Jason Kendall
William Paterson University
Amateur Astronomers Association of New York

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Voyager: the Interstellar Mission

A Public Lecture
Presented at the Explorers' Club
New York City, New York
Monday, January 14: 7:00 PM

The Voyager Spacecraft were launched in 1977 bound for a Grand Tour of the outer Solar System. After successfully visiting all four Jovian planets, the spacecraft hurtled onward. Now, after 35 years of traveling in space, they are finally reaching the edge of the Sun's influence to travel into true interstellar space. Join NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador Jason Kendall as he discusses the only spacecraft that will soon sail the winds between the stars.


Recap

This was a very interesting event. I talked about the Voyager mission from launch to its current location. I also talked about the latest results from Kepler that were presented at the AAS meeting that I attended. The crowd of the Explorers Club is an interesting group. There were mostly wealthy benefactors of exploration, but we had a few ringers in the house. First up, when I arrived, I saw that they'd only put out 70 chairs. I knew this wasn't enough, judging by how I pumped it online. Very soon, they'd packed it with chairs to capacity. The Club was very happy to hear about this fundamental exploration, and we shouldn't be surprised if the Club wants to get a Flag on board some planetary robotic mission.

So it goes on. I talked about the Voyager mission and how it spawned the Galileo and Cassini missions, and talked about the likelihood of seeking elementary life or prebiotic chemistry on Titan, Enceladus and Europa, as well as the challenges of proposed missions to those locations.

The crowd was impressed with the Pale Blue Dot image, and were impressed with Carl Sagan's words. After the talk, a girl asked me what the universe's birthday was. I use that phrase when talking about the Big Bang, which was the topic of another question from the audience. I let her know that we cannot know it, that it's like knowing to the nanosecond what time she had breakfast. But she was inquisitive and insistent, and so I said, "How about July 1?" and without a moment's hesitation, she said, "No, it's September 10." I said that's good too, but why, and she said it was her birthday. I told her that between she and I, we now know the universe's birthday. Her father started it with a question about "How much faith do you have in the Big Bang". I usually answer that with "if it didn't happen, then something an awful lot like it did." But that's usually never a good answer, so I let him know how we based it on observations, and pointed he and his daughter to the WMAP mission.

Then an older gentlemen stood up and declared that was on the design team of the Atlas 3 rocket, and witnessed the launch of Voyager 2. And another came up and said he works at Huntsville. Finally, there was an amazing little interchange right at the end, a woman came up and let me know that she was one of the voices on the Golden Record. So, I brought up the Portuguese entry on the website, and there was her voice. She remembered the greeting, and spoke it right there, with the same inflection and sound as she did back in 1977. She now works at Hunter College, and was very glad that "her spaceship" is still so loved, and is the topic of discussion and is at the forefront of knowledge and exploration.



About Jason Kendall

I am currently adjunct faculty at William Paterson University teaching astronomy. I hold a Master of Science in Astronomy from New Mexico State University. I am also a board member of the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York. Since 2008, I have led the Inwood Astronomy Project which brought over 200 events of stargazing and public astronomy outreach to upper Manhattan, including the historic Inwood Star Fest, where Inwood Hill Park lights were turned off as part of the 100 Hours of Astronomy event in IYA2009. This was the first time in New York City history when park lights were turned off for an astronomy event. I've also focused on park safety due to an uptick in sexual assaults in Washington Heights and Inwood during 2011. I've worked to make our parks safer by encouraging public use of parks at night through night-time events with Park Rangers. I have led numerous "starwatching parties" and astronomy events in New York City, New Mexico, Minnesota, New Jersey, Connecticut and Texas. I am also proud to have been part of the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador Program from 2009 to 2012. It all started way back in the fourth grade by the encouragement of two noted astronomers, Charles Schweighauser and Bart Bok. I saw Saturn through Charlie's telescope at then Sangamon State University on a clear Illinois night, and Bart encouraged me under those stars to study hard to come visit him at Kitt Peak National Observatory. I finally did make it down there about a decade after Bart passed away, and I found the favorite spots in Tucson, Arizona, where Bart and his wife Priscilla would spend when they were not gazing at the stars. Bart and his wife were pioneers in the study of the Milky Way, and their studies of the starforming regions called Bok Globules. It's even in my family. My great-grandfather was a Midwestern minister who used to preach his sermons out under the dark, cloudless nights. He always believed that getting out and experiencing the wonders of the natural world was a central part of being human. My family has always been inspired by his words: "We look up to look within." I hope that you'll join me under the stars or at one of my talks.

Come see what's up in the sky!

Jason Kendall

We look up to look within

William Paterson University Department of Physics American Astronomical Society Astronomical Society of the Pacific Amateur Astronomers Association of New York

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