We love smart, accomplished women. There are so many of them in the world. Here’s one that has been hiding in plain sight!
The 20-year voyage of the Cassini spacecraft will soon come to a crashing end on the planet Saturn. But a woman, here on earth, has been following it’s travels since 1990. It seems that there is plenty of room for women leadership in space. Her name is Dr. Carolyn Porco.
The Cassini aircraft follows the extraterrestrial travels of the Voyager and the Mars Rover. It was launched on October 15, 1997 from Cape Canaveral Florida and its primary mission was to explore Saturn and its system of rings and moons. The Cassini spacecraft is currently orbiting within the rings of Saturn, and will begin its last, final, cosmic dive. It is scheduled to crash into Saturn and be incinerated approximately September 15 of this year. This is the first human artifact to land this far out in space. On earth, Dr. Carolyn Porco has been wishing the Cassini spacecraft adieu. Dr. Porco has been the longtime leader of the Cassini’s Imaging Science team. Her team has been in charge of all the images the Cassini has been taking on its long, strange trip through our solar system.
Dr. Carolyn Porco joined the Cassini mission as the leader of the Imaging Science Team in November of 1990. She is also the Director of the Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations (CICLOPS the center of operations where Cassini images are processed for release to the public.)
Dr. Porco was raised in the Bronx, in a family with four brothers, her father an immigrant from Italy. When she was 13, she saw Saturn through a neighbor’s telescope, foreshadowing her choice of career, and her long attachment to the planet. She was a graduate student at the California Institute of Technology, and worked on analyzing data on two Voyager space crafts that toured the planets of Jupiter and Neptune from 1978 to 1989.
Her love of science, space and her sense of humor has made her one of the most engaging space scientists in the public realm. She has been a regular CNN guest analyst and consultant on astronomy. Dr. Porco also has an engaging TED Talk entitled “This is Saturn,” and a shorter one on one of Saturn’s moons, “Could a Saturn moon harbor life?”
She claims to have spent two years as a chanting Buddhist, and went on a two-week pilgrimage to Japan, where she was a majorette in a Buddhist Marching Band, wearing hot pants, “Now THOSE were the days!” she had responded in an email message to the New York Times.
Dr. Porco is a respected scientist and an engaging speaker. If you get a chance, check out her TED Talks linked on this blog. As we get more information on the outer planets and our universe, we will need more Dr. Porco’s to help with the international collaborative programs, like Cassini, to learn, process, investigate and disseminate what is out there.
As Cassini continues to send remarkable images back to earth, it is slowly, yet grandly coming to the end of its legendary mission. Dr. Porco called the international collaborative mission, “just glorious,” an example of what humans working together can do.