When the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft focused on its target, the Bennu asteroid, the object turned from a fuzzy point into an incredibly bumpy world full of sharp contrasts. But these images do not produce themselves.
To manage the three cameras on OSIRIS-REx, a core team is needed to create images from half a dozen people, as well as employees from around the world: black and white PolyCam and color MapCam, which have already taken pictures of their new world, as well as SamCam, which will help the selected space hand ship pick your target.
Space.com met with Daton Golish, a member of the imaging team, at the annual conference of the American Geophysical Union in Washington, DC, earlier this month to talk about the images that OSIRIS-REx has already made and what we can expect to see next . [OSIRIS-REx: NASA’s Asteroid Sample-Return Mission in Pictures]
(He said that if he needed to pick a favorite from the chamber trio, he would choose SamCam, the “little child of the family,” because he is often overlooked.) This interview was edited for more length and clarity.
Space.com: What was the most fun part of the mission at the moment?
Daton Golish: To be honest, we received the first really high-quality pictures at the very beginning of December. Those who sincerely took my breath. … This is dramatic lighting, and they have the highest resolution that we have until February. It was, well, very cool.
Space.com: Can you talk about how these images have worked so far?
Golish: While it was interesting. Sharing a mission when we moved from an astronomical phrase to an authorized phase, where Bennu is the real thing right in front of us, was cool. … When Bennu made his way from this little fluffy ball to this magnificent thing in the sky, it was interesting. It is a little difficult, just understanding how to cope with this transition is not fundamentally difficult, you just need to think a little bit differently about the images.
And as [Bennu] becoming more and more resolved, and more and more details appear, the cameras really – I can't say, impressed me, because I was part of the team, and this seemed to be a compliment – but I was really happy how you are They have already done some amazing photos, and I can only imagine what will be better.
Space.com: Are there any particular views or features that you look forward to shooting?
Golish: We have already seen several interesting places: big boulders on Bennu, dark spots on Bennu and bright spots on Bennu. There is a very interesting option. … Just look at this, one, close and personal, and two, in color, it will be interesting.
For the past few months, Bennu has focused on my approach. Now that I am here, I will fly around the asteroid and study it in detail. All the data that I collect will help my team select a site for sampling in 2020. #WelcomeToBennu Details: https://t.co/9pYBuYxA8X pic.twitter.com/CnzVwwRz5n
– NASA OSIRIS-REx (@OSIRISREx) December 3, 2018
Space.com: For people who do not understand what goes into creating these images, what would you like them to know about your work and the team as a whole?
Golish: Perhaps this is not a surprise, but simply a huge number of people, talent and thoughtfulness, who are involved in such a process. In the end, this is one 1-megapixel image, but a lot of ideas are involved in this process – from the development of the mission [to] designing cameras to achieve mission objectives, introducing these cameras [and] people who are planning a mission are guided by a spacecraft. And then, at the very end of this very long process, images come to people like me, who we hope turn them into even more interesting images that highlight the type of information that we think is interesting to Bennu.
This is an incredibly long chain, and it is easy to reduce it to a picture that is very cool and very interesting to watch, and you can say: “Wow!” But there is a lot more to this. I hope people appreciate [that]because these people throughout this whole chain may not stand next to the picture at the end, but they are just as important for this process. So it is interesting to recognize all these steps. [In the Clean Room: Up-Close Look at NASA’s OSIRIS-REx]
Space.com: Will the period between you and the moment you enter orbit on December 31 be tense for you?
Golish: It is conditionally focused on the navigation command. They want to understand how to safely move around this body so that they can go into orbit. Technically, this is the time when we retreat a little. We hope we get beautiful color images. [the second week of December] – as part of their navigation campaign, we were able to use some color images – and this will be our task for the next month or so. They will be our best color images until March, so we want to see what interesting we can see with them. In the meantime, preparing for the end of February, which is our big advertising campaign. … We want to be as ready as possible for these six months. It will be a fair amount of hard work.
Space.com: Are there any key projects or problems that you want to solve between now and then?
Golish: Honestly, so far everything has worked very well. You always expect unexpected things to appear in your process or in the data, or something else, and the fact that everything went so smoothly is just a testament to all the people who worked on everything before that point. … It may be that there is a failure here or there, but this process proceeds largely as we expected, which, you know, is a great relief. In addition, we are grateful for this, because it simply means that we quickly deal with interesting things. We are not too keen on these details. We will see some of these results we have been waiting for, in my case five years, in some cases people, 10, 15 years.