Color image of college students in mission control.

July 17, 2017

Learning from a Wise Old Spacecraft

For more than 22 years, since before Cassini even launched, flight controllers have invited summer interns to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to help make the mission happen. But with the spacecraft's journey ending in September, the current summer interns will be Cassini’s last.

Last Intern Class
Cassini engineer Michael Staab (standing) introduces 2017 summer interns to the Ace console where the mission team communicates with the spacecraft at Saturn.

In addition to being mentored in their respective fields and doing real work to support the mission, the interns also get to taste a variety of other roles. On July 13, the five students helping Cassini for Summer 2017 joined Cassini engineer Michael Staab in JPL mission control for a rare treat.

Staab is a Cassini mission operations engineer and one of Cassini’s real-time Aces. To communicate with interplanetary spacecraft, NASA uses enormous radio antennas at its Deep Space Network complexes at several sites around the globe. Aces in mission control coordinate with operators at those sites to ensure the antenna assigned to Cassini (or any spacecraft) is pointed in the right direction at the right time, and at the right frequency.

This day, Staab let each of the students take a turn on the phone to provide a portion of instructions to the network’s station near Madrid, Spain, where an antenna was just minutes away from picking up Cassini’s signal.

The intern programs at JPL are a crucial part of preparing engineers, scientists and other talented folks for careers in spaceflight, as well as other industries.

Cassini’s final class of summer interns are:

Color image of Madeline Emslie
At Purdue University, Madeline Emslie studies aerospace engineering.
Andy Ham
Andy Ham studies computer science at University of Chicago.
Color image of Paige Arthur
Paige Arthur majors in aerospace engineering at the University of Colorado.
Juliann Forbes is studying electrical engineering at New York University.
Juliann Forbes is studying electrical engineering at New York University.
Color image of Alex Nicita
At Columbia University, Alex Nicita is double-majoring in computer science and philosophy.

Credit

NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratry-Caltech

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