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Central Coast connection to NASA's historic Dawn space mission - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

Central Coast connection to NASA's historic Dawn space mission

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A historic day for NASA as a spacecraft moves into orbit around a dwarf planet. One of the team members responsible, Timothy Weise, who is an alum of Cal Poly and now teaches Spacecraft System Design at the school. He's currently serving as the Mission Manager of the "Dawn Spacecraft" engineering team.

The Dawn Spacecraft first explored the giant asteroid Vesta, now it entered orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres. Weise said Vesta and Ceres, were formed at the very beginning of the solar system. His job as the Deputy Mission Manager includes sending commands to the spacecraft, and reviewing the engineering data. "People have been exploring the solar system for hundreds of years, the Earth even longer than that. By Dawn exploring Vesta and Ceres, it will provide us more insight into the solar system, and how it formed, and more information on how the earth has formed," Weise said.

For more than two centuries, NASA said Ceres, discovered in 1801, has just been a faint smudge of light amidst the stars. Now they are getting a closer look, Weise said "Seeing the images come in to greater and greater resolution, before we got there we just had these fuzzy images, and resolving all of the details as they come to light is just an amazing experience."

Pictures show a number of craters on Ceres, and a pair of unusual bright spots that scientists believe provide clues as to how the planet was formed and whether its surface is changing. Dawn, will orbit closer and closer to give researchers a chance to look for signs that these strange features are changing, which would suggest current geological activity. "Seeing this new territory and this new technology, it's an amazing experience, it's very rewarding, making more and more milestones and discoveries," Weise said.

Even though it's called a dwarf planet, Ceres is about a quarter the size of the moon. Weise said the spacecraft will orbit the planet for a little more than one year, exploring its surface.
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