Lamont Weekly Report, August 3, 2012

    When the calendar page turns to August, the passage of summer seems to accelerate, this year pushed forward by the Summer Olympics and the upcoming major political conventions.

    The highlight of the week on our campus, even if yet another sign of summer’s approaching end, was a research symposium given on Tuesday afternoon by the Lamont Summer Interns. In a remarkable half-hour session in the Comer Seminar Room, each of 27 poised and eloquent undergraduates delivered a 1-minute oral summary of the research that he or she had conducted over the past nine weeks. The summaries were “commercials” for poster presentations given during a two-hour session that followed in the Comer atrium. The interns, mentors, parents, friends, and colleagues adjourned the session for a catered barbecue on the deck and lawn behind the building. Dallas Abbott, who directs the program, and all who served as mentors are to be congratulated on the manifest accomplishments of these enthusiastic young researchers.

    On Wednesday and Thursday, Kathy Callahan, Art Lerner-Lam, Edie Miller, and I visited the Langseth, in port at Astoria, Oregon. The ship has completed its ~190 days of scientific work funded this calendar year by the National Science Foundation, and we arrived as representatives of NSF were finishing a two-day Business Systems Review inspection. The four of us were treated to one and a half days of tours and discussions, led by Sean Higgins, Paul Ljunggren, Jeff Rupert, Robert Steinhaus, Captain Jim O’Laughlin, and Chief Engineer Al Karlyn, and we all left with a much deeper appreciation for the special capabilities of Lamont’s flagship and its officers, crew, and scientific support staff.

    Another highlight, one in my field of planetary science, will be marked this weekend. At 10:31 pm PDT on Sunday night, NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory is scheduled to land on Mars. MSL, the largest and most ambitious rover ever to be sent to Mars, carries a host of geochemical and astrobiological instruments designed to explore the planet’s organic chemistry and early environment. But holding center stage this weekend will be MSL’s entry, descent, and landing, to be accomplished with the most complex system ever employed for a robotic spacecraft. If you missed Ken Chang’s lead article in this week’s Science Times, you can gain an appreciation for the impressive challenges that MSL will face by viewing the animation “Seven Minutes of Terror” on YouTube (

    This summer still has science left to offer, even if some of it will come from 14 light minutes away.