tv QA NAS As DART Mission James Webb Space Telescope CSPAN January 17, 2022 6:00am-7:01am EST
>> 2022 is a big year for space . you have 20 minutes. >> 20 minutes? a comment between five and 10 kilometers across we estimate came from a cloud and using metal determination -- >> whoa. just tell us what it is. seriously, stop. >> there is a comment heading toward earth. >> what happens then? a with? >> -- a tidal wave? there is 100% certainty of impact. >> can't we just call it a significant event? >> it when not potentially happen. >> 99.78%. >> let's call it 70% and just move on. >> that is a clip from the
trailer of the current hit movie on netflix called don't look up. one of a long series of hollywood disaster films centered around asteroids or meteors striking earth. now science is catching up with art and you're involved with a project called dart that revolves around this. >> dart is the redirection test mission. it is a nasa mission to demonstrate technology to the flecked and asteroid so we could possibly prevent this happening to earth in the future. susan: how serious is the threat of an asteroid striking earth? nancy: earth has been hit by asteroids for billions of years. that is not new, it happened in the past, it will happen in the future but there is no known threat to the earth right now from asteroids or comets. we are tracking things, there is nothing on course to hit the earth. that said, we have not found all of the asteroids yet.
this is an important part of planetary defense. we're looking to take the first steps to be ready. susan: we have seen news about meteors striking earth. what is the difference between an asteroid and a meteor? nancy: they get bright in the atmosphere when they are burning in the atmosphere. you can see them as they come in. some of them make meteorites, rocks that survive here on the planet. for example, it really depends on the size when you talk about these objects. things smaller than that hit all the time. i love meteors. meteors are like free samples from space of what was let back into the early solar system. there is quiet a lot good about it.
>> how large wooden object have to be to cause significant concern or damage? >> that is a really important question. a lot of people think about the dinosaur killers as they are talking about these kilometers. those are the ones that would cause extension. sort of a kilometer larger. the ones we have found, we are tracking it and none of it is a threat to the earth. we are concerned about these ones that are a few hundred meters or so. this is something that would cause regional devastation. it could wipe out the city, a small state, tens of hundreds of
climbers of damage. there are devastating. these are rare events but they are things that could happen. this is a popular asian of asteroids -- it is very important to be taking steps to find these and then also taking steps to be ready in case we needed to. >> how much notice would earth inhabitants have if there was a dangerous asteroid headed our way? >> that is the really important key. you don't want these things sneaking up on you. that is the premise of the hollywood blockbusters. that is why it is so important to take the steps to finding all of the asteroids. the idea was something like -- with something like dart is making sure you not disrupting the asteroid, breaking it up. it is giving it a small note. this is something you would do decades in advance. in order to do that, you would have to find the decade -- find the asteroid decades in advance.
susan: the dart mission launched last week of november 2021. how many years in the making was this? >> the funding was started in 2015. it will go through final data analysis. before that, it was a glint in somebody's eye. he came up with the idea while exercising in his basement. this really showed how things go from being ideas to reality. that was before 2015. socialized at various conferences. nasa started investing in missions. >> what did he envision when he was exercising at home? >> think this might be a little bit different. it was the binary asteroid system.
this is the double asteroid system. there are two asteroids there. why that is so important is that it was hitting a smaller moonlit asteroid. we are just going to the flecked that smaller asteroid around the larger one ever so slightly. the flexion is within this binary asteroid system. it is within this double asteroid system that makes it overly safe way to do the test but also it is something we can measure with telescopes that already existed here on the earth. that is where the ingenious part comes in. we know from telescopes on the earth that discovered the system back in 1996, for decades we have been watching it. we are going to change that. this is not going to be made by the states -- spacecraft. it will be totally destroyed.
susan: were there other asteroids under consideration or was that the only obvious one? nancy: it is the most ideal target. in the near earth object population, it is about a third of all of the asteroids out there. there are other ones but there are two important components here. sometimes the path is in front of or behind the other one. the brightness of this system changes with time. that is one important component. and then in 2022, the distance between these asteroids and the earth are going to be minimized.
sometimes they are on the opposite sides of the sun. as far as telescopes are concerned, they are going to get the most from space they have ever gotten. >> would you explain the role that nasa has in his mission and the role of the organization? >> dart has built and managed at the cloud. it is a mission that is built and managed and operated here. we have other partner institutions across the country and we actually have a large number of team members that are contributing to this as well. that is one of the pillars of the national planetary defense strategy.
susan: was the agency involved from the defense department? nancy: this has been a nasa mission. nasa is the one with -- tasked with doing a planetary defense mission. this is the nasa mission. >>, about your particular role in this project. >> i am the coronation lead. this is sort of a new position. this mission is a little different than the science missions that nasa traditionally runs. in the first one out of the planetary defense coronation office. my role is to help organize and ordinate our very large investigation team which is going to carry out the planetary
defense investigation. we will also work with our engineering team leading the mission and the operation to ensure that everything comes together to meet their requirements. really, it is important because dart is just the start. it is the first planetary defense mission for nasa. >> what is unique about it? >> it is about two meters outside. this is sort of the size of a small golf cart or a vending machine. one of the distinguishing features is that it has these
rollout solar rays. they are 18 meters to to to. they don't have a lot of mass. it is the body of the spacecraft that we worry about. it has heritage from the camera on the new horizons mission that captured the spectacular images of pluto that i think we all remember from years ago. using that design, it was modified to go onto the dart spacecraft. the images are used to be the
autonomous navigation so that they will ensure that we hit this challenge in and of itself. >> is this navigation a new technology -- autonomous navigation a new technology? nancy: yes. that is one of the new technologies for this mission. we are targeting an asteroid that is 140 meters in diameter. this would be this most object. it is going around this moon. since these objects are so close together, coming in so fast, the images will not be able to distinguish these two objects from each other until the last hour of the mission. until then, they just look like a single point of flight. you need to have your spacecraft smart enough to use those images and hid that as close as
possible. that is where the smart technology comes in. this is the new technology for planetary defense for targeting the small objects. also, one of the main challenges. we don't know what they look like. we know they have a whole variety of shapes. there has been extensive testing going on in order to meet this challenge. we are looking forward to the demonstration. >> give me a little bit of a sense of all of those years of development and the teams involved. once there was the idea that we are going to try to accept or the trajectory of this asteroid. what kind of craft would be capable of doing that? how does that process evolve? >> it is hard to talk about spacecraft development. all ideas are on the table at the early stages.
dart is a very focused mission. that was very important to fit into this full discussion. there is so much we can do. there is a much that remains to be done. the spacecraft is very slimmed-down. that we you can concentrate on the smart navigation in order to autonomously target onto that asteroid during the last hours. in a lot of ways, it was meant to be robust and to be focused. this is what you would want if you are potentially having to deflect an asteroid in the future. you want something that is as simple as possible in order to enable the mission to succeed.
>> how fast will it be traveling? when it hits target? nancy: it will be going at 6.1 kilometers per second or 40,000 miles per hour. that is the whole basis about how this must smaller spacecraft can actually deflect the size of a sports stadium. about 100 times smaller the spacecraft. it is remarkable that it is much -- able to defy this larger object. susan: where were you at liftoff when the spacecrafts went into space? nancy: i was out in a dark field in california looking up with everybody else out there. it was a great night. people warned me that we did not
have anything like that. colleagues were working very hard in operations. everything just went flawlessly. >> where other possible points of failure for this mission? where will you be holding your breath? obviously liftoff. it made liftoff. where will you be watching to see this technology performs as expected? nancy: after liftoff, we had a 30 day commissioning period. -- commissioning period.
that was another big milestone to get through after lunch. now the spacecraft is cruising through the system and we are running a lot of rehearsals for the sequences that will be done right before the launch. there is a lot of testing we can do during this to ensure that we don't have any issues. that said, it is nasa's first quantity mission. part of that challenge, if we were confident this would work, we would not be able -- we would not need to be able to do dart. also, how much do you deflect it? this is a big unknown.
what we don't know is how much it ejected will come out and we think this will increase the amount of push you get. there is a lot of ejected that adds to that like a little jet engine. it deflects the asteroid even more. one of the main things we really want to do is we have done models and tests but it has done -- it depends on the structure of the asteroid, what it is made of, the boulders, how sandy, how strong it is. susan: what price tag is nasser using for this overall project? nancy: the overall price of dart starting in 2015 and going into 20 33, 330 million.
-- 2033, 330 million. nominally at 7:14 p.m. eastern daylight time, that may change. about 7:00 p.m. on the east coast is what we are looking at. it is going to be an exciting time. they will also be streaming back to earth. at first there will just be a dot of light. susan: how will you know if the intended goal was successful? nancy: we will know soon. the images will come streaming
back and the asteroid will get bigger and bigger in the field of view. and that signal is going to stop and the dart spacecraft will have done its purpose. that is the fundamental goal of the mission. how much we will have defected the asteroid is an important mission. i should mention that dart also carries a cube from the italian space industry. it will take spectacular images. it will send those images back a few weeks or months after dart impacts with this. -- this asteroid. maybe it will be 11 hours and 45 minute. because we are targeting this time with the distance between earth and the system, the
telephones will be able to get really great data for three months after dart impact. susan: you mentioned to the italians. i read that european space agency's were involved in a follow-up mission. can you explain their role? nancy: yes. they have a mission called hera. it is going to rendezvous in 2026. this is so exciting because i rendezvous, i mean orbit. it will stay in the system for many months so it will be able to make some detailed measurements that will really complement dart'd miss -- dart's mission. they will be able to see the crater on the asteroid made by dart. it will be able to get this
tricky measurement that we are not able to get with dart >> we can get the --dart. we can get the shape of the asteroid but the other mission will be able to get that mass specifically. these combined missions will aid planetary defense in a way that is bigger than either one could do on their own. it is there a couple mentally. hera team members are on the dart investigation team so we are working together. >> is there any other country in the world -- russia for example that is working on similar projects? >> nasa works with a number of agencies. it is really the one of the pillars of military defense. that said, we are not aware of
any other missions right now. that will be the first four asteroid to function. but opening up all of the data we get on asteroids, it is publicly available. you can find them at any given time. international cooperation is very key here. we are all on this planet together. susan: in addition to sharing the data with scientists, there is a big effort to involve the public in the dark mission. -- dart mission. nancy: the public and follow along. we have a planetary defender campaign. they can become a planetary defender. that is fun. i love to use it myself and see
the instruments on things like that. because the distance is going to be minimized, if you have a telescope or museum, you will not be able to see how much we defected the asteroid. >> we have three or four minutes. you're so energized by the work you do. what inspired you to go in this direction with your career? nancy: i have thought about that a little bit and i still come back to star wars. i am going to go with star wars. i think as a kid, i was really just taken by those visions of different worlds. i loved that there was worlds
with people that lived in clouds and all of those things. there is so much about our own solar system with these fundamental things we're doing for the first time. it is sort of the childhood dream come true to turn some of this science-fiction like we were talking about in the beginning into reality. susan: your biography notes that there is an asteroid named in your honor because of your work in meteors and asteroids. can you tell me how you focused on this particular aspect of planetary science? nancy: being at atl has given me a lot of opportunities to get involved in missions. it is excited to take my meteorite research which is much more looking at the first billion years, the first very early parts of the solar system and then apply it to pleasant
day. does not just with the solar systems involved but what it means for us to be part of it today and the future and being at atl, i got my first opportunity to work on a messenger mission that is a fabulous opportunity. i was working with the camera team and we got to see parts of the planet that had never been seen before. it is very exciting to be working on a project like dart. >> in the years since you have been in this field, i was looking at a lot of videos before the dart mission, it is hard not to know that there are quit a few women involved in this project. i am just wondering about how much stem studies have impacted the number of women going into your field. >> as it would take a lot of time in our dart team.
i think that dart is just indicative of that. i hope that this trend is going to continue. >> as we close here, you called this a groundbreaking mission. dart's success will mean what for planetary scientists, earth scientists and the earth itself? >> dart's success is really us taking this first step to potentially prevent asteroids from hitting the earth in the future. earth has been hit by asteroids for billions of years. this is not the new part. what is so exciting is that we are taking this first step to prevent that in the future. dart's success will mean that we have this capability to target these asteroids in the future.
susan: the coronation lead for nasa dart mission, thank you for spending time with c-span. nancy: thank you for having me. susan: coming up next as we learn more about space science in 2022, we will be learning about the james webb space telescope . it has some important milestones in the year ahead. >> liftoff. from a tropical rain forest to the edge of time itself, james webb begins a voyage back to the earth of the universe. >> this is the launch of the $10 billion aims web telescope. dr. -- james webb space telescope. dr. meredith mcgregor is a
professor at the university of boulder. meredith: the james webb space telescope is going to evolution as many different areas of science. when we go to the edge of universe and the edge of time, one of the objects of the telescope is to look back at the early history of the universe. we want to see galaxies as they were first born early in the universe. the reason that james webb can do this is because -- there is actually a really tiny piece of what we call the electromagnetic spectrum. james webb is looking at the imprint wish -- which is just other bit longer. our bodies give off heat. everything in the universe gives off heat.
as it turns out, the universe started with the big bang. it grew really quickly. you can think of the universe essentially like a loaf of raisin bread. you can put it in the oven and it starts to rise. the bread actually starts to stretch apart. they are growing apart from each other. if you think as the universe as the bread, the space between all of this -- the space between the galaxy actually starts to expand. it takes all the light and it actually stretches it. it goes from being visible light that we can see with our eyes to these infrared wavelength. by launching this infrared
telescope, we can look back further in the universe that we have ever seen before. hopefully that will let us see these really early galaxies. >> this might be an obvious question. why does it help us as a human race to understand more about the origins of the universe at this point in time? >> from my perspective as a scientist, one of the coolest things we can do with humans is actually try to take about where we come from, how we got to be here and we can try to think about other lives in the universe. that is overly exciting question to ask. it is a privilege. susan: how will webb help us determine if there was other life in the universe? meredith: we talk about this -- one of the other main science
questions it will try to address is to understand how planetary systems like ours form and also try to characterize individual planets so that we can actually form these out of there. and we can try and see where the composition of them is. what kind of gases are in there. and to use that to inform how we inform the planets in the first place. this is actually a fingerprint. we can actually take these things that we knew about today and really start to characterize them in a way where we can say something. susan: how is the webb telescope different than the hubble? meredith: quit a few ways.
-- quiet a few ways. -- quite a few ways. it is a much bigger telescope. hubble is only 2.5 meters in diameter and james webb is a 6.5 meter telescope. a huge difference in size. when you think of telescopes, you can think of them as a light bucket. the bigger the bucket, the more light you collect. this was ultraviolet light. james webb is toward the other end of the spectrum. there is a real difference in size and wavelength. hubble is a pretty low earth
orbit. that is why it is taking so many months for it to get to the final position. >> it takes one to two months for it to reach its location. it will not ask the start doing science until the summer. there is a six month long commissioning time where all of the steps have to be taken to make sure that telescope is functioning correctly. >> of course, hubble famously had a blurred lens that was able to be fixed in space by a shuttle mission. i would presume that the distance traveled precludes any in space repairs. what are the challenges of the engineering? what were the lessons learned from hubble that were applied to
the development of webb? >> you are right. this is much too far away for us to service at this point in time. that is why there was so much pressure on this actual launch. you have to get it right. the problem with hubble is what we call an aberration. because hubble has lenses near it, there is the optical effect that can cause images to get this sorted -- distorted. one of the main things done with webb was to have four different mirrors that the light actually reflects off up before going into the science instrument. that helps to cut down on the possibility. it should cut down on the possibility of any kind of issue like we have with hubble. the optical engineering is much more sophisticated. that should elevate the
possibility of turning on and getting that blurry image that happened with hubble. susan: how long ago was webb envisioned? meredith: every 10 years, we get together in the field of astronomy and we have a survey. it is a moment where the astronomy community puts an input into what we see -- what we want to see happen in the field. what missions do we need to answer? then we publish the report. this actually just happened to last year. james webb was selected as the mission that was the next thing to launch. susan: the stories that i read suggested that the deployment was 14 years behind the expected
schedule and i mentioned the $10 billion price tag that was 20 times over the initial budget estimations. what is the back story on those numbers? meredith: complicated question. for this part -- for the start, $10 billion is not actually a huge amount of money per year spent. this is the first time we have ever launched a telco that is -- telescope that is this far away. this is with all great ideas and dreams. i think we have got to this
point in astrophysics where we are looking at this landscape we were -- where we are taking decades to build instruments. hubble was launched in 1980 and i was born in 1989. i still use hubble today 30 years later. in 2000, i was not even graduated from high school. in the time that we built webb, i went from being a teenager to a professional astrophysicist. to put this in the human perspective, we need to think about these long-term projects where they're actually spending entire careers of scientists. we need to take that into account where we go forward. i am really excited to use it. as we think about the next
generation, there are things being proposed in 2020 that we need to be a little bit more realistic about. we need to take about how long they will take to be launched. >> i would resume that the technology needs to be involved as the years go by. >> yes. a little bit. in order to launch things to space, nasa has technology radius levels. you can't just launch something into space. there are stages that technology has to go through before they are ready to go on something big. you need to test them in a vacuum and on the ground. that does not mean you're switching at the technology before you actually launch the mission. susan: as we talk about this
technology, january 8 is an important stop -- step in the deployment. talk to me about that stage, how much engineers were holding their breath at that stage and with the outcome was. >> yes. since the launch on christmas day, they had been unfolding their pieces like the origami telescope because it is so big that in order to fit it into the rocket, you had to hold it up on itself. the last piece was unfolding that gold primary meter. it had two wings. it had a middle part within the two wings were folded in on itself. then we unfolded those last two wings.
now we have a fully unfolded, functioning telescope out in space. all that remains is the commissioning steps, the letting of mirrors. susan: are any of those next steps hold your breath steps? meredith: i don't think in my mind. people may have different opinions on this. the part that i was most concerned about is the unfolding of the pieces of the telescope. i was a little scared about the secondary mirror. that has to sit out in front of the primary meter and -- mirror and it has all of these spike lee legs -- spindly legs. what is happening now is if you
look at that primary mirror, it has what looks like different pieces to it. those are little different smaller mirrors that all have to be moved to align the light. knock on wood, things could still go on. there were no more major pieces that need to go in to function. susan: in addition to the engineering challenges unfolding on schedule, are there any other space related challenges functioning? good meteorites be an issue for it? that is the intensity of the sun's light, will it impact the
results? >> the son, i think we should be good. that was one of the major deployments. if you look at the space telescope, there is this giant thing sitting on the back of it. that is meant to block the sun possibly. infrared is heat. it would not be ideal to have it close to earth. that is why we moved it so far away. the sun is a very hot object. that giant shield on the back will be positioned between the telescope side of the telescope and the optics and instruments and the sun in order to block the light. in terms of meteorites and things like that, there is always some risk. space is not a completely clean
place. there is lots of debris floating around. webb does not have the capability to steer is of away from anything. meteors hitting earth are slow. i think we are operating under the assumption that it is a low risk and hopefully everything will be fine. >> staying with the sun shield, your answer explains one part of a sentence i had to underline. the sun shield is the only hope for an infrared telescope. but you said it is also its achilles' heel. meredith: interesting. that sun shield was like a major deployment that had to happen. that had to unfold and then
tension basically and it had multiple players. that appointment was one i think a lot of people were really worried about. it is made out of this very fine and thin material. there was a lot of risk in launching it. something might have into it. it might tear and then it would not work and we would have no sunshine. -- some shield. -- no sun shield. that was another moment when the whole thing successfully tensioned. susan: you are a space scientist at the university of colorado. i am wondering how nasa works with researchers such as yourselves and how that whole public and private and
university partnership works with webb. meredith: yes. now that webb is launched, it is in open science instrument. any scientist who has an idea of what you want to do with the telescope, you propose your idea and you try to convince other people that this is a worthwhile thing to do with the telescope and then all of those proposals go in and are read by committees of professional scientists who rate them against each other. what the telescope does is the communities take a few that they think are most exciting and those are the proposals that make it. hubbell runs this way. things on the ground that are not nasa based -- i submit them.
something like hubbell is still up about 12 heaven 13-1. for every one hour of observing time, there is 12 hours of proposed modifications that go in from the immunity. these instruments are in very high demand. susan: i have to imagine that is the international community. not just u.s. researchers. meredith: yes. susan: are the -- is the research all open source? meredith: yes. the data comes down, you get a proprietary time of the original proposal to do what you want with the data. that can bury somewhere between three months to a year at the
end of that, the data becomes public. >> where was the webb telescope built? meredith: a lot of different places, actually. the instruments were built in a lot of different places. i actually saw it in person where a lot of construction of the mirror and testing of it was done and then the telescope was moved to houston for a bit and then it was at northrop grumman. when it was finally assembled, they put it on a ship. i think it is pretty cool to think about this telescope being constructed all over the world.
a lot of people had a hand in putting it together. >> did you have a hand in launching it? >> yes. i was watching it. susan: what were your emotions as you were watching it? meredith: it was just so cool. lunches are phenomenal if you have never really watched one live, it is amazing to see that for me, in my career, i have been hearing about this since i have been a professional astronomer. even when i was thinking about doing astrophysics as a degree. i have been learning about it and thinking about it and wanting to use it and hearing about it for two decades and to actually see it in a rocket like on the launchpad -- for a while i was just thinking they have to delay it again. it is like something is going to
happen. they will be like no, no lunch. then all of a sudden they are watching and the rockets ignite, the boosters ignite. it was a really cool moment to watch that. a very unique christmas morning. susan: can you anticipate how it will change your research? meredith: i am interested in studying how we think about whether there are other plans in universe that might help. i am interested in all of those science cases for webb. just thinking about their composition and how water and material is inherited and then also to think about the atmosphere themselves and to characterize them. i think sometimes we have science cases right and we can make so many predictions but then it is always this is what i
love. you can just go and point at an object and i get new data and i know i am the first person in universe to ever see this and sometimes you can't predict what you find. sometimes we find completely new things. some of the most exciting science results that are going to come out of webb are not even things i can tell you right now. i think this area is one of them where we are on the edge. life in the universe. there will be some pretty cool things in the next decade or so. >> it sounds like you have been excited about space and science most of your life. what got you started? meredith: yes. i have always been excited about science. i got really into it when i was a small child. i was always really fascinated about trying to understand how
the world works. i wanted to be a physics major. on a complete whim, i took an astronomy course. i just loved it. we got to spend nights at an observatory and i never really considered that as something i was going to do as a career. then it was kind of full steam ahead from there >> -- there. >> i am actively involved with a number of organizations supporting women in stem fields. i designed an astronomy curriculum for the economy first program. i service a worldwide telescope ambassador and taught science club for girls throughout most of right of school. i wanted to read that. stem studies have been so important in the national educational debate for the past two decades. what are you saying about the interest among young people and
space science particularly? most important among young women since that has been a field of interest for you? >> i care about that from a personal level. i remember being the only woman in my astrophysics classes. i remember feeling out of place like this is something i am passionate about but it is not a place in which i see myself amongst the people doing it professionally. i think astronomy has come a long way. we started to recognize this and take action. there is a space where people like me. astronomy from a larger standpoint is just cool. it is a pretty fun place where the public and kids just get excited.
this is where we can really reach out to the community. i love being here. we have more than 400 college students majoring in astrophysics. i get to teach the -- teach a class on life in the universe to 200 students and it is just great fun. >> to the ask different questions at age 18 and 20 that -- then you may have asked 20 years ago? >> interesting question. i don't think so. i think fundamentally, most humans just really want to understand where we come from. it is kind of one of the most human questions we can ask. they want to know whether we are alone in the universe. also, how we got here and how things formed and how things work. i think that just relates to
anybody at any age. these are the same questions that professional astronomers are trying to answer. >> thank you for giving us a bit of a primer on the work on the james webb telescope launched on christmas day. >> ethic we should get the first results sometime this summer. the commissioner should take about six months. that puts us around june or july when i think we are going to start getting some images from the telescope. >> dr. meredith mcgregor, thank you very much for upping us understand more about your work and what we will learn from this $10 billion public investment and understanding the universe. thank you for your time. meredith: thank you so much for having me.
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