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Featured Scientist
  Ken Klaasen

Ken Klaasen, Deputy Principal Investigator

What is your current role on the Stardust-NEXT mission?
I am the Deputy Principal Investigator and have lead responsibility for the NAVCAM observation planning, camaera calibration, and science operations.

Is this the first you’ve worked on a comet mission?
No, I was also a Co-Investigator on the Deep Impact mission and the lead for instrument calibration and science operations.

What do you find interesting about returning to Tempel 1?
It will be fascinating to see how this comet has evolved over the course of one orbit about the Sun. I also hope we will be able to see some of the details of the crater formed by the Deep Impact Impactor collision.

How long have you been interested in comets and why?
I started becoming interested in comets shortly before the time of the last comet Halley passage in 1986.  I worked on some instrument and missions concepts for taking advantage of that opportunity. That led to other comet mission studies and eventually to my involvement in Deep Impact.

Are comets the only objects you’ve studied? If, not what other missions have you worked?
No, I have been involved in missions to Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn as well.  On the Galileo Jupiter mission, we took advantage of opportunities to fly by and study two asteroids (Gaspra and Ida) along the way and to observe the Shoemaker-Levy comet impact with Jupiter from a unique vantage point in deep space.

Klaasen showing baseball calendar  
Ken Klaasen showing his baseball calendar.  

What are your expectations for the Stardust-NEXT mission and the science findings that come from it?
I expect we will achieve a successful close encounter and will return a number of high-resolution stereo images of Tempel 1 that will allow us to derive greater insight into the structure and evolution of comets.

Growing up did anyone inspire you?
There was no single person from whom I found inspiration. I always enjoyed science fiction literature and was fascinated by the early accomplishments of the space age as a boy in the late 50’s and early 60’s. I also admired my father’s abilities as an engineer to solve problems logically and mathematically.  He built a telescope by grinding his own primary mirror by hand – I thought that was cool and enjoyed viewing the Moon and planets through it.

What suggestions do you have for young people today wanting to do what you do?
Work hard to do well in your math and science classes. Read many books. Spend time in museums. Ask questions.  Be curious.

What do you enjoy most about your job?
The greatest thrill is seeing images of places and things no one has ever seen before. I get to explore the universe and be amazed at its vastness and complexity. I like working on mathematical problems and planning projects.

What do you hope for the future of space exploration in general?
I hope mankind can cooperatively continue to explore and expand our knowledge of the universe together peacefully. I hope the resources can be found and allocated to carry out many of the great mission concepts that have been proposed.



Science In-Depth

Exploring Comets

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“When we see comets up in the sky they're really spectacular. But unless you get close to a comet, you can't really figure out what's going on.”

-Joe Veverka