A Little Piece of The Garcipian Just Left Earth
This is just too cool not to blog about, and I hope you’ll pardon me for a little display of pride, for this blog has nothing to do with investing, but when connections like this are made, each of us can realize how we can affect literally billions of people on this planet and all of their future generations. My contribution to that affectation is infinitely small compared to others nearer the project, but I still feel a tiny connection there, and am excited to have contributed my itsy-bitsy tiny portion to achieving something so great, something that may impact countless generations ahead of me. Let me explain.
I don’t talk about my day job much because I never want to accused of talking up (or down) my company, or of front-running, or any other get-rich-trading scheme. I’m not close enough to the top of the corporate ladder to know any inside information, but I don’t even take the chance that someone would ever think I have some knowledge there. So, I don’t talk about the company, and certainly not on public forums. Period. However, I can describe what I do in general terms thusly: I help cable & harness designers create, design, cross-check, and prepare for manufacturing all sorts of wiring harnesses. As a consultant, I wear many different hats: from Software Designer & Developer to Trusted Advisor to Process Assessor & Implementer to Writer to Training Instructor to Tester to Defect Reporter. As you might suspect, my job rarely gets boring. I’ve worked with people who design harnesses for planes (commercial & military), trains (locomotive diesels and passenger cars), automobiles/trucks (domestic & foreign), snowmobiles, lawnmowers, backhoes, combines, cotton-pickers, satellites and even the Space Shuttle. About the only mechanized transport I’ve not worked on is tanks. I’ve helped designers design this Navy plane, the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye and Embraer’s ERJ-170 passenger jet, and some of the software I’ve written and tweaked is helping Boeing with their forthcoming 787 Dreamliner. I’ve sat in Black Hawk helicopters on the production assembly line in Connecticut, and in Boeing’s multi-million dollar flight simulator in Seattle, and stood in corporate jets (before the leather & cushy stuff goes in) under the cockpit floor of various aircraft where the bulk of the wiring runs. Business travel has taken me to many places in America, and because of my job, I’ve also spent time in Brazil, Canada, Germany, England, Singapore, and Penang (Malaysia). But it’s not all glamorous; believe me, traveling is not fun, doing the airport shuffle, working 8-10 hrs a day with the client, then putting in another 5-6 hrs back at the hotel, being am away from friends & family, eating too much fatty food & not getting enough sleep. You’d think I’d look better than this.
But I don’t. Plus, I get to travel to fabulous places like Detroit… where you can buy over 1800 homes each for under $10K.
But this particular adventure started in Boulder, CO, a few years back when I got to work with a Ball Aerospace support specialist, and helped him & his team by designing custom software that they used, in turn, to design flight control harnesses for a critical space mission. This past Friday, March 6th, 2009, at 10:49pm EST, that mission launched into orbit around the sun, currently trailing Earth by some 950 miles. And a little piece of me went with it.
Granted, there are tens of thousands of people across this country and the world involved in the design, manufacture, launch and operation of the Kepler spacecraft, but I’ll take pride in it just the same for this is an amazing advancement in both science and long-term social progress for the planet. Why is that, you ask? For that, you need to understand what NASA is trying to do with the Kepler initiative.
Kepler is a giant telescope of a different sort, working differently from the Hubble Space Telescope and with a very different mission than its sister. Named after the great German mathematician and astronomer Johannes Kepler who was famous for his three laws of planetary motion (and who helped prove Galileo’s case that not every object revolved around the sun), this device’s mission is to find Earth-sized planets out there in the vastness of the cosmos. But how does it do that?
These images might help you understand. The first picture shows the entire spacecraft with its solar panels and characteristic long telescope tube, akin to that of the Hubble.
The “tube” is the Photometer, responsible for gathering star light allowed in via the baffle at the elliptically-shaped end and bounced off & focused via the highly polished Primary Mirror at the other (closed) end, back to the center where an array of 42 CCDs (like those in your digital camera) sit. Those 42 CCDs are electronic eyes able to capture & digitally process that star light, eyes that provide more than 7X the resolution of any commercially available digital camera today (at about 95 million pixels!). To give you a sense of the spacecraft’s overall size, the primary mirror alone is 55 inches in diameter, with the photometer being about 15 feet long. BTW, the baffles sitting atop the photometer can be closed when the spacecraft is not viewing the cosmos or needs to protect its sensitive internal equipment during “cosmic dust” storms.
For the next 4 years or so, the spacecraft will trail the Earth on its own power (from the solar panels) and point its “tube” away from our sun, looking in an extremely narrow field for long periods of time. It finds a distant star and locks its gaze onto that star, constantly measuring the amount of light it receives. When the light changes (drops in amplitude), we know that something has passed in front of that star, be it a planet, comet, meteor, Superman, Shirley MacLaine or Courtney Love. By measuring how much the light changes and how quickly, we can figure out how big the object is that passed in front of it and how far away it is from its sun. If we take enough measurements in that same narrow field of view and the phenomenon periodically repeats itself, we know we’ve found a planet revolving around that distant sun, how fast it revolves around that star, and how big it is. Is that cool or what?!
(Pictures from Ball Aerospace start here. Other links of interest are here and here.)
We will then turn the attention of the Hubble & Spitzer space telescopes to these planets to learn more about their atmospheres, something in which they excel with their different photography skill sets. According to NASA, first we’ll most likely find large “hot Jupiters” that are gas giants circling “close and fast around their stars”. Then will come the colder Neptune-size planets, and eventually, we will find other Earth-sized planets. Obviously, the smaller the planet, the harder it will be to find.
But why Earth-sized? Why is that important? Well, it’s believed that liquid water is an essential building block for life, and since a planet’s temperature must lie in a particular range for water to exist as a liquid, and since a planet’s temperature is mostly controlled by how far it resides from its sun, the thinking is we’re more likely to find life on planets about the same size as Earth and the same distance from its sun. With billions of galaxies in the universe and trillions of stars in each one, there is no question in my mind that there is definitely Life out there. Finding it and communicating with it? Well, that’s another story. But we are on our way…
For me, this is way better than “Elvis has left the building” – TheGarcipian has just left Earth!