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Online From Jupiter 97

David Atkinson

Doppler Wind Experiment Principal Investigator

a picture of david atkinson

My Field Journals

Hi. My name is David Atkinson (but please call me Dave!) and I am in charge of one of the Galileo probe experiments. It is called the Doppler Wind Experiment (DWE), and will measure the winds in the atmosphere of Jupiter using the Doppler effect. The radio signal from the probe will carry the data from all the different experiments to the orbiter where it will be stored. Later this data will be sent from the orbiter to Earth. As the winds in Jupiter's atmosphere move the probe around (kind of like watching a balloon on Earth drift as it floats into the sky) the frequency of the probe radio signal will shift due to the Doppler effect.

By measuring the change in frequency of the probe signal we will know how the probe is drifting, and this will tell us about the winds at the location of the probe. At the top of the clouds the winds are approximately 100 meters per second (this is about 200 miles per hour). We know this from pictures sent back from the Voyager spacecraft. But we really don't know how the winds change deeper in the atmosphere. And the change in winds as the probe gets deeper will tell us what the source of energy is that drives the winds. Several times other planetary scientists have told me they think the DWE is one of the most important experiments on the probe!

Although I worked for NASA at Ames Research Center (near San Jose, California) for six years from 1981 until 1986, I am now teaching Electrical Engineering at the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho. Moscow is a beautiful small town on the Washington/Idaho border (Washington State University in Pullman, Washington is only seven miles away). We are in Idaho's panhandle not far from Spokane, Washington and Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. I love living in such a wonderful area. We are close to great hiking, rafting, fishing, and skiing. The summers are warm and dry (about 90 degrees), the winters are cold (but not too cold - about 20 degrees) with some snow. Autumn here is gorgeous - colors that rival New England! The town is about 20,000 people, quite a few of them students. And, for their size, the University of Idaho Vandals are one of the best college football teams in the country.

I have three children - Robbie (10 years old) is in fifth grade and Michael (almost 7 years old) is in first grade at St. Mary's school in Moscow. My daughter Christa (named after Christa McAuliffe) is 4 1/2 years old and she is in a preschool at the University of Idaho. And when my wife Donna isn't winning ribbons for her cookies (she makes GREAT cookies! Just ask Marcie Smith, the Galileo Probe Project Manager), bread and chocolate cakes at local fairs, she spends most of her time driving our kids to and from school, baseball, soccer, and ballet. My hobbies include my work (really - I enjoy my work so much that my wife sometimes has to drag me out of my office!) and model rocketry. I am a big baseball fan, and enjoy watching my kids play sports.

It seems that I went to school forever, but it sure was worth it! I spent four years in Walla Walla, Washington (yes, that is a real place!) at Whitman College where I got a degree in Physics and Astronomy in 1977. From Whitman I went to Washington State University and completed a degree in Electrical Engineering in 1980, and then came home to the San Francisco bay area in California and got my Master's degree in Applied Physics at Stanford University in 1981. While I was at Stanford I taught undergraduate and graduate astronomy labs at Stanford's small student observatory.

After Stanford I worked at Ames for five years as an engineer on the Galileo Probe. It was while at Ames that I met Dr. Jim Pollack, one of the top planetary scientists in the world, and began working on the Doppler Wind Experiment. In 1986 I returned to Washington State University to complete my Ph.D., using the Doppler Wind Experiment as my research topic. Jim Pollack passed away in 1994 and I have continued as the principal researcher on the experiment. I started working at the University of Idaho in 1989.

I have always been interested in astronomy and science, and remember reading as many books on astronomy as I could find. I also remember my parents waking me up early in the morning to watch Alan Shepard and John Glenn take off in their Mercury capsules. But one of my strongest memories is sitting around the dinner table and having my father try to explain the Special Theory of Relativity to me. My dad tried very hard, and succeeded in not only arousing my curiosity, but thoroughly confusing me. So I decided I better try to learn it myself!

Interestingly enough, one of the reasons I am now doing the work I am doing is due to Mt. St. Helens, the Volcano in Washington State that erupted in 1980. After Mt. St. Helens erupted, classes were cancelled due to the ash that covered the ground making it impossible to walk or drive, and I was trapped in my apartment for six days. While stuck in my apartment one day I got a call from NASA Ames asking me if I would like a summer job. If I had not been there, they would have offered the job to the next person on the list (or so they told me). And it was during that summer at Ames that I met Joel Sperans, the Galileo probe project manager who, several years later, hired me to work as an engineer on Galileo.

I feel extremely fortunate to be working on such an exciting project - not many people can say they have had the chance to participate in the exploration of another planet! The other probe and orbiter scientists are people I grew up watching on TV during the days of Mariner, Pioneer, Viking, and Voyager. The opportunity to work with the engineers from JPL, Ames, and Hughes (where the probe was actually built) that designed, built, tested, launched, and are currently operating Galileo, and the scientists and science teams that built the instruments and will be doing the investigations, is an experience I will never forget.




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