James Richardson, Co-Investigator
What is your role on the mission?
My role on the Stardust-NExT mission, as an expert in the area of impact cratering, is to look for and analyze the changes made to the surface of comet 9P/Tempel 1 by the impact produced by the Deep Impact (DI) mission. This will not just involve looking for the elusive crater produced by DI, but also the ejecta 'blanket', potential crater rays, and other changes made to the surface, particularly in the vicinity of the impact site -- all of which will give us further clues as to the structure and composition of the comet's surface.
Is this the only mission you’ve worked on?
This is the second mission that I have worked on as a member of the Science Team, having been an Associate Science Team member for the Deep Impact mission previously (I began that mission as an assistant to my Ph.D. advisor, H. Jay Melosh—an original member of DI's science team).
How is your job important to the mission’s success?
Re-examining the surface of Tempel 1 and investigating the effects produced by Deep Impact is an important goal of the Stardust-NExT mission. Having done extensive analysis of the Deep Impact mission results, I hopefully bring a unique mixture of expertise and familiarity to bear on the data produced by Stardust-NExT.
What excites you most about the SD NEXT Mission? What is the most fascinating discovery that has been made to date with Stardust-NExT?
The ability to perform a "follow up" examination of the surface of comet Tempel 1 after Deep Impact is incredibly fortuitous and exciting. It was thrilling to have performed an impact experiment of this magnitude on the actual surface of a small solar system body in the first place, but to be able to go back and re-examine the results of that experiment after the "dust has cleared" is wonderful.
With regard to Stardust's previous visit to comet Wild 2, the incredibly varied and rugged surface features, as well as its layered, onion-like appearance were, to me, the most exciting aspects of that flyby. As one who studies small solar system bodies and their surfaces, Wild 2 remains a most fascinating and enigmatic object.
What are some of the challenges that accompany your job? What do you do differently in your research because you are visually impaired?
In general, the primary challenge of my job is to take the known laws and relationships in physics and geophysics and then test and apply them to the fascinating and often strange environments that we encounter on other surfaces in the solar system—with the goal of increasing our understanding of these worlds and their varied histories.
Personally, I use a variety of tools and techniques in order to function in this field as a visually-impaired scientist. In order to navigate to and from work and around the university campus, I use a guide-dog, trained at The Seeing Eye, in Morristown, NJ. In order to work with hard-copy documents, I utilize a variety of magnification devices and aids. And in order to use a computer, I utilize special software, specifically designed for visually-impaired users, which can invert and modify software color schemes, magnify portions of the screen as needed, and even read selected text via a voice synthesizer.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
The daily challenge and the process of discovery—the potential each day to learn something new about the universe that we live in and how it works, keeps me coming back to the office each day with enthusiasm.