THE AMBITIOUS DAWN MISSION, launched in September 2007, is one of NASA’s most remarkable ventures into the solar system. The spacecraft has recently completed a spectacular exploration of Vesta and is now traveling to Ceres; these were among the last uncharted worlds in the inner solar system prior to Dawn. It is the only spacecraft ever to orbit an object in the asteroid belt. Such a mission would be impossible without the use of ion propulsion, a technology that has mostly been in the domain of science fiction, but which was tested extensively on the Deep Space 1 mission, paving the way for Dawn. In this lecture, Dr. Marc Rayman, Dawn’s Chief Engineer and Mission Director at JPL, describes the Dawn mission and its use of ion propulsion as well as its two exotic destinations. He also shares the excitement and profundity of controlling a spacecraft in deep space.
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