Connecting with the Cosmos.
On April 1 and 2, NASA hosted an event to celebrate 50 years of its Deep Space Network (DSN). I was lucky to be part of a pool of 50 drawn from all over the USA to participate in this event. On Day 1 we were given a tour of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, followed by an interaction with the laboratory’s engineers and scientists. On Day 2 we forayed deep into the Mojave Desert to the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex, the site of a cluster of large antennas located within the perimeter of US Military’s Fort Irwin training facility. The DSN constitutes our ‘eyes’ and ‘ears’ enabling us to see and hear the farthest reaches of Creation.
Our hosts at JPL were warm and gracious. Both at JPL and Goldstone, we saw the professionalism, pride and dedication the staff brings to their job. These are people who truly love what they do.
The local ABC affiliate in Los Angeles filed this report of the event.
In this post I shall record a few of the highlights. Due to space constraints on our shuttle bus, I went in with just one 5D Mark III body mated to the 24-105L lens; I had to leave my tripod at home as well. The antennas dotting the vast desert terrain at Goldstone make for a surreal scene at twilight. Unfortunately, access to the facility during these (photographically productive) hours is restricted.
Signals from all of NASA‘s deep space probes are acquired by the large reflector antennas at Goldstone and transmitted to Mission Control at JPL via dedicated underground fibre optic lines. This is the safest building you can find yourself in in the event of a severe earthquake since it is designed to a high factor of safety.
To this day, Mission Control communicates with Voyager 1 (launched in 1977), the farthest man-made object from Earth yet and now in interstellar space. As of April 2014, it takes almost 18 hours for the faint signal from Voyager 1 to arrive.
Check out the real time status of signal acquisition here.
Curiosity‘s Earth-based twin Maggie serves as a testbed to troubleshoot issues that may arise with the Mars explorer.
This antenna together with the Parkes antenna near Sydney, Australia, brought us the first pictures and sounds of Neil Armstrong’s steps on the moon.