, everyone. I'm honoured to be here. I did visit your country back on my honeymoon many years ago and was a beautiful country. And so, I'm looking forward to being back at some point on vacation. As I said, I'm going to talk a little bit about some of the satellite service technologies we're developing at Goddard to make satellites last longer, to collect more science data and enable exploration of humans into the universe. Next slide please.

So, a little bit about me. I grew up in Northeast Ohio which is near the Great Lakes, in the northern part of the country. I have a bachelor's of science degree in airspace engineering that I got from Cleveland. And during my time as a student, I actually interned as a student intern at little less than half of the NASA centers the Bree mentioned in our introduction.

I then came to Maryland which is right outside Washington DC. I got a master's degree in the same field, and this is when I really first started getting involved with space robotics. The other unique thing too is I actually got funded by NASA to go to grad school which means I didn't have to take out a bunch of student loans, sort of advised any of the students out there looking to do similar work, look for opportunities like that to get funding to do the work that you're passionate about.

I've been working at Goddard for a little over 12 years or so. I first started off as an intern, and then went off to grad school, and I came back and worked as a contractor for eight years. Of the 10,000 employees that Bree mentioned, about a third of those actually worked for the Federal Government, and about two-thirds of those are contractors that get hired by various companies around the Washington DC area. So, I worked as a contractor. And more recently for about five years, I've been a civil servant at Goddard.

[Slide shows: Images of key technologies with arrow to images of service types and arrow to images of mission types]

So, some of the technology you develop if any of the students out there or anyone out there has been working in robotics or putting mechanisms and things together, there's a couple of various things that you need to be able to do that. You need computers to communicate and send programs to the mechanisms you're trying to do something. The same thing for robotics, is we have a central computer that has all the commands that makes the robot, do what it needs to do, and you can see, those are some of the technologies here that we develop.

We also have obviously robots that go up and fix satellites, put fuel in satellites, change on instruments like we did on the Hubble Space Telescope with humans. We're able to send the shuttle up and change out instruments and various parts of the telescope, the batteries and things like that. We're now looking at doing that with a robotics so we need to develop those robot arms.

Unfortunately, most satellites are not designed to be serviced. So, the other thing we need is we need rendezvous sensors to actually be able to find the satellite to be able from far away, to determine the satellites in a certain direction, to know how it's moving so we can catch up to it, get close by it so that the robot arms can reach out and grapple it, and then go to work and service it and fix it.

So, those are some of the technologies on the left. Once we've grappled the satellite, we have things like fluid transfer systems, putting gasoline or types of propellant in the satellite just like you put gasoline in your cars. We have those sorts of technologies as well to make that happen. And then finally, on the right is kind of the missions are enabled. There are missions that will be enabled by putting fuel in the satellite to keep the satellite going longer.

Right now, the kind of the paradigm and space flight is once a satellite runs out of fuel, we essentially throw it away and launch a new satellite in its place. So, by putting fuel on a satellite can keep it going longer and return more science. We can also build large structures. Right now, we're limited on how big we can fit things inside a rocket, and rockets aren't normally large. They have a certain size. So, if you want really large telescopes to gather a lot of light from far-off galaxies and stars in the universe, we need to build things in space.

And so, by having robots in space to do that, you can enable more science to be collected. So, those are some of the missions they're enabled by having these technologies we're developing a Goddard being used in space. Next slide, please.

So, this slide is a video of some of the work we've been doing. The top- left video is some work we did on international space station. There are many robots up on the space station provided by various countries. And what we did at Goddard is we built tools. You can see in the top video there that can work on satellites, and we wanted to demonstrate that robots could do these sorts of tasks on a real satellite.

So, what you see in the video here in the top left is a valve that you put fuel in the satellite. So, it allows us to practice in the lighting conditions and the zero G you have in space. The bottom video shows the same sort of thing. We're doing various tasks on the space station.

Finally, in the bottom right, is the ultimate mission we're going after is going up and refuelling a satellite in space which has never been done before by robot. Again, most of these satellites are launched without any plans to put fuel in them in the future. So, if we can keep satellites going longer, we can return more science to the scientists and keep these things going much beyond when they were designed to.

And then finally, the top-right video shows us doing a real live satellite demonstration refuelling down at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida that we could not do in space. So, it's really used on the real propellant you will put in a satellite and showing how we can do that remotely actually controlling the robot from Goddard in Maryland with a couple of second time delay which is what you would see in space. So, it's just some of the ways we practice on the ground and in space, and when we go and do it for real, we've been practiced. Just like in school, if you take a quiz and an exam in your final exam, you don't just jump to the final or if you play sports, you don't just go and play the championship game. You have practices and then you have expedition games, and you have games you play, and then finally, the playoffs. The same thing here, we practice before we go do the real thing in space which is in the bottom picture there. Next slide, please.

[Slide reads:

Long duration space travel

  • Refueling – can refuel on the way and free up room for other supplies at launch

  • Unplanned repair

  • Planned maintenance of subsystems

  • Human habitat maintenance

Human habitats

  • Refueling

  • Maintaining life support systems

  • Replenishing consumables

  • Inspection

  • Environment characterisation ]

So, just show some of the other missions are enabled as we start looking at sending humans farther out into the universe by having refuelling capabilities allows those spacecraft to go further to launch maybe without as much fuel in them which means we can launch more food and supplies for the astronauts.

We can also service things on the moon by setting up habitats on the surface and building really large structures, big intergalactic spaceships to be able to go off in the far reaches of the universe and send humans out there by using robots to put those together and service them are all important things we want to do as a space faring nation going forward. Next slide. I think that's the last slide.

So, now turn it off to Dr. Kirschbaum to talk about the work she's doing.

Dalia Kirschbaum:

Well, thank you so much. So, I'm excited to talk about how we are using all the different tools at NASA to understand our changing planet. So, if you go to the first slide.

[Slide reads: Dalia Kirschbaum, PhD

NASA Earth Science: Understanding and thriving on our changing planet]

First, a little bit about me. I started really early liking math, but I didn't quite know how to apply it. And so, through lots of courses in math and geoscience, I found a love of natural disasters. And so, what do you do with that? Well, I got a PhD, and I found that we can use all of these different assets, all these different satellites we have in space to better understand disasters and hazards on Earth.

[Slide shows: three images of presenter]

And so, I was fortunate enough to get a postdoc after I finished my PhD at Goddard Space Flight Centre. And so, the image on the right is one of my most favourite experiences thus far in being at Goddard which is I got to stand in front of a fully assembled satellite that was about to be launched to measure rainfall around the world and really save lives, save property, and help us understand our changing planet. So, if you go to the next slide.

[Slide shows space image of Earth and various satellites that rotate around the Earth]

Well, why are we talking about Earth science, right? I thought NASA's all about robotics and space. And, absolutely, that's the case, but we actually have over two dozen satellites with their eyes pointed down at Earth trying to understand and take the pulse of our home planet. We ask questions like how is our Earth system changing? What causes these changes? What will happen in the future? And how does that affect other people and society around us? But with all of these different satellites and different orbits around our Earth, we can't just look at each process individually. So, if you go to the next slide

[Slide shows: Image of the Earth cut into segments rotating and demonstrating the different images types different satellites are able to provide]

We really need to look at these as a system, of systems really. How does the changes in sea surface temperatures affect the weather that we have?

How does the green or the vegetation we have on land influence what falls into what goes into our water bodies and how wet the soil is? And then, what's the relationship between rainfall and all of these different processes? And how can we model them to understand not just one process, but all of it together? So, if you go to the next slide.

[Slide shows: Image of the Earth showing the information provided on precipitation from satelittes]

And one of the missions that I have been working on, and that's the satellite that you saw before, is the global precipitation measurement mission. And so, what's exciting about this, it was launched in 2014 through an international partnership with NASA and Japan. And so, together working with the Japanese as well as different space agencies from around the world, we are able to take a group of different satellites to look and get a global picture of how rain and snow is changing around the world. And so, if you go to the next slide

[Slide shows: Flat image of the world showing precipitation levels across the world]

What this allows us to do is it allows us to see where storm systems are originating in the southern oceans and how they move all the way through the southern oceans. We can look at how storm systems start in the Pacific and impact the West Coast such as what we've seen just recently with major storms that have caused landslides and other impacts in California. And then, we can also start to see different types of convection and daily changes in the Amazon rainforest.

So, if we go to the next slide,

[Slide shows: Satelite images of Australia]

one of the things we can do then is we can start to say, "Well, okay, if it's raining, well what happens with the soil?" And so, this is just an example of one product of soil moisture, and you can see as the rain which is shown in green and yellow and red, as that's changing, you can start to see the soil getting wetter. So, the blue areas show things getting wet, and this seems pretty straightforward. But what's really interesting is we can do this globally with satellites like the soil moisture active passive mission and with GPM and with other data that not only tell us about our land, but tell us about the oceans and how they interact. So, if you go to the next slide

[Slide shows: World map with satellite modelling data on Earth aerosol levels]

One of the things that we can do is in addition to taking individual measurements of rain or soil moisture, we can start to put these into models. And that's one of the things that Goddard does really, really well, is build global models to look at our Earth system. So, I could stare at this visualization for days, but what you're seeing here is different types of aerosols, carbon that's caused from fires. You see dust coming off the Saharan Desert, sea salt in the oceans, and even nitrates coming out of different parts of the industrial centres.

And so, while this is a model, all these different satellites that you saw at the beginning are being brought in to help us understand how these systems are moving. And this is from 2019. You can start to see the fires in Australia and how far that dust and that carbon transports into the southern oceans affecting South America. And you can see how the dust in Africa is starting to form what we call the nuclei, the starts of hurricanes that affect us in the United States.

[Slide shows: World map with information on landslides]

So, one of the things, if you go to the next slide, that I'm particularly passionate about is modelling of landslides. And so, that's what I do for my research area. And so, the goal here is to say where has it been raining, where is the topography steep, where is their vegetation changes. And we can start to look at landslide hot spots around the world and understand how changes by season which is what you're seeing now may impact the exposure to populations because of landslides.

Dalia Kirschbaum:

So, just to close out, Earth science is an amazing field. It's a wonderful, wonderful place to be. And Goddard is just a really tremendous place to bring in all these different areas. Sorry, just next slide. But the thing that I want you to take away with, is you can do anything you want as long as you have a direction. So, I love this quote by Yogi Berra, "If you don't know where you're going, you might end up someplace else."

So, if you're inspired by any of the presentations you see today, make a plan. Take science classes. Take math and engineering to figure out how you can get involved and make your plan to really make the world and the galaxy a better place. So, with that, I'd like to turn it over to Dr. Pulkinnen to talk about the sun.

Antti Pulkinnen:

Thank you very much, Dalia, and good afternoon or good morning depending on where you are physically located. Again, I'm Anti Pulkkinen, acting director for Goddard Space Flight Centre Heliophysics Science Division. And I will be talking about heliophysics and space weather.

But first, I will talk a little bit about how I ended up at NASA, and this is actually pretty typical trajectory for originally for a national scientist in our organisation. I did my high school. I'm originally from Finland from Northern Finland. I did my high school diploma. I got my high school diploma from city of scientist that was already back in 1993, makes me feel really old here.

I went to Southern Finland afterwards to do my studies. I got my math bachelor's masters and eventually my PhD from the University of Helsinki in the field of physics, in the field of theoretical physics. Then I was fortunate enough to secure postdoctoral positions just like Dalia explained in her career at Goddard Space Flight Centre. And I entered the post-doctoral work at 2004.

And then, through various developments including meeting my wife here in the US, I will always tell that I never got to go back home to Europe, but I was really glad to stay here in the US and eventually after doing my postdoc, I went through a couple academic organizations including the Catholic University of America where I joined the department of physics, and then eventually I got my US passport which took place 2012 at which point I was a little bit of the crossroads whether to stay in academia, maybe go even commercial or go to a federal government service. And I decided to enter the NASA Civil Service 2013.

And this is my current trajectory.

And this trajectory has then eventually led me taking on the Heliophysics Science Division acting director role over the past summer at Goddard Space Flight Centre since I've been transitioning over the past few years more on the management side of things. Okay. Enough about me. Let's talk a little bit about heliophysics.

So, in heliophysics, we study the nature of the sun and how it influences the very nature of space, and in turn the atmospheres of the planets and the technology that exists there. Our Sun sends out this steady outpouring of particles and energy which we call the solar, wind. And the solar wind also carries with it very complex and dynamic magnetic field. Solar eruptions that we call solar flares or also coronal mass ejections are the largest explosions in the solar system. And understanding these explosions is at the core of the heliophysics.

And then, there's also the space of the dimension to heliophysics. So, the studying the heliophysics system not only helps us understand the fundamental information about how the universe works, but it also helps us protect our technology and astronauts in space. The NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre seeks knowledge of near space because space weather can interfere with our communications, satellites and even interfere with our power grids here on the surface of the Earth.

And mapping out the heliophysics system requires a comprehensive observations of the sun's influence in space, Earth, and other planets. And NASA operates a large fleet of heliophysics spacecraft that are placed throughout the heliosphere, and those locations of the spacecraft are shown on this slide.

Our missions in heliophysics range from missions such as Parker Solar Probe that flies deep into the solar atmosphere to the farthest human-made object which is the Voyager Mission which is sending back observations currently all the way from the interstellar space. And each of these missions is positioned at critical well thought out vantage point to observe and understand the flow of energy and particles that flow throughout our solar system, all to help us untangle the effects that our star, our sun has on and has the impacts of the sun that has on us. Let's click to the next one.

Our Goddard Heliophysics Science Division is the single largest concentration of heliophysicists in the world. We have about 350 people working in our organization. And as you can see from this slide, our work is organized under five different laboratories, and our work includes work on theory modelling and also instrument development work. We also work very closely with our US federal partners and also with our international collaborators such as our Australian collaborators.

And we feed the latest scientific understanding into space weather applications. And the idea here is that ultimately, those applications will help mitigate the fury of the sun. But our greatest asset, of course, are our people within our Heliophysics Science Division at Goddard, and it's all these people that make all these amazing things possible that we do in the division.

Our Heliophysics Science Division is a very diverse group of about, as I said, 350 people. Our personnel range from students even from high school students to senior scientists. We have scientists working on solar phenomena, heliostric phenomena, magnetospheric phenomenon all the way to looking at the upper atmospheric phenomenon. We have public outreach people. We have education experts, and we have also research analysts and system administrators and so forth. It's a very diverse group that make our heliophysics science happen at Goddard Space Flight Centre. And we hope to see maybe some of you listening to this panel join our heliophysics family at some point. So, with that, I will pass it to Mr.

Mike Amato.

Michael Amato:

[Slide reads: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Planetary Science and Engineering]

Hi, everybody. My background is mostly in aerospace and systems engineering, and it's what my undergraduate and graduate degrees are in, also from the University of Maryland, but I think one of the great things about Goddard is how it's a place where science and engineering meet.

I'm going to try to give you a few examples of that in planetary science. For example, let's start with the moon. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter or LRO as we call it is a mission led by Goddard. It was launched in 2009 and has seven science instruments on the spacecraft. But among the many science results are very detailed visual and laser altimeter maps of the lunar surface which are not only important for science, but also become critical to safely landing on the moon, part of the NASA Artemis Lunar program, but also as part of other countries.

On the left, you'll see LRO's laser altimeter topography maps The blues and purples are lower parts of the moon. While the reds and whites are higher parts of the moon. A large purple region in the south there is the South Pole–Aitken basin which is the largest impact basin on the moon and almost 2600 kilometres across. It's also one of the largest impact basins in the entire solar system.

On the right is LRO imagery of the South Pole region where you can see how many areas are shadowed, and some of those areas are always shadowed, and they come places to collect ice over time. Next slide, please.

[Slide shows: Images of the Mars Curiosity rover]

Moving on to Mars, part of the Mars Science Laboratory mission is a complex instrument Goddard scientists and engineers created called SAM. The mission's Curiosity Rover landed in Gale Crater. Some of you've seen pictures of it on Mars in 2012. And in Gale Crater, sediment patterns show a lot of water was present over many millions of years including as a long-standing lake which I find pretty interesting. And to identify organic material in the Martian soil, the team is drilling into sedimentary rocks known as mudstone which formed billions of years ago from silt.

Michael Amato:

It was at the bottom of this lake. The rock samples were analysed by SAM which uses an oven to heat the samples over 480 degrees Celsius, and that releases molecules allows us to detect those organic molecules and other molecules we're looking for from the powdered rock. Next slide, please. Thank you.

[Slide shows: Graphs showing measured methane variations and Measured oxygen variations]

In addition, SAM just doesn't only measure samples. It can actually measure the atmosphere. It's detected seasonal changes in methane and oxygen. You can see here the methane signal has been observed for over three Martian years, and it peaks in the summer. Next slide, please.

[Slide reads: Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MARVEN)

Slide shows: images of MAVEN on Earth and concept image of Maven in space]

So, another mission is MAVEN which has got it led, got it managed anyway, and it's in orbit around mars now which has brought new insight in exactly how the sun stripped Mars of most of its atmosphere, and it's turned a planet that was once possibly habitable into a barren desert world. MAVEN's measurements indicate that the solar wind strips away Mars gas at a rate of about 100 grams every second.The Mars atmosphere is now about a hundred times less dense than Earth's. Next slide, please.

[Slide reads: Aesteroids – OSIRIS-Rex

  • Dec. 3, 2018: Arrived in Bennu

  • Near Earth asteroid

  • October 20, 2020: Sample collection

  • September 2023: Arrival back on Earth

  • Near Earth asteroid

  • Indication of ancient water locked inside the clays that make up Bennu]

So, let's talk about asteroids and OSIRIS-Rex. OSIRIS-REx is the Goddard-managed missions that arrived at the near-earth asteroid, Bennu in December of 2018. At 500 meters in diameter, Bennu is a bit taller than the Empire State Building here in the US and is the smallest object, believe it or not, to ever be orbited by a spacecraft.

Samples we take from Bennu will provide information about the early history of the solar system, and help scientists develop future missions to mitigate asteroid impacts on Earth. The Bennu is officially

classified as a potentially dangerous asteroid. There's a small but notable one in 2700 chance that it'll strike the Earth in the last quarter of the 22nd century. That's a long time from now.

So, the spacecraft is about the size of a big van, and these images, I think, are neat because they show the primary and backup sample sites on Bennu with a standard parking lot superimposed over them. So, you can get a little sense of size. The primary site is Nightingale on the left there, and it's located in a crater near Bennu's North Pole. Next slide, please.

So, what you see here are images from October. This is showing OSIRIS-Rex missions touch and go sample collection event. This is with a spacecraft sample head which is extended from the spacecraft, and it shows how it as approaches and touches down on the asteroid surface to collect the sample from the sample site. The he sample had touched the surface for about six seconds after which the spacecraft performed a back away burn after capturing the sample allowing it to pull it away from the surface. Next slide, please.

This shows the OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft completing the final step of the sample storage after we've collected it. It inserts it into the sample, and it's closing the sample return capsule. To seal the capsule, the spacecraft closes that lid at the top there, and then secures two internal latches. That sample is now safely stored, and it's on its way back to Earth arriving here about September 2023.

Sample return science is like a gift that keeps giving because it allows the world's best instruments to analyse these precious samples from early in our solar system for many, many years. And maybe some of you, I hope, will be analysing these samples in the future. Next slide, please.

[Slide reads: Lucy

  • October 2021: Launch

  • First ever visit to the Jupiter Trojan asteroids]

[Slide shows images of path of mission]

Let's talk about Lucy. Lucy Mission is managed by Goddard as well and is in development and currently in the last stages of integration and tests. We put the spacecraft together. Lucy will be humankind's first visit to the Jupiter's Trojan asteroids, and these are planetesimals or primitive building blocks that form the planets.

Lucy takes advantage of some clever flight dynamics design which you see on the left there to get to those asteroids which are captured in two areas, your points with a gravitational influence of Jupiter and the sun balance. Since the Jupiter Trojans have remained trapped in these orbits, mostly untouched for a long, long time, billions of years, they're like fossils of planet formation. Hence the name and by studying them, the Lucy mission will reveal new things about the development of the solar system which Lucy will launch, I think, in October of this year. Next slide, please.

[Slide reads: TITAN – Dragonfly

A relocatable lander to explore Titan’s prebiotic chemistry and habitablitity. Aerial mobility provides access to Titan’s diverse materials at a range of geologic settings 10s to 100s of kilometres apart in over 2 years of exploration.

Launch: 2027

Arrival: Nominal 2036*]

Dragonfly is a mission where Goddard scientists and engineers are playing an important role. It was recently selected and submission with a flyable drone-like lander to explore Titan's prebiotic chemistry and habitability. Goddard's Melissa Trainer is one of the deputy PIs on the mission, and we're leading the teams that provide the sample drill and the primary instrument to analyse those samples among some other things.

One of the areas we spend a lot of time in at Goddard is how do we make the right measurements to determine if a place is habitable or was habitable or how we would determine if life is there right now or was in the past. Next slide, please.

[Slide shows Image of Venus and the Venus Flagship]

Finally, let's talk about Venus. Goddard recently led a planetary decadal mission study where we'll look at future missions for a Venus flagship mission. A major part of that was the Venus surface lander shown here. In addition, DAVINCI+ is a Goddard-led discovery mission which is in the last stages of the discovery competition. This DAVINCI+, if it's selected, is a Venus probe and orbiter mission which will directly sample the atmosphere and take images all the way down to the surface.

These Venus missions which we work on a lot here at Goddard need to explore the atmosphere down to the surface to answer questions about the evolution of habitability on Venus, and whether it had an ocean a long time ago. The surface conditions of Venus can be up to 470 degrees Celsius and 90 Earth atmospheres, not a pleasant place. And with that, I'm going to hand it over to Dr. Knicole Colon.

Knicole Colon:

Great. Thank you. So, good morning, good afternoon, good evening wherever you're watching from. I am excited to be here today to tell you a little bit about astrophysics at Goddard. Astrophysics actually encompasses a wide range of topics including the study of extrasolar planets or exoplanets which are planets that orbit distant stars, the study of stars themselves, the study of all types of galaxies, and the study of cosmology which is the study of the origins and evolution of the entire universe. What I specifically study and will focus on here in my time today are extrasolar planets, next slide.

So, this is an artistic rendition of what extrasolar planets or exoplanets look like or we think they look like. And as I mentioned, these are planets that are found outside of our solar system around distant stars. We actually now know of over 4,000 exoplanets in our galaxy. So, based on these discoveries so far, we can say that every star that you see in the night sky and also all those that you cannot see because they are too faint or distant, all of these on average have at least one planet.

In reality, some stars have no planets around them, but others have multiple planets around them, much like our own solar system. So, either way, there are a lot of planets out there that we know of so far, and it's a very exciting time to study exoplanets. Next slide.

So, before I talk about some specific missions that I use to study exoplanets at Goddard, I wanted to tell you a little bit about my specific path to Goddard. As you can see on this map, I moved around the United States quite a bit in my journey to Goddard, but I've also participated in lots of international meetings and spent a summer doing an internship in Puerto Rico. So, astronomy and astrophysics and all of science, really, it's a global effort.

And where my journey started to Goddard was I grew up in New Jersey where I went to college, undergraduate school at the College of New Jersey, and then, I moved to graduate school at the University of Florida. After that, I held two different post-doctoral research positions. One took me to Hawaii for a year, and then I went back to the East Coast of the United States to Pennsylvania.

I then actually went to work at NASA Ames Research Centre which is point 5 here on this map which is out in California, and I worked there on a space mission called Kepler, and that was the first mission to really revolutionize our idea of how many exoplanets there are out there because it was the first mission to find literally thousands of them in our galaxy, but I ultimately knew that I wanted to work at Goddard because of just how many different exoplanet missions that Goddard plays a part in. Next slide.

[Slide reads: Exoplanet missions

  • Ground based observatories

  • Hubble

  • Spitzer

  • Kepler & K2

  • TESS

  • Webb

  • Roman

Goddard plays a key role in all of the currently operating and planned space missions that are searching for exoplanets and characterizing their properties]

So, you can see here a list of these missions, these different exoplanet missions with all the currently active ones or future ones in development being marked by the orange arrows. And Goddard really does play a key role in every single one of them. So, it's a really exciting time to be at Goddard to study exoplanets so that we can continue to search for more and also measure their properties. Next slide.

[Slide reads: TESS mission (2018+)

Searching for small planets around nearby stars that are relatively easy to study]

The first mission that I wanted to focus on that I specifically work on at Goddard is the test mission which actually launched in 2018, and it's currently up in space scanning nearly the entire sky to search for exoplanets. So, these images that you're seeing are real images from TESS, and it shows just how much of the sky it observed specifically in the first two years of its mission.

TESS is in particular looking for small planets around the closest stars to us that we say are relatively easy to study. And what I mean by that is that it is relatively easy for us to measure important properties like a planet's size and even study its atmosphere when the planet orbits are nearby, close by star relative to our solar system. Next slide.

So, how do we actually use TESS data to find planets and measure some of these properties? Well, we use what's called the transit method which there's a graphic shown here to illustrate that, and this is basically where TESS takes a series of pictures of stars just like you would use your camera on your phone to take a picture, and it looks for regular dips in the brightness of the starlight. When we see such dips occurring regularly, that indicates that there is likely a planet blocking some of the light from our point of view as illustrated here. Next slide.

So, this slide provides an overview of the current discoveries from TESS that were made specifically using that transit method. I note that this slide is only a week old. It was made last Monday, but it goes to show how quickly the field changes because last Monday, TESS had discovered confirmed 98 planets so far. Now, we have, just a week later, 107 planets that TESS has specifically found.

So, things change quickly in this field, and not to mention that there's an additional 2000 candidate planets that TESS and people who work on TESS are working on confirming as real planets. And at Goddard, I've been lucky enough to contribute to the discovery of more than 10 different exoplanet systems with TESS, and that's really because my role is to help people who are searching through and analysing test data to find exoplanets or those people who want to make other discoveries as well because TESS actually does a lot of other astrophysics that I don't have time to talk about today.

The other mission I wanted to touch on today is the James Webb Space Telescope which is anticipated to launch in October of this year, and you can see in this picture, it has this gigantic gold mirror that has also underneath it a tennis court size multi-layer sun shield that will protect it from the sun's heat when it goes up in space. You also might notice that the mirror itself is actually folded in this picture, and that's because the mirror has two wings of the telescope that will unfold to result in a total mirror size of six and a half meters in diameter. And the reason it's folded in this picture though is that it actually has to launch, fold it up so that it fits inside the rocket that will be launching it into space.

So, what will this giant telescope do once it is in space? Well, Webb will build on missions like TESS, and it will perform exquisitely detailed measurements of exoplanet atmospheres. For instance, when a planet with an atmosphere transits its star, we can look at the starlight that passes through the planet atmosphere and also see what starlight gets blocked or absorbed by molecules that are in the planet atmosphere.

So, with this technique, we can search for molecules like water in that planet atmosphere. This in turn allows us to study the composition of a planet atmosphere and learn how it formed and evolved over time. So, my role on web at Goddard is to make sure we have all the tools we need to study atmospheres of exoplanets with Webb once it launches. Okay.

So, that is just a brief look at the astrophysics that is happening at Goddard, but with missions like TESS and Webb and all the other ones I didn't have time to talk about, they're scientists at Goddard and also people around the world can use data from these missions to explore the universe in more detail than ever before.

The last thing I'll say is that a lot of this data is publicly open and available for anyone to use. So, we encourage people to use this data from these missions and make their own discoveries. So, with that, I will pass it back to Miss Horton.

Briana Horton:

Thank you, everyone. Now, I'm just going to take a look at the chat here and see what we have. So, the first question is can people from outside of the US work at Goddard or do you need to be a US citizen? So, Antti, I do know that you talked about internships. So, if you want to just talk a little bit about internships and internships with international partners.

Antti Pulkinnen:

Yeah, absolutely. So, foreign nationals can definitely work at Goddard. I believe that we may have programs even with the graduate students, but certainly so a lot of our post-doctoral fellows are from outside the US. So, certainly, there are a lot of opportunities for international folks to participate to the work that is being done at Goddard Space Flight Centre.

Briana Horton:

Great. Thank you. Dalia, the next question is for you. Is there a web reference that we can go to look at these climate modelling animations? And if you can just expand a little bit on why you chose to do landslides as your background.

Dalia Kirschbaum:

Sure. Well, to see more about climate in particular, you can go to, and that has a lot of great resources. And then the Global Modelling and Assimilation Office, GMAO, has some great visualizations. So, if you go to the Earth Science website, you'll be able to find those.

Dalia Kirschbaum:

In terms of my interest in landslides, I really wanted to see how I could make a difference and how satellite data could be applied in unique ways. So, the landslide community when I was starting was just beginning to get involved with how you can take different types of remotely sensed data and use it together for modelling. So, that's what really inspired me into this area, is to try to push the envelope to understand not just what's happening in our backyards, but around the world with different types of satellite data. So, that's why I go to work every day.

Briana Horton:

Perfect, Brian, the next question is for you. So, what sort of fuel is used and is it sustainable fuel?

Brian Roberts:

Yeah. So, a couple different types of fuel, one is hydrazine. So, if you want to Google it, look up, it's a pretty toxic type of fuel, not safe around humans. Some of the bigger rockets use liquid oxygen, liquid hydrogen like we use to go to the moon. Sometimes, we keep those really, really cold which is one of the challenges in space is having those be able to be stored for long periods and not boil off.

Brian Roberts:

Some of the newer satellites use a fuel called xenon which is a kind of electric propulsion type fuel that allows you to go very far but very slow whereas things like hydrazine allow you to go short distances use up all your fuel but very fast. So, it really depends on where you want to go. So, a couple of different types of fuel that we use in space to move satellites and rocket ships around.

Briana Horton:

Very cool. And Mike Amato, what is the connection between sending the probe to Mars and sending astronauts later?

Michael Amato:

Well, that's a great question. I think one of the most important things is you can't send a human to a place where you don't understand the environment. There's too much at risk. So, there's a dust environment. There's a radiation environment. Plus, it drives how you plan that mission. What science are you going to do when you get there? What are you looking for?

Michael Amato:

Well, if you send robotic missions like the Probe and the Rovers, you know where water might have been. You know where the most interesting things are. So, it helps drive the entire mission design because you don't have unlimited resources. You can only send humans to [inaudible 00:45:09] places. So, that's the primary thing.

Briana Horton:

Great. Knicole, I'm going to pass this one on to you. So, what is your favourite part of working at NASA?

Knicole Colon:

That is a great question. I think for me, it's honestly that every day is different. I mentioned in my talk that the number of exoplanets from TESS jumped up by nine or so in the last week alone. So, there's constantly new discoveries being made, constantly new missions being developed or just new ideas seated to develop new missions. So, there's so much to do but so many opportunities to do whatever you're interested in. So, I think it's a combination of all those things that is my favourite part of working at NASA.

Briana Horton:

Yes, and I will say as a person with an accounting and economics degree working at NASA, you can basically do anything, get your degree in anything and still work at NASA. That's probably my favourite part. You don't have to be a scientist or an engineer although you guys are very, very cool to work at NASA. So, Dr. Hill, since you're still on the line, I'm going to pass this one on to you since I think you'll really be able to answer this question. What are the high demand areas of research in the space agency at the moment.

Joe Hill-Kittle:

So, there's so many different areas that we're interested in, but as you know, we're trying to put the first woman on the moon along with a man that's been something that I've been dreaming of since I was a kid. I thought I really wanted to be the first woman on the moon. And now, I'm probably too old for that.

So, I'm really looking forward to the first woman being on the moon and being a tiny little part of that. So, that's one of the big initiatives.

Joe Hill-Kittle:

And then of course, once we get to the moon, the idea is to put a person on Mars and to do sort of the solar system investigation. So, there's a big thrust in that direction. Aside from that, there are so many other things the like you've just heard about predicting climate and understanding climate change and how to protect our planet, understanding space weather, again how to protect the planet and how to better understand how to keep our spacecraft safe looking for evidence of life in the solar system. All of those things are totally cool. And we're pushing in directions really using quantum technologies now for better communications as we develop the technologies to go and do those things.

Briana Horton:

Thank you. And Dr. Pulkinnen, this one is for you. You mentioned space weather and how it affects our planet here on Earth and working with other agencies. What does Goddard do to help protect humans as they go farther out into space from space weather?

Antti Pulkinnen:

That's a great and very timely question. We being at the Goddard Space Flight Centre, we're working very closely with our other NASA centres including Johnson Space Centre. Johnson Space Centre is responsible for providing the space weather information for crews on board, these human space flight platforms including International Space Station and ultimately also on the Artemis platform.

Antti Pulkinnen:

So, we and our team actually in our division, we are right now working in very close coordination with Johnson Space Centre to provide the latest greatest heliophysics observations and also the latest greatest heliophysics modelling capabilities for them to be able to provide the space weather service and space for the information for the crews on board with the current and especially the future human spaceflight platforms.

Briana Horton:

Great. And Dr. Colon, this one is for you. Have any Earth-like exoplanets been discovered that may support life?

Knicole Colon:

That's also a great question. So, we know of, I would say, a handful, so a few of Earth-sized exoplanets, so, things that are similar in size to Earth. And some that might have the right temperature to have liquid water on their surface, and that's one condition that we think is needed for a planet to be habitable, but we don't yet know if these exoplanets that we found that are Earth-sized with this right temperature are in fact habitable.

We are still working hard to understand their atmospheres, and what surface properties they might have. So, it just takes some time, but we're getting there. So, I think we'll learn a lot more in the years to come with future missions as well.

Briana Horton:

Thank you. Mr. Roberts, this one is for you. So, a lot of students out there, a lot of young people, they use robots all the time. They play video games here on Earth, but what is different with using a robot in space and particularly controlling it from Earth when it is in space?

Brian Roberts:

It a very good question. So, if you start off with the design, for robot you have when your kitchen breaks down, you can very quickly fix it and put a new battery in it or fix a wire that's broken. When you launch into space and it's a couple of miles above your head or way out in the universe, if it breaks, there's no way to fix it. So, the first difference is we take great care and the way we put things together, the way we make sure they're going to work, we have backup systems in case the primary computer goes down. There's a backup just because of where we are and how expensive these things are to get to space.

The other big difference is where they operate, your kitchen is outside even, isn't that hot or that cold? Some of these places we send robots to in the universe are very, very hot or very, very cold. So, that has an effect on the types of parts we put in the robot. Some batteries if they get too cold will stop working. So, you need to be careful to keep things the right temperature. So, we have systems on board to keep them at that temperature.

And finally, I think as you alluded to in the question, the big delay is when I'm controlling a robot in front of me, I can see it. It's moving. I know where it's going As soon as I send a command, it moves immediately. Some of these robots especially out of Mars, when I send a command, it might be a half hour later that it moves. And so, it's not like just a joystick where I move the robot and moves what's happening in space with the video I showed, may happen four seconds or six seconds from now versus some of the robots we send way off from the far reaches of the universe, it could be days before they do something.

So, it depends on where it's going to go of, how much smarts are on board to allow the robot to do its own thing versus having to wait for every command to go to the ground. So, a lot of different challenges in space robotics which makes it fun and interesting, and why we need some more people like out there listening to come join our team.

Briana Horton:

Thank you. Dalia, I'm going to pose this question to you. What advice would you give somebody who is thinking about pursuing a career in the space industry?

Dalia Kirschbaum:

So, the first thing is to get a sound background in math and science. That is the most important thing. They may not be the most exciting classes, but they're definitely foundational for doing really cool things after. That's the first thing. And the second thing is talk to your teachers, talk to your professors if you're in school, in college or university because they have great insight into the different possibilities of new careers that are out there.

And I think that the careers are growing endlessly every day. So, as long as you have that strong foundation in math and science and engineering, the doors are open to anything you want to do. So, please, reach out and talk to mentors to help guide you through that process.

Briana Horton:

Perfect. Thank you. And Mr. Amato, I'm going to pose this question to you. What is the biggest discovery that we have found on Mars?

Michael Amato:

Well, I guess everybody's going to answer that question differently, and I think two things for me at least recently is, it was confirming that we had long standing water on Mars. To me, we knew it was probably true, but confirming it was a big deal, and where it was because now you can look for those organic materials, and in fact, recently, we discovered there were organic materials. You're getting a feeling about where Mars might have been habitable, how habitable it was, what type of life might have existed if it ever existed there, and where the water was and wasn't? And that to me, that's the biggest thing about exploration, and what the next range of science questions will be for Mars.

Briana Horton:

Thank you. And the last question that I'm going to pose, and I really don't know which person to give this to because any one of you can answer this question, but how long does it take to develop a satellite mission. So, whoever wants to answer.

Michael Amato:

Maybe, I should start that since... Well, okay. So, I do a lot of the new development the early phase design and a mission like Lucy which is a medium mission, not as big as JW which you heard about and not as small as some of the smaller ones. It takes a few years to do the initial design and if you compete for it or if there's studies for it, and that's a few year process. That's before you even start doing the final design and build. And usually, design and build for our planetary mission, it's about five years after that.

So, I would say from concept, from paper, from whiteboard to launch, if you're lucky enough to move that fast, it's about a few years of pre-work and five years of development before you launch. And sometimes, you have to go to the pre-work a few times to even get the mission. So, it's in about that range. Maybe, some of you could add to that because I know some of you work on JW, and it's a much longer time frame for something like JW.

Briana Horton:


Dalia Kirschbaum:

Yeah. I'll just add that even before you start talking engineering, you start talking the science questions, and that kind of forms what the engineering how you build it. So, we're just completing the process of a two-year study for a mission or set a mission that we hope to launch at the end of the decade. So, it's a from start to finish launch for science. It's about how you think of the science questions that really push the envelope, and that's a decade in the making, for sure.

Briana Horton:

Dr. Hill.

Joe Hill-Kittle:

So, the missions that Michael and Dalia talk about are sort of the big missions and James Webb Space Telescope for sure is much, much longer than even that, but for the research and development for the new technologies and to do a sort of a demonstration of what might be possible, we do have anything from sort of a sounding rocket which just goes just up into the atmosphere just above the atmosphere to make some measurements and back down in 15 minutes. Actually, launched from Antarctica that in 24 hours may capture some data from way up in the atmosphere.

And then, we have small satellites that maybe have a turnaround of something like three years. They don't do as much. They don't get as much data. They don't do answer as many science questions as some of these bigger missions that folks were talking about, but those are the ones where we put the new technologies on and the cutting edge technologies to do a test to see if they do what we expect them to do to see how they behave in space, and then, we can start designing the bigger missions and using those technologies in the future. So, as you can see, there's a huge range of size and length of development.

Briana Horton:

And Brian.

Brian Roberts:

Yeah. I'll say and once the satellites are up there, if you look at the Hubble Space Telescope primarily due to servicing, it's been up there for over 30 years. So, all the work that everyone just said to get there, a decade to get there for the science, and then you launch it, sometimes mission lasts for a few years, a few days. Hubble in that case last three decades which is quite impressive, and it's still going strong.

Briana Horton:

Thank you, guys so much. That is the completion of our panel today and our session. I want to thank all of our panellists for being here today and taking the time out of your day and to all of the participants who tuned in to the event. You guys had really great questions, and we really appreciate you taking the time to listen to us and supporting NASA as you guys always do. So, thank you, guys, and have a great rest of your day whatever that might be.


[Screen shows the SISP logo. Video concludes by displaying the NSW Government logo.]

[End of transcript.]

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