Utahn a Key Player in Final Phase of Space Project

Utahn a Key Player in Final Phase of Space Project

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Scott Haws ReportingIn two weeks we'll get our first glimpse of the universe through the eyes of NASA's much anticipated Space Infrared Telescope Facility.

One of the key players in the project is a Sandy man who can't wait for the world to see the first images from SIRTF, as it's called.

SIRTF is the fourth and final phase of NASA's origins project. Each phase of the program is designed to look at our universe at different portions of the electromagnetic spectrum.

By looking at other planets and stars in their different phases, scientists hope to gain a better understanding of our earth and sun's origin and future.

The first mission is by the far the most famous, the Hubble telescope launched back in 1990. Hubble delivered glimpses of galaxies and celestial stars never before seen, but Hubble only covered the visible part of the overall electromagnetic spectrum, which is roughly 5 percent.

Following Hubble were the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory in 1991 and most recently the Chandra X-ray Observatory in 1999, which covered the lower ends of the spectrum.

All that was left was the infrared spectrum, or the part of the spectrum the deals with heat, hence the purpose and mission of SIRTF.

Bob Wilson, "We're able to see through the dust because of our wavelengths. Whereas wavelengths only see a dirty cloud."

When the Hubble telescope looked at our universe, it was similar to what you see right now, in the sense that what you see is what you get. But infrared opens up a whole new vista because it simply measures heat. So images never seen before because of dust and other atmospheric disturbances can now be viewed crystal clear.

Bob Wilson, "We're seeing images four times better than we've ever seen or a thousand times clearer than we've ever seen. Finite life versus infinite for Hubble."

As mission manager, Wilson is responsible for the overall operation of the observatory, engineering, health and safety of aircraft, identification of the science, integration of science and engineering. It’s a hefty task considering the $1.5 billion SIRTF is scheduled to send back some 20,000 images a year for the next two and a half years.

For Wilson, none will be quite like the very first image sent back when SIRTF was initially turned on. Wilson and his team have just about wrapped up their three-month calibration period of SERTIF; that happens on December 18th.

We'll not only be getting our first series of much anticipated images from SERTIF, but the Telescope facility will be getting a new name as well.

Many would thing William Herschel, the one who discovered the infrared radiation would be a shoe-in as a new name for SIRTF, but he wasn't in the running since he already has several science missions and observatories named after him.

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