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Live From the Hubble Space Telescope

Program 2:

Making Your Observations

First aired live, March 14, 1996, 13:00-14:00 Eastern

"Making YOUR Observations" climaxed with a live "First Look" at the original astronomical data acquired as a result of the Passport to Knowledge observations. Planet Advocates Heidi Hammel, Marc Buie and participating K-12 students saw, at exactly the same moment, what we've collectively discovered about Neptune and Pluto, during a live uplink from the Space Telescope Science Institute, in Baltimore, Maryland (STScI). ("First Look" is what astronomers call their initial glimpse of new data: during the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 collision with Jupiter, "First Look" was welcomed with whoops of delight and celebratory toasts, as we saw during this program.) There was another, equally unique "First Look" as for the first time ever live cameras were welcomed into the Space Telescope Operations Control Center at NASA's Goddard's Space Flight Center. Though there's no live camera currently up in orbit to show us HST from outside, we saw exactly where HST was at that precise moment, and exactly what HST was seeing. Via our live cameras, students came as close, virtually, to HST as any human on Earth could ever be. Students looked over controllers' shoulders and saw what happens as the telescope slews to acquire new guide stars, or "dumps" its data from the on- board tape recorder. If there is a spacecraft "Health and Safety" emergency, however, we would be unceremoniously booted out of the Mission Operations Room!

Videotaped sequences show the wide variety of people it takes to operate HST, from astronomers and astronauts, to engineers, computer programmers, communications specialists, mathematicians, graphic artists, technical writers... secretaries. Footage from across America and around the world show the diverse places, far from STScI and GSFC, where HST work is performed, and the processes which are involved. Students saw what HST has contributed to our understanding of the solar system, and will appreciate that while spacecraft missions have returned stunning, high resolution images of nearly all our local planets (except Pluto), HST provides ongoing coverage, functioning as a kind of "interplanetary weather satellite" for our cosmic neighborhood.

Heidi Hammel and Marc Buie reviewed what we know about Neptune and Pluto, what they hope the new images might reveal, and describe the hard work they'd be facing in the five weeks, to prepare the brand-new data for the April 23rd telecast. Students will find out how they also can work on the data, using custom software and lessons plans provided over the Internet by Passport to Knowledge and others. "Mrs. Jupiter," Planet Advocate Reta Beebe, shared images from the bonus orbit observing Jupiter which she contributed to the project, and we saw how researchers use the huge STScI data archive to compare and contrast past pictures to help make sense of new information.

The program also provided an e-mail address where questions could sent during the live broadcast, providing information about how to participate using e-mail or the World Wide Web. Students met some of the men and women on the Hubble team who'd volunteered to write Field Journals and who'd be responding to student questions on-line as part of Researcher Q&A.

In addition to live uplinks from STScI and GSFC, students from Washington state participated via satellite and interactive video: some of them played a role in the "Great Planet Debate" and would now witness results of the decision they helped make. In another first for Passport to Knowledge, students at the European Space Agency's ECF (European Coordinating Facility) in Garching, near Munich, Germany, interacted via videoconferencing. (ESA built the FOC, or Faint Object Camera, which was used to image Pluto.) There was also possible e-mail input directly from schools in Brazil, some in Manaus in the Amazon rainforest, who were watching the programs live via USIA's Worldnet.

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