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.
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: