Dawn has made it to Ceres and is now in orbit. There’s a stead stream of data being received by NASA’s Goldstone radio observatory — at blistering 10 b/s (bits per second, considerably slower than my company branch office Internet connection, or what Compuserve used to deliver over dial-up). It takes about a half hour for signals from Dawn to reach Earth.
The space agency has posted press release announcing that Dawn entered orbit around Ceres today at 04:39 PST.
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has become the first mission to achieve orbit around a dwarf planet. The spacecraft was approximately 38,000 miles (61,000) kilometers from Ceres when it was captured by the dwarf planet’s gravity at about 4:39 a.m. PST (7:39 a.m. EST) Friday.
Mission controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California received a signal from the spacecraft at 5:36 a.m. PST (8:36 a.m. EST) that Dawn was healthy and thrusting with its ion engine, the indicator Dawn had entered orbit as planned.
In addition to the press release, a blog entry was posted by mission Chief Engineer Marc Rayman.
Dawn made it!!
It is in orbit around a distant world!!
Yes, it’s clear from the technical details, but it is more intensely reflected in the silent pounding of a heart that has spent a lifetime yearning to know the cosmos. Years and years of hard work devoted to this grand undertaking, constant hopes and dreams and fears of all possible futures, uncounted challenges (some initially appearing insurmountable) and a seeming infinitude of decisions along the way from early concepts through a real interplanetary spacecraft flying on an ion beam beyond the sun.
And then, a short, relaxed chat over a few bits of routine data that report the same conditions as usual on the distant robot. But today they mean something different.
They mean we did it!!