NASA Podcasts

WISE Webcast
12.10.09
 
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Tiffany Nail/NASA's Launch Services Program: Hello, I'm Tiffany Nail. We're going to take you on a journey of discovery about NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, also known as the WISE space telescope.

First, here's more about the mission.

Peter Eisenhardt/WISE Project Scientist: There's this basic need that people have to know what is out there, to understand what the universe is made up of.

George Diller/NASA Public Affairs: Have you ever wondered how scientists and astronomers find massive stellar creations, millions of light years away, in the darkest and most isolated areas of the universe?

The WISE space telescope will be poised to explore the entire sky through infrared eyes, searching for dimmer heavenly bodies that populate the space between the brighter planets and the stars.

Ned Wright/WISE Principal Investigator: So, we're taking pictures in the infrared. And by taking multiple pictures, we're going to cover the whole sky. So, we'll get images of the whole sky in the infrared. We'll be able to see stars near the sun that haven't been seen yet because they're too cool to radiate optical light.

George Diller/NASA Public Affairs: The telescope will take an image every 11 seconds and will photograph nearly 1,500,000 pictures in the first six months alone.

Ned Wright/WISE Principal Investigator: With all these images we'll stitch them together to make an image atlas of the entire sky and figure out, you know, what objects are on there and make a catalog. And we expect to see about 300 million objects.

George Diller/NASA Public Affairs: Although there are other telescopes with infrared capabilities, WISE is hundreds of times more sensitive.

Bill Irace/WISE Project Manager: The last time this was done, it was 1983. It was a project called IRAS, Infrared Astronomical Satellite. It was the first time we actually had barely enough technology to do something like this.

Ned Wright/WISE Principal Investigator: To go back to the previous mission that did an all-sky survey, they only had 62 pixels total in their camera and WISE we have 4 megapixel arrays. So, that's a total of 4 million pixels.

Bill Irace/WISE Project Manager: Most of us when we go to buy a digital camera these days, we look for megapixels -- 8, 10, 20 -- and IRAS had 62 pixels.

George Diller/NASA Public Affairs: Compared to the massive Hubble Space Telescope, WISE is smaller and sees a different kind of light from what Hubble can see.

Peter Eisenhardt/WISE Project Scientist: We have only fairly crude maps of the universe at other wavelengths, particularly in the infrared. And so there could be big objects, very interesting objects, that are out there, maybe not very far away -- that if we could just look in the right place in the infrared, we would find them.

George Diller/NASA Public Affairs: With the millions of images WISE will send back to Earth, scientists will be able to study the mysterious dark energy that is responsible for the acceleration of the universe. WISE will also generate the most complete record of dark objects in the cosmos, like vast dust clouds, brown dwarf stars and even large, nearby asteroids that could pose a threat to Earth.

Peter Eisenhardt/WISE Project Scientist: Some of them could be very close. Some of them might even be closer than any star we know about now. And to me, it seems like we ought to know what is out there, what our next door neighbor is. And maybe even a star that has planets around it -- so that would be the nearest planetary system beyond the solar system. That would be something worth knowing about.

Ned Wright/WISE Principal Investigator: Where WISE is really going to pay off is in measuring the infrared radiation from asteroids, whereas previous studies of asteroids have primarily been only in reflected light. And some asteroids are really very black – so, blacker than coal -- and so, they do not reflect much light at all. And so what WISE will be able to do is provide the infrared radiation.

With the infrared radiation we can determine how big the asteroid is. And with that we can know how big these asteroids are, some of which are potentially hazardous to the Earth. So, the ones that are in orbits close to the Earth's orbit, you know, could in the future hit us.

George Diller/NASA Public Affairs: WISE might even find the most luminous galaxies in the universe, some so far away that their light has taken 11.5 billion years to reach Earth.

The WISE telescope is targeted to launch in December 2009 aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The Delta II will place the spacecraft into a polar orbit several hundred miles above Earth.

The launch is being directed by NASA's Launch Services Program based at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The LSP team routinely launches from Kennedy and Vandenberg.

Tiffany Nail/NASA Launch Services Program: Here now with more about the WISE mission is Armando Piloto, NASA KSC mission manager. Armando, thanks for joining us.

Armando Piloto/LSP & WISE Mission Manager: It's great to be here, Tiffany.

Tiffany Nail/NASA Launch Services Program: Armando, what do you do as a KSC mission manager for WISE?

Armando Piloto/LSP & WISE Mission Manager: Well, Tiffany, as a mission manager for WISE, I've been responsible for managing the process of integrating a very unique spacecraft -- WISE -- to the Delta II rocket. So, in essence, my job is to ensure that the rocket and the spacecraft come together, and when they do that they're compatible with each other and that they will both function successfully during flight.

Tiffany Nail/NASA Launch Services Program: Were there any challenges for this mission?

Armando Piloto/LSP & WISE Mission Manager: Definitely. There were significant challenges, like in many other NASA missions that we fly. This particular mission, the spacecraft uses a cryostat to keep the telescope at extremely low temperatures in space.

From a grounds operation perspective, this cryostat before it launches it has to be maintained cool 24/7 at the pad. So, the combination of keeping this cryostat cool in conjunction with all of the different rocket activities that are going on, created numerous logistic and operational challenges for our mission. We found out about this early on in the flow, so we dedicated a team to go work this problem. And the team did a great job, and they have come up with solutions. So we have processes, procedures and resources in place to make sure that we can process the cryostat successfully.

Tiffany Nail/NASA Launch Services Program: How long did it take to get this mission from concept to launch?

Armando Piloto/LSP & WISE Mission Manager: We started working on WISE back in the 2003-2004 timeframe. Early on we did a lot of different trace studies to find a good launch vehicle solution for WISE. We looked at a Deep Impact mission, which is a dual mission. We looked at different vehicles and we found out that the Delta II was the appropriate match.

So, it's been about six years, and I know the team has done a lot of work to get to this flow and we're definitely very excited about the upcoming launch of the WISE mission.

Tiffany Nail/NASA Launch Services Program: How will WISE be launched and why are we launching from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California?

Armando Piloto/LSP & WISE Mission Manager: WISE will be launched aboard a Delta II vehicle out of Vandenberg. The reason is because the spacecraft has a requirement to be placed in a polar orbit so that they can conduct their science. So from a launch vehicle perspective, we can get spacecraft to the polar orbit more efficiently by launching out of the west coast.

We could do this mission out of the east coast, but it would take significant more performance from the Delta II vehicle. So, that's why we have selected Vandenberg as the launch site.

Tiffany Nail/NASA Launch Services Program: Armando, thanks for joining us.

Armando Piloto/LSP & WISE Mission Manager: Thank you.

Tiffany Nail/NASA Launch Services Program: For more information about the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer go to www.nasa.gov/WISE.

Or, you can see the launch as it happens on NASA TV or nasa.gov. For NASA's Launch Services Program, I'm Tiffany Nail. Thanks for joining us.

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