While a lot of us were seeing stars last month during the solar eclipse, for one Sand Canyon resident it was just another day at the office. For almost 30 years Richard Cook has made his mark as an engineer at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. As project manager of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory project at JPL, he played a key role in the landing of the rover, “Curiosity,” in 2012. Cook attracted the attention of Time Magazine when he was counted among the publication’s “Top 100 Most Influential People in the World.”
While people all over the U.S. faced the eclipse on August 21, 2017 wearing special order glasses and holding up homemade pinhole boxes, JPL employees were doing the same — perhaps with slightly more enthusiasm, however.
“Eclipse day was pretty exciting at JPL, although we didn’t have any particular equipment to view it, other than the standard viewing glasses that most people had,” Cook said. “I would say nearly all JPLers came outside and watched it directly, so it was a bit of a party. Lots of folks didn’t come to work, though, because they travelled up to the ‘zone of totality’ to check it out in person. I heard lots of great stories about what it was like in person.”
Cook says this year is another big one for JPL.
“We just celebrated the 40th anniversary of the launch of the Voyager mission, and we continue to get science data from it, even though the spacecraft has left our solar system — the furthest human made object,” he explained.
The public can get unprecedented views of Saturn this month, he said, as the Cassini mission finishes 13 years of orbit. “We have to crash the spacecraft into Saturn on September 15 because it has run out of fuel,” he described. “There will be lots of coverage of it as it gets closer … culminating in some amazing close up pictures of the rings as the spacecraft goes in.”
Next year brings even more drama at JPL, Cook added. “We are getting ready for Mars missions in 2018 (a lander) and 2020 (a big rover),” he said. “Plus, we want to send an orbiter and lander to Jupiter’s moon, Europa, to look for potential life in its subsurface ocean. Those missions will happen in the 2020s.”
Cook has been a Sand Canyon resident for 16 years. “I love it and it’s been great seeing my kids grow up in Canyon Country,” he said. “My youngest is graduating from Canyon High School this year, so 2018 will be a big year.”