|NASA calls on UND prof for Dawn asteroid mission guidance|
As the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) prepared for the upcoming September launch of its Dawn mission, it called on University of North Dakota planetary geologist Mike Gaffey for advice. Gaffey, a professor and interim chair of space studies at the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences, is an internationally recognized and honored expert in asteroids and meteorites.
He spent a week recently with NASA Dawn mission planners and other asteroid-savvy scientists nailing down details of this critical mission to explore the origins and development of our solar system. The Dawn probe will fly to Ceres and Vesta, the largest intact protoplanets in our astronomical neighborhood; Ceres and Vesta orbit the Sun in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, Gaffey explains.
“At the NASA Dawn symposium, we discussed what we know about these two bodies and that knowledge reveals about the origin and evolution of planetary systems such as ours,” notes Gaffey, who last year won the coveted Planetary Division of the Geological Society of America G. K. Gilbert Award and the Meteoritical Society Leonard Medal for his pace-setting research.
“We also reviewed the objectives of the Dawn mission and the payload andoperations of the spacecraft,” says Gaffey, who recently won the UND Foundation/Thomas J. Clifford Faculty Award for Excellence in Research. “The Dawn spacecraft will orbit around Vesta from October 2011 to April 2012 and will offer us the opportunity to probe these questions.”
NASA says Dawn will deliver images of varied landscapes on previously unseen worlds including mountains, lava flows, polar caps and, possibly, ancient lakebeds. Students can follow the mission over an entire K-12 experience as the mission is built, cruises to Vesta and Ceres, and returns data. The public will be able to participate through the Solar System Ambassadors and through participation on the Dawn Web site. Mike Gaffey web site: http://www.space.edu/gaffey.asp NASA Dawn Web site: http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov/