I had very much hoped to be able to post an update about the Deep Impact mission this week, but it looks like my various sources are keeping very very quiet (or maybe they are just tired of me pestering them :)
When Deep Impact crashed into the nucleus of Tempel 1 at 23,000 miles per hour on July 4, it sent a huge, bright cloud of stuff upward and outward from the comet, providing a spectacular image that is already assured a place in the space history books, and may well be seared into the brains of all those who watched the event.
So yesterday, after covering the Deep Impact press conference at JPL and recording for Planetary Radio, my husband and I drove to his parents' house for an Independence Day barbeque. When I explained the nature of the Deep Impact mission my mother-in-law exclaimed, "What! What gives you the right to go around smashing up a comet that was minding its own business?"
There was a stage set up on the steps of the administration building, and the quad in front of it was filled with JPLers of all ages and descriptions. Rick Grammier and Don Yeomans introduced the band -- five guys, all members of the band since 1953 or earlier, still rockin' and rollin'.
"Our cratering experiment went very very well," reported impact scientist Peter Schultz in what may have been the understatement of the weekend. A first look at early science results from the mission suggest that while some events unfolded according to scientists' predictions, Tempel 1 provided many enticing surprises as well.
Here in Von Karman auditorium at JPL, as they get ready for the press conference, they are playing "Rock Around the Clock," by Bill Haley and His Comets. Very appropriate! The press panel is mostly familiar: Andy Danztler, Rick Grammier, Shyam Bhaskaran, Mike A'Hearn, and Pete Schultz.
The panel consists of: Andy Danztler, Solar System Division Director at NASA HQ; Rick Grammier, Deep Impact Project Manager, JPL; Jennifer Rocca, Deep Impact Systems Engineer, JPL; and Mike A'Hearn, Principal Investigator, University of Maryland.
I woke this morning to find a press release in my Inbox that said: "One hundred and seventy-one days into its 172-day journey to comet Tempel 1, NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft successfully released its impactor at 11:07 p.m. Saturday, Pacific Daylight Time," or 06:07 UTC.