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Wednesday, 3 November 2010

New Project Manager as Voyager Explores New Territory


The full version of this story with accompanying images is at:

PASADENA, Calif. –As NASA's two Voyager spacecraft hurtle towards the edge of our
solar system, a new project manager will shepherd the spacecraft into this unexplored
territory: Suzanne Dodd, whose first job at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in
Pasadena, Calif., involved sequencing science and engineering commands for Voyager 1
and 2 in 1984.

"I'm thrilled to re-join a pioneering mission that set up adventures for so many other
spacecraft to follow," Dodd said. "There will be more firsts to come as we gather unique
data once the spacecraft reach interstellar space. There isn't a single mission currently on
the books that will be doing what Voyager is doing."

The Voyager 2 spacecraft, launched on Aug. 20, 1977, is about 14 billion kilometers (9
billion miles) away from the sun. It is the longest continuously operating NASA
spacecraft. The Voyager 1 spacecraft, launched on Sept. 5, 1977, is about 17 billion
kilometers (11 billion miles) away from the sun. It is the most distant active spacecraft.

In four to six years, Voyager 1 is expected to cross beyond the heliosheath, the outer
layer of the bubble around our solar system that is composed of ionized atoms streaming
outward from our sun. Voyager 2 is expected to cross that boundary several years later.
Once beyond our heliosheath, the two Voyager spacecraft will begin exploring the
interstellar medium, which fills the space between stars.

When Dodd started on Voyager, Voyager 2 was on its way to Uranus. She stayed with
the mission until Voyager 2 completed its closest approach to Neptune. No other
spacecraft have visited these two outer planets.

Dodd still keeps a rolled-up sheet of vellum in her cabinet that shows the timeline of
commands communicated to the spacecraft during its closest approach to Neptune on
Aug. 25, 1989. The encounter with our seventh planet revealed the Great Dark Spot, a
giant storm roiling Neptune's atmosphere, and geysers erupting from pinkish-hued
nitrogen ice that forms the polar cap of Neptune's moon Triton.

After leaving Voyager in October 1989, Dodd moved on to other JPL projects, including
NASA's Cassini mission to Saturn. She left JPL in 1999 to work at the Spitzer Science
Center, which processes data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, and, later, the
Infrared Processing and Analysis Center, which archives infrared astronomy data from
many sources. Dodd eventually managed both those centers, which are based at the
California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

"Coming back to Voyager is like re-learning a language you knew as a kid, but never
spoke as an adult," said Dodd. "I'm excited to be immersed in the details again."

Dodd was also recently named the Spitzer Space Telescope's new project manager.

Dodd says the main challenge with Voyager now is to work within the boundaries of the
spacecrafts' limited resources to make sure they collect the long-anticipated interstellar
data. For example, Voyager's radioisotope power generators, which use heat from the
decay of plutonium to produce electricity, have enabled the spacecraft to operate for this
extended period of time, so far away from the sun. But the power, as expected, decays
over time. While supplies are expected to last through 2020, Dodd and the operations
team will eventually have to turn off some instruments to manage the power resources.

"My job is to make sure the two spacecraft stay healthy and mobile," she said.

Dodd is a native of Gig Harbor, Wash., a town outside of Tacoma. She graduated with a
bachelors of arts degree in math from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash., and a
bachelors of science degree in mechanical engineering from Caltech. She also holds a
masters degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Southern California in
Los Angeles.

Nine Voyager project managers preceded Dodd:  H.M. "Bud" Schurmeier (1972-76),
John Casani (1976-77), Robert Parks (1978-79), Raymond Heacock (1979-81), Esker
Davis (1981-82), Richard Laeser (1982-86), Norman Haynes (1987-89), George Textor
(1989-97) and Ed Massey (1998 to 2010). Edward C. Stone is the Voyager project

The Voyagers were built by JPL, which continues to operate both spacecraft. Caltech
manages JPL for NASA.

More information on Voyager is at and .


Good Clear Skies
Colin James Watling
Real Astronomer and head of the Comet section for LYRA (Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth Regional Astronomers) also head of K.A.G (Kessingland Astronomy Group) and Navigator (Astrogator) of the Stars (Fieldwork)

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