Thursday, October 20, 2016

To Infinity And …. An Internship?

Forgive our lateness in announcing this: On Thursday September 8th at 7:05pm, the OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Sample Return Mission was successfully launched at Cape Canaveral. This rocket, as seen above, contains a spacecraft that will travel to an approximately 4 billion year old asteroid named Bennu. The objective of this mission is to search for life as well as clues to the early formation of our solar system. Pretty cool right? It gets even better; JMU’s very own Kenny Gordon worked on this system!

Through an internship with NASA Goddard, Kenny was able to work directly on the test images produced by the cameras that will be guiding the spacecraft to Bennu. Specifically, Kenny worked on image analysis using MATLAB programming. The OSIRIS-REx uses a Touch-And-Go Camera System (or TAGCAMS) to navigate to the asteroid, map the asteroid, and monitor the storage of the sample on it’s return trip home (back to Earth).

Kenny at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida
to witness first-hand the launch of the OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Sample Return Mission

Kenny tested two types of images, dark images and light images. All of the images were taken in a thermal vacuum chamber, which is as close to outer space as we can get. The dark images images were also produced in an incredibly dark room, again to simulate space. The light images were taken with the lights on. Kenny’s job was to look for dark current noise in the dark images and distortion in the light images taken by the camera and guess what, he found some!

One might say that Kenny singlehandedly saved the OSIRIS-REx mission. Well, maybe not singlehandedly, but he was able to present his findings to his mentor and genuinely contribute to the success of the mission. All of this from a summer-long (10 weeks) internship.

If this sounds exciting to you, it is not too late to either start thinking about an internship yourself or encourage your nearest physics major to pursue one.   Talk to professors and start thinking about where you would like to intern for your next summer.  Who knows, maybe you will find something unexpected.

-from Travis White (JMU senior physics major)