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Miles O'Brien: Huygens mission


Check this Web log throughout the day as CNN anchor and space correspondent Miles O'Brien follows the progress of Huygens' mission to Saturnís moon Titan.

Miles O'Brien
CNN anchor and space correspondent Miles O'Brien
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NASA has high hopes for the Huygens probe.
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FACT BOX
Cassini-Huygens mission to Titan:

  • TITAN: Largest Saturnian moon. May harbor organic compounds similar to those predating life on Earth. Temperature is minus 292 degrees F (180 C).
  • HUYGENS PROBE: Spacecraft is 8.9 feet in diameter and 703 pounds (317 kg). Was released from Cassini on December 24 and landed on Titan on January 14.

    Source: NASA

  • A day like no other

    Posted: 7:10 p.m. ET

    What a day. It occurs to me how fortunate we are to live in a time where we can "visit" such a place. Christiaan Huygens could not have imagined what we have all witnessed. While many have asked me today if such things are worth the money -- I wonder what our world would be like if we did not feel compelled to explore our frontiers.

    I am glad this is a part of being human -- and even in a world with so many pressing needs, we can still well afford to make the effort and expend the resources to lift our eyes to the sky and dream about a place that -- just this morning -- we could barely imagine.

    Rocky surface

    Posted: 4:04 p.m. ET

    There are a handful of other images floating around the Web right now. Among them: a shot on the surface of Titan -- which appears to show rocks! It looks like a shot from one of the Mars rovers. Truly astounding. And just the beginning I think of an amazing slide show. Stay tuned.

    Close to the vest

    Posted: 3:19 p.m. ET

    It's a little disappointing we are only seeing one picture so far. ESA is not like NASA -- the agency likes to keep its data close to the vest and does not release images as they stream down -- as we have come to expect from NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab (in California). Too bad. It is self serving, clearly, but it is always better to share.

    River of tears

    Posted: 3:15 p.m. ET

    The picture is in -- and it has brought tears to those who have worked so hard to make it a reality. It clearly shows river channels and what appears to be the shores of some kind of sea -- think of Lake Michigan filled with paint thinner -- that is how NASA's Carolyn Porco put it on our air a few moments ago.

    Space deja vu

    Posted: 1:06 p.m. ET

    Another reminder why people in the space business always build a lot of redundancy into their hardware... Another reminder why people in the space business always build a lot of redundancy into their hardware.

    Anticipation building

    Posted: 12:59 p.m. ET

    Next big event: the pictures -- due out in one hour 45 minutes. No reason to think the communication issue will change that.

    Redundant systems

    Posted: 12:46 p.m. ET

    Problem with one of the telemetry streams. Engineers say they are not receiving data on one of the channels that sends data from Huygens via Cassini. Doesn't sound like a huge problem -- as the channels are fully redundant -- except for one experiment -- to measure Titan winds. Data from this device is fed only on the "A" channel -- which is not working. Channel "B" is able to transmit everything else. By the way: everything is sent in octuplicate (eight times over) -- just to insure any static doesn't leave big holes in the data -- or the panoramas.

    What will the photos show?

    Posted: 12:19 p.m. ET

    First images will be low resolution. Later they will release the high res stuff. Pictures are taken straight down -- at 45 degrees and to the horizon. Will they see through the thick haze?

    Essential data

    Posted: 11:54 a.m. ET

    The first bits of data to come down is boring but essential stuff -- housekeeping data about the systems on the spacecraft. The science data and images come after that. The first pictures should be released at 2:45pm EST (1945 GMT).

    Huygens a complex machine

    Posted: 11:42 a.m. ET

    ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain: "A very complex machine that has worked beautifully -- carried 6 instruments through a harsh environment."

    Successful contact

    Posted: 11:33 a.m. ET

    Cheers all around in Darmstadt (Germany)! The first packet of data from Huygens (via Cassini) has arrived at the ESA (European Space Agency) control center. It will be about 3.5 hours before we see the first glimpse of Titan's surface.

    Moment of truth

    Posted: 10:42 a.m. ET

    Imagine working 15 years for this moment. A lot of time and money on the line. Scientists and engineers in the space business might as well be galactic riverboat gamblers.

    Postcards from space

    Posted: 10:39 a.m. ET

    By now, if all has gone well, NASA's Cassini spacecraft has sent back the first packets of data and they should be on their way to Earth. Titan is 67 light minutes away, and so we must wait, hopeful Newton's laws will carry along some historic postcards from space.

    Electric atmosphere

    Posted: 10:14 a.m. ET

    The scientists and engineers on the scene in Darmstadt (Germany) describe the atmosphere as "electric," not the atmosphere of Titan but the mood at the European Space Agency Control Center. They have worked for a decade and a half for this moment and all of their efforts funneled toward a two-hour harrowing descent.

    Landing on Titan

    Posted: 10:11 a.m. ET

    The Huygens probe is on the surface -- and it is alive and well. What we do not know is what sort of data it collected. We know it survived because the Deep Space Network -- the huge satellite dishes here on Earth operated by NASA to track spacecraft on missions like these is "hearing" the signal. But it is sort of like eavesdropping on a conversation that you cannot quite make out. Huygens is talking to Cassini -- and here on Earth we can only say for certain that Huygens is talking. It remains to be seen if Cassini is doing its part of the job. In the next hour, we will know.


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