Six college interns at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory were front and center as first-ever, close-up views of comet Hartley 2 popped up on large monitors in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's mission control. NASA's EPOXI mission successfully flew past the comet at about 7 a.m. PDT today. The students are part of the Student Independent Research Intern Program, which offers academic credit to students during the one-semester internship.
The undergraduates arrived at about 5 a.m. to watch mission events leading up to the close flyby. This mission is only the fifth time a comet nucleus has been visited by a spacecraft. "It was an amazing experience," said Michael Goetz, a junior majoring in aerospace engineering at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. "Not a lot of people can say they were there. It was wonderful to be part of the process for this mission." Dwight Winkler, a computer science major in his senior year, also at Cal Poly Pomona, agreed. "The build-up was very exciting. First we saw the radar images, then the long distance images. And then, the close-up images were so clear. It's crazy to know we're seeing a comet so close that is actually up in space."
For Steven Sfatcu, also a Cal Poly senior majoring in computer science, the successful event builds on his desire to have a career at JPL or NASA. "Being exposed to JPL in general, not just today, I get to see the whole process of a mission and the team and how they work together," said Sfatcu. "I feel like when you're younger, you hear that when you enter the workforce, you'll hate your job. But here at JPL, people really enjoy what they do! They are doing very cool things that benefit society and advance our technologies."
"This was very exciting to see," added Sandra Perez, an environmental and occupational health major in her senior year at California State University, Northridge. "With my major, and my internship here, I am in the office and the field, learning and observing. At JPL, I am seeing that there is a big difference in being in the class versus in the working world."