August 22, 2017
The day that NASA called
This is the Facebook post that I wrote that day, January 4, 2017:
I just looked up and it is now dark out, and 8:00 at night…the day has more than flown, it has evaporated.
First and most importantly. Hundreds of people labored for years on the five final concept studies, VERITAS, DAVINCI, Lucy, NeoCam, and Psyche. We worked a paltry five and a half years. Other teams have gone through this process twice, three times. Some people have worked their whole careers to win a mission. There is an ocean of heartbreak today. The three missions not selected were outstanding. I’ve heard NASA officials say that this was one of the strongest Discovery panels ever. I know Principal Investigators from other calls and other years who say the heartbreak is too much, they can’t go through the process again. I hope none of our PIs feel that way. It’s a high-risk endeavor. It’s not our lives, as it is for other explorers, but it surely is our hearts. My great respect to all who proposed.
For our team, a different outcome this time. This morning I was sound asleep when my mobile phone rang. Though I had received lots of great advice via social media about how to relax the evening before (most involving alcohol, to be honest), I happily went off to bed, read for a while, and slept so soundly that the plowman doing our long gravel driveway in the middle of the night didn’t even waken me.
So I was embarrassed to be sound asleep when the phone rang at 8:00. Thomas Zurbuchen said, “Oh, did I waken you? and..I think you will be glad I did!” What a wonderful way to wake up. Then the cell coverage ceased, as it normally does up here in the Massachusetts hills. He called back on the land line.
What a surreal conversation! We always hoped and yearned to win, but I suppose I might have been overprepared for losing. After I hung up, I went downstairs and put some fresh wood in the woodstove, and put on the kettle for coffee, thinking, I need to call James Tanton, I need to call Turner Bohlen, I need to call Jim Elkins and Jim Bell and Ben Weiss and David Oh and David Lawrence and Carol Polanskey and [many team members and friends and] Michael Crow and Mike Watkins and Paul Estey…and then I turned the kettle off and turned the stove down and put on my boots and walked into the woods.
The snow is soft from a night of rain and freezing rain, and the tree trunks are dripping dark with water. As usual I listened to the sound of my boots in the snow, and looked for animal tracks (one coyote, one fox, one squirrel, one vole, two deer). I walked up to a saddle between two hills and just stood looking at the trees in the silence. I always look for porcupines in trees and I never see them. Didn’t see any this morning. Then I walked back to the house and started calling.
Now, 30 phone calls, 5 interviews, 1 NASA press event, perhaps 500 emails, Facebooks, Twitters, and texts later, I think I am beginning to grasp the first 3% of the realization that we are really going to do a mission to Psyche! We are really going there to see it! My heart is swelling up and I feel really maudlin embarrassing sentiments coming…so grateful, so grateful, so grateful, and so happy to share this adventure with everyone.