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We proposed for DISR, the Descent Imager Spectral Radiometer, for this Titan entry probe mission. The deal was, Cassini and Huygens were a joint U.S.-European mission. The Americans were going to be primarily responsible for the orbiter—they had two-thirds of the experiments on the orbiter, and two-thirds of the vote on how the orbiter payload was going to be distributed. The probe was going to be mostly the responsibility of the European Space Agency. They got two-thirds of the instruments and two-thirds of the votes deciding the payload.
I had an instrument on the probe, so I knew that was going to have a heavily European flavor, and I thought it was important for us to get some European co-investigators and get a strong European participation. Peter Smith, who was here working with me on things in those days, and I went to Europe. I remember tramping around France and Germany visiting various places and trying to draw out interest in being a collaborator on this experiment that we had in mind for this European entry probe.
This was fun because we were Americans on a European mission. But we were worried that without European partners, our proposal wouldn’t be attractive to the European judges. We didn’t know any Europeans. Back in the eighties, there weren’t very many Europeans in planetary science; they were mostly in astronomy. That’s totally changed today.
We went to the Paris Observatory one fine day, up on a hill—it looks like an old palace. There’s a big dome that astronomers used back in the seventeenth century. It’s really an interesting place. There’s a small building back in the trees and a big lake next to it with fish jumping. Totally different from American science; this was dripping with tradition and charm.
We met Michel Combes and presented our proposal to him. We said, “You guys can help us build the instrument, and in exchange you can participate in the full science of the mission. We think you should build an infrared spectrometer.”
As soon as we made that proposal, they all broke into rapid French. Marty and I couldn’t understand a word. It was too fast. Everybody talking at once—this is the French way. It turned out, for the lab to take on our project, everybody had to agree. If one person didn’t agree, they wouldn’t do it. So several scientists over there had to choose our project over the other possibilities they had. That’s why they’re taking this quite seriously.
Eventually they said, yeah, they thought this could be a good project, and they’d probably be interested in helping us write a proposal. So we said, “Great. We’ll count you in.”
Then we flew up to Germany. We drove way away from all the big cities. At that time Germany was East and West. Within about two miles of the Wall, in the middle of a cow pasture, there was a brand-new, modern building. That was the Max Planck Institute for Aeronomy, out in the middle of nowhere.
We met this fellow that we’d heard studied comets, which at least was in the solar system. His name was Wing Ip. His response to our project: “I have no interest whatsoever.”
Oh, my gosh. What do we do now? “Is there anybody else here?”
“Well, there’s one guy who sent a camera to Halley’s comet in ’86. Try him. His name is Uwe Keller.”
So we went out to see Uwe Keller. Now, Uwe Keller, unlike Michel Combes, is bigger than I am, bald-headed, and very aggressive. He says, “Yes, we’ll do it. We’ll provide the detectors.”
“Great.” We have no knowledge of Uwe Keller, but off we went.
Now we had two Europeans. We wrote the proposal, and then I became the project manager after we won. We had Lockheed-Martin building it. I’d never managed a hundred thousand dollar project much less a twenty million dollar contract, with Marty’s help fortunately. We had a lot of learning to do as we built this instrument.
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