The Department of Planetary Sciences, Page 3

Floyd Herbert

Lyle Broadfoot was the Principal Investigator for the Ultraviolet Spectrometer [UVS] on Voyager. They started their own branch of the University of Southern California at Tucson, they called it, down in South Tucson. They rented a warehouse down there, right in the middle of the junkyard district, and they ran their part of this mission out of that warehouse. I joined their group, oh, about a year before Voyager encountered Uranus, which was a big deal. Voyager went to four planets, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, and their satellites. That was an immensely successful mission.

That was kind of the second half of my career, when I joined Lyle’s Garage, as we called it. Everybody calls that place Lyle’s Garage. Even when we moved up here to campus, everybody still calls us Lyle’s Garage. The place next door was an automobile junkyard, and every once in a while somebody would come into our lab looking for car parts, and we’d say “No, no, no, that’s next door.” Meanwhile they had a clean room and all sorts of stuff. We did some great work down there. We went to JPL for the actual encounter, but most of the time we were working down there. About the time I joined their group they actually jumped ship and became part of the Lunar Lab, even though they didn’t actually move anyplace.

So that was Lyle’s Garage, from NOAO to the University of Southern California to the Lunar and Planetary Lab, all without moving more than half a dozen miles. I must say Lyle had a very successful operation. He knew what he needed and he got it. They did wonderful science on each of the four planets. I was privileged to be a part of that for the second view of the planets.

Almost everything we know about Uranus and Neptune was discovered by Voyager in those two encounters. And the Voyagers are still cranking along; Lyle’s instrument still works. It’s still actually collecting data, and useful data at that, about the interstellar gas outside of our solar system.

John Spencer

There were no planetary spacecraft launched during the entire period that I was in graduate school [1980 to 1987]. There were no Mars missions operating at that time except the tail end of the Viking mission. Voyager had been launched earlier, in ’77, and we had these encounters with Saturn and Uranus and Neptune—well, Saturn and Uranus—during my time at LPL. But no new launches, no immediate prospects of new launches except Galileo, whose launch ended up being delayed until 1989 by the Challenger disaster. It was really a dry time there. We did the best we could with the data we had, and there was more work being done, I think, with telescopes back then because there was still so much that was unexplored by spacecraft. 

Jonathan Lunine

When I came here in ’84 there were a couple of things that were just actually getting going in terms of spacecraft projects and interesting programs. One was a comet-asteroid rendezvous flyby mission, which ultimately would be cancelled, but several people were getting involved in proposing for that. Cassini was just getting going. Voyager was winding down.

Gene Levy had tried to position the lab to really try to get some very big scores, if you will, in building instruments for the next wave of planetary missions. This was an effort to, in a way, transform the lab into a place that would build spacecraft instruments and ultimately, when NASA started the Discovery program, to actually be in charge of missions.

I could see that growth when I was here, the big proposals starting to be written; the efforts to secure new buildings and new space, which came to fruition in 1993. It was really a growth time. The sense that one had at that time was that things were beginning to open up, possibilities were opening up that would allow the laboratory to build on its previous expertise in observations and analysis—telescopic observations and analysis of meteorites—and move in new directions. And I think it has.

Gene Levy

One of my motivations in becoming the Director in the early 1980s—I had programmatic aspirations for the Laboratory, one of which was to carve out a major place for LPL in spacecraft experimental work. I think that’s been an extraordinary success. I’m really thrilled at the fact that that trajectory has gone forward unabated and in an accelerating way.

I was delighted also by the growing reputation of the Department in the University in terms of its footprint in undergraduate education, which I thought would set the stage for moving through the late 1980s and into the 1990s. I think another big success of the Department was the success of the Space Grant program, which I started in 1988, I guess it was, ‘88-‘89. That has been a great program, and I think has also contributed both to the prominence and success of the Department and the Laboratory.