Geophysical Institute graduate preparing for 'Deep Impact'

06/30/05

A comet's make-up is still a mystery. Scientists believe they're filled with ice, dust, and perhaps the building blocks for life, but they've never been able to get an up close and personal look. On Independence Day all of this will change with a mission dubbed "Deep Impact."

The Deep Impact spacecraft is entering the final days of a six-month journey to reach the comet Tempel 1 on July 4, 2005. About 24 hours before the encounter, the complex spacecraft will actually split into two separate vehicles: the Impactor and the Flyby. The Impactor is set on a collision course with Tempel 1. It will strike the comet at a speed of more than 20,000 miles per hour, while the Flyby collects images and other information from the event at a save distance. Impact is set for 9:52 p.m. on July 4.

Nearly 83 million miles from the collision, Systems Engineer Don Hampton will watch and wait. Hampton, a former graduate student at the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, is now working for Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. and is a member of the Operations Team that developed the instruments aboard the Deep Impact spacecraft.

"We have three instruments on the spacecraft. A High Resolution Imager (HRI), a Medium Resolution Imager, and the Impactor," Hampton said from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "We've already got really good data on the comet, and it's only going to get better."

As the time of impact approaches, Hans Nielsen is confident Hampton will remain cool and calm. Nielsen, a professor of Geophysics and associate director of the Geophysical Institute, served as Hampton's advisor in the 1990s when he was a graduate student in the Space Physics Group. Nielsen said Hampton was unflappable during high-pressure projects, and expects he'll perform just as well for Deep Impact.

Don Hampton has committed nine years to the Deep Impact mission. He's been involved with the project since its conception.

The collision will be visible from some locations on Earth, however Alaskans will not be able to the view the event due to the summer sun. Alaskans can still participate by watching the Deep Impact mission as it transpires on NASA TV via satellite and the Internet.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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