I'm so excited that I don’t know whether I'm coming or going because NASA's Alice Bowman is going to give the keynote presentation titled Reaching for New Horizons at ESC Silicon Valley, which will be held December 6-8 at the San Jose Convention Center, California.
Ever since I was a little lad, I've been fascinated with anything and everything to do with space. I remember when I was just 12 years old in 1969. My dad woke me up and brought me downstairs into our family room to watch Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin land on the moon. Dad gave me a (very small) tot of whisky, and we both drained our glasses when we knew these heroes were down safely.
I just re-watched the video on YouTube. I don't mind admitting that I always tear-up and choke-up when I hear the words ” Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed” (I'm practically bawling as I pen these words).
Do you recall my column ESC & Kevin Bacon meet New Horizons & Pluto? On 14 July 2015, after a nine-year mission, New Horizons became the first spacecraft to fly-by Pluto.
The New Horizons interplanetary space probe (Source: NASA)
In my ESC and Kevin Bacon column, I described how I came to chat with Steve Bowring — the man who designed the custom imager used in the New Horizons Ralph telescope, which is the one that was used to take the glorious pictures that kept us all riveted to our screens.
Pluto and its largest moon, Charon (Source: NASA)
I was watching a documentary on the New Horizons mission just a few days ago. The task of guiding this little beauty all the way to Pluto and then pointing it at just the right place to take the pictures while hurtling along at over 36,000 miles-per-hour (20 times as fast as a speeding bullet) simply boggles the mind.
The point of all this is that Alice Bowman was the Mission Operations Manager (MOM) for New Horizons . In her keynote presentation at ESC, Alice will be speaking about this epic journey through the eyes of the mission operations team. As part of this, Alice will describe some of the challenges associated with piloting this small robotic spacecraft through the solar system for nearly a decade, including planning for (and dealing with) long-distance technical hiccups.
Alice Bowman, New Horizons Mission Operations Manager (MOM) (Source: NASA)
Alice's team is now part of history, operating a spacecraft that had to travel longer and farther than any previous mission to reach its main target. Can you imagine the atmosphere in the command center as New Horizons approached Pluto, with everyone longing for it to work, but dreading the possibility that it might fail? And can you conceive the exhilaration when the first images of Pluto and its largest moon Charon started coming in?
I, for one, cannot wait to hear this story first-hand from someone who was there. This keynote is a free session that will be open to all attendees, but you must register to attend. Hopefully I'll see you there (I'll be the one in the Hawaiian shirt squirming in my seat in excitement).