Dennis Henry Captures the People – and Hardware – of PACE

Dennis Henry is the PACE project photographer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

A man wearing a white clean room suit is seen from the shoulders up. He is facing away from the camera, arms outstretched and holding onto a large piece of a scientific instrument. The instrument is circular shaped. There is a circle in the center that is surrounded by another ring of a black circle. The center circle reflects the face of the man, who has a mask that covers his nose and mouth.
One of Denny’s favorite images that he took of PACE. Senior Engineer George Hilton adjusts a polarizer during GSE testing of the Ocean Color Instrument Engineering Test Unit at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center on December 10th, 2020. Image Credit: Dennis Henry

What is your background and what do you do for PACE?

I’ve been at NASA for about four years, but before that I was a freelance photographer, and a long time before that I wanted to be an aerospace engineer. I studied engineering for about a year and a half before I realized that it wasn’t what I actually wanted to do. So, I switched to photography! I came to NASA specifically to photograph PACE and Ocean Color Instrument. I feel like coming here brought me back to my previous space interests, and I was able to feed that interest while doing what I’m good at.

Two men and a woman stand together on a grassy surface near a body of water. The man to the left in the image is wearing brown pants, a red shirt, and a zip-up jacket. He is leaning slightly to the right. The man in the middle is kneeling down and holding a camera on a tripod. He is wearing jeans and a black jacket. The woman is standing to the right. She is
Denny Henry, Mike Guinto, and Katie Mellos setting up a remote camera to photograph the PACE launch next to SLC-40 at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Image Credit: Desiree Stover

What was your favorite part of launch?

The whole photography team was there, but none of us had ever photographed a launch before. We set up a bunch of remote cameras, which we’ve never done before, and borrowed some really long lenses to photograph it. It was a learning experience, in a good way. We had a lot of fun learning how to capture this very specific event, and it was great to see all those years of hard work blasted off into the sky.

What is your favorite color and why?

My favorite color is green. I’m not sure why it’s my favorite color. I have some green shoes, and also I feel like it’s just not as common of a color for some things to be.

A man stands centered in the image wearing glasses, a green crewneck sweatshirt, and a baseball cap. He holds four woodworking tools - clamps - in his left hand. In his right hand he has another clamp which is resting on his shoulder and extends behind his head. The clamps are orange, black, and silver colored in their pieces.
Denny Henry with a bunch of woodworking clamps. Image Credit: Jackie Henry

What is a fun fact about yourself?

I do a bit of woodworking. I usually make small things like cutting boards and small boxes. My big pandemic project – that is still ongoing – is to totally redo our kitchen. I have rebuilt all the cabinets from scratch. I think I maybe bit off a bit more than I can chew with that project, since it’s been a couple of years and I’m probably only 50% of the way at this point.

What advice would you give to aspiring students looking to get where you are today?

Photography is a tough career. There’s a lot of people who want to do it, and there are not that many jobs. How well they do and where they end up is not a reflection on the quality of a photographer. In saying that, you have to love doing it.

The image primarily is focused on the sky, which is dark and cloudy at night. There is a streak of light that starts near the bottom left corner and rises up to the center top of the image. The clouds surrounding this streak glow a brighter white than those that aren't illuminated by the light. The light is also reflected off of the ocean, which is seen in a small strip at the bottom of the image.
Another of Denny’s favorite images that he took of PACE. A long exposure photograph of NASA’s PACE (Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem) spacecraft, atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, as it successfully lifts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida at 1:33 a.m. EST Thursday, Feb. 8. Image Credit: Dennis Henry

Header image caption: Denny Henry posing in front of the PACE spacecraft in the cleanroom at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD. Image credit: Katie Mellos

By Erica McNamee, Science Writer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

People of PACE: Inia Soto Ramos Studies Data from the Sea and Space

Inia M. Soto Ramos is an associate researcher and one of PACE’s data validation leads at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

A woman is seen underwater, giving the entire picture a blue hue. She is wearing a scuba mask and has a respirator in her mouth, connected to a tank on her back with several tubes. She is wearing flippers and a wet suit. Her dark hair is floating all around her head as she looks up at the camera. Behind her is a coral reef and sand at the bottom of the ocean can be seen to the right of the image too.
Soto Ramos diving in the West Coast of Puerto Rico. Courtesy of Inia Soto Ramos

What is your favorite atmospheric or ocean related book or movie?

I will go with “The Silent World” (1953) by Jacques Cousteau and Frédéric Dumas. It’s a book but was later made into a documentary. I’m a diver, so it’s really cool to see the advancements of diving over time. Back in that day, divers were attached to a cord back to the surface that provided air. Then came along the Aqua-Lung technology so they no longer needed the cord and swam free to explore. It opened our eyes to the wonders of the ocean, and it started sparking more research and more curiosity. It was risky and exciting.

What is your background?

I’ve used ocean color imagery since 2005, when I started doing my PhD. It helped me study coral reefs and the connectivity among different coral reef communities, and how river plumes can go from one reef area to another reef area. Then, I moved into studying phytoplankton from space and creating algorithms to detect harmful algal blooms.

What do you do for PACE?

A woman stands to the right of the image, facing the left side. She is wearing a black baseball cap with her dark hair tied up. She also has on a teal shirt and black pants. She is holding a small instrument in her hands and is looking at it closely. Behind her are the blue green colors of the ocean, flat without waves. The woman is standing at the edge of a boat with a blue container in front of her.
Soto Ramos taking optical measurements during a Harmful Algal Blooms off the coast of Campeche, Mexico. Courtesy of Inia Soto Ramos

PACE data is compared with similar measurements collected in the ocean and atmosphere to make sure they agree; and that process is called satellite validation. In addition to being a part of the science team, I help the validation team by making sure we have enough field data to validate PACE data. This process allows us to know how good the data is and whether there any issues that need to be resolved. Once we know the data is good, we can use it to create algorithm to derive satellite products that are meaningful to the public and scientific community, such as water and air quality products. I am part of the SeaWiFS Bio-optical Archive and Storage System (SeaBASS) Team that archives data from scientists all around the world, which are then used to either validate the ocean color sensor data or to create algorithms. That will be the main database for PACE, so I make sure the data that is gathered goes into the system and is used for PACE validation.

What was your favorite part of watching launch?

I was at launch with my little one, so it was very exciting to be with him and to show him where the actual launch was from. The funniest thing he said to me was “no, PACE is not in space”, and I asked why, and he said it was too big to fit on the capsule! I had to explain to him that the capsule was bigger but that we were so far from it, that it looked much smaller than what it is! It was also great to see some of my long-time friends and colleagues and share this one-in a lifetime experience with them.

What are you most looking forward to once data starts coming in?

A woman stands to the left of the image, facing the right side, inside a small room and next to a countertop and sink. On the counter are several containers, bottles, and tubing. The woman, wearing a dark blue shirt and black pants, is holding a graduated cylinder out in front of her. There is a window on the back wall in the image, which is casting a bright glow into the room.
Soto Ramos filtering water for optical measurements in the Lagoa dos Patos, Brazil. Courtesy of Inia Soto Ramos

The first thing will be seeing how the PACE data matches up with the field data. Then, I’m excited to start getting some information about different types of phytoplankton and comparing that data to more advanced types of classifications of phytoplankton.

What is your favorite color and why?

I don’t have a favorite color. I have quite a bit of a flamboyant personality. I usually wear a lot of colors and I like to mix them, it’s hard for me to decide on the one color itself. You’ll see me with something red, something blue, something pink – I like them all!

A woman with dark hair sits on a moss covered rock with a small boy sitting between her legs. They are centered in the image and smiling at the camera. Behind them are several other moss covered boulders and lots of leaves and foliage. Much of the image is a bright green color because of the greenery.
Soto Ramos and her son hiking in the Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. Courtesy of Inia Soto Ramos

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

Centered in the image is a brown and black colored beetle. The beetle is facing the bottom right corner of the image. On the head of the beetle are two block spots that look like large eyes. The beetle is resting on the black fabric of pant legs which extends across the image from the top left corner to the bottom right corner. The background is red wooded planks of wood.
One cool finding during a hike Soto Ramos took with her son. It is an Eastern Eyed Click Beetle! Courtesy of Inia Soto Ramos

I like exploring and being active. Before I had my child I used to go diving, I did acro-yoga. After my son, I’ve slowed down a little bit, but we like to go hiking a lot and every year we try to go camping in a different place. We like gardening together and looking for bugs, which was not something I thought was going to be part of motherhood. We love going out and searching for bugs and creatures. Once he gets bigger, maybe we’ll go back to the more adventurous activities like diving.

What advice would you give to aspiring scientists or engineers or technicians who are looking to get where you are today?

I think persistence is the key! Even when we know what we want, life can’t be taken as a straight path and in a hurry. One of the mistakes that we do sometimes is that we think we need to go to college, we need to finish in four years, we need to keep going to the next step and finish as fast as we can. But little detours along my path helped me really find what I wanted to do, and also gave me the skills to find a job. So, I think those little detours, those opportunities, are the key to success. I strongly encourage internships and REU programs, study abroad programs, go and present at scientific meetings, participate in field campaigns, and go out of the traditional classroom!

Also, always have something to enjoy a little bit outside of work. Have a hobby to go do things that make you happy. You need something else also to keep you going, and when you’re happy you’re successful.

What is a catch all statement that you would want the public to know about the importance of PACE?

PACE is going to make an impact on communities. The science that is going to come out of PACE is really going to impact our quality of life and our enjoyment of our resources like the oceans and the air.

PACE will open our eyes about the wonders of the ocean, new things that we haven’t explored, new things that we don’t understand. I really encourage teachers and parents to use some of the resources from PACE, because young people are the ones that need to be fascinated by the ocean ­– those are the future generations that are going to take care of our resources.

Header image caption: Soto Ramos hiking in the Connemara National Park, Ireland. Courtesy of Inia Soto Ramos

By Erica McNamee, Science Writer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

People of PACE: Marsha Gosselin Keeps PACE with the Budget

Marsha Gosselin is the financial specialist for PACE at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

What do you do for PACE?

I’m the financial specialist for PACE. I started on the project in early 2015 and worked on it continually through now. I managed all the budgets from all the engineers including helping them to create and take responsibility for their subsystem budget.  One of my responsibilities was to ensure we maintained enough money in the overall budget and monitored their funds. I worked closely with all the engineers on the project and the scientists, to make sure everybody was on the same page with their budgets. I’m just the money lady!

What was your experience with watching PACE launch?

I watched it on my iPad. I am sure it wasn’t as exciting as being at the launch in person, but I loved it! I was anxiously waiting to make sure everything occurred on time and that it was a success.

What are you most looking forward to once data starts coming in?

I’m excited to see how they’re going to use it. Everyone talking about phytoplankton has been so interesting, so that’s what I’m curious about seeing.

What is your favorite color and why?

I would say yellow because it’s bright and sunny!

What’s a fun fact about yourself that a lot of people might not know about you?

I like to exercise, it’s my favorite thing to do since it makes me feel good. I often work out very early in the morning. I like to go on long walks at a very fast pace. People often can’t keep up with me!

What advice would you give to aspiring students who are looking to get where you are today?

Always ask questions and know that perseverance is very important if you don’t get answers right away. Take training when it is available. It’s also good to get on some committees to get your name known, especially when working in the finance discipline. Once you people get to know you it becomes easier for you to move up the ladder.

Header image caption: Gosselin working on all things PACE finance with her teleworking set up. Courtesy of Marsha Gosselin.

By Erica McNamee, Science Writer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

People of PACE: Anita Arnoldt is a Team Player, on the Softball Field and in the Cleanroom

Anita Arnoldt is the electrical lead for PACE at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

A woman stands in the left portion of the image. She is seen from the shoulders up and is wearing a white clean room suit that covers her torso, arms, and goes over her head. She also has on blue latex gloves, a white mask over her nose and mouth, and magnifying glasses. To the right of the image is a  portion of the PACE spacecraft, which is covered in a gold-colored foil-like material. The woman is holding wiring from the spacecraft and is looking closely at it.
Arnoldt working on pin retention on PACE. Image credit: Dennis Henry

What do you do for PACE?

I’m an electrical technician. I did all the harness wiring, routing, and thermal work, all the electrical work. I worked with Amy Huong, and together we did the wiring for both OCI and for the PACE spacecraft. We plugged it all in and tested it!

What are you most looking forward to once data starts coming in?

I’m looking forward to making sure everything works. If everyone is happy with the data they collect from all the spacecraft instruments, and everything is working well, then I’ll be happy.

What is your favorite color and why?

Blue, because that’s the color of the ocean and the sky. I just like looking at blue.

A man and a woman stand centered in the image, smiling at the camera. The man is taller than the woman and is wearing a blue button-up short sleeved polo with a Hawaiian shirt pattern of NASA logos, satellites, and clouds printed on it. The woman is wearing a black shirt and dark blue jeans. Behind them, positioned behind a protective sheet of plastic is the PACE spacecraft, which is covered in a silver foil like material.
Arnoldt and her husband, Jim, in front of PACE for family day. Image credit: Dennis Henry

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

I used to play softball for the Air Force. My husband is retired Air Force, so we were stationed in Italy and so I got to play on the European women’s softball team. I played first base and shortstop. We actually won that year for the European championship!

What advice would you give to aspiring scientists or engineers or technicians who are looking to get where you are today?

Try to learn as much as you can from the people that are around you. Make sure you have a really good team like we did on PACE – I think we had an excellent team from the top down. Everybody contributed so much, we communicated well, and it was just really good working together. And we had a fun time.

What is one catch all statement that you would want the public to know about the importance of PACE?

It’s important to study the climate and climate change to make sure people can make the best decisions – and PACE and OCI are going to help with that.

Header image caption: Arnoldt working on PACE’s solar panels. Image credit: Dennis Henry

By Erica McNamee, Science Writer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

People of PACE: Amir Ibrahim Understands the Atmosphere to Study the Ocean

Amir Ibrahim is the PACE (Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem) project science lead for atmospheric correction at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

What is your favorite atmospheric or ocean related book or movie?

A man wearing khaki pants, a black sweatshirt, and sunglasses stands to the right of the image. He is leaning against a large piece of driftwood and standing on the beach. There are three other smaller pieces of driftwood scattered throughout the picture. Majority of the picture is taken up by the beach, but the top of the image shows the horizon, some clouds, and a blue-gray colored sky.
Following a conference in Canada, Ibrahim decided to take a break and venture into Vancouver Island, dedicating part of his time to exploring Tofino. Credit: Samantha Weltz

My favorite ocean movie is “The Perfect Storm.” I know it’s not a happy movie, but I think it’s a great movie that shows us how mighty the ocean is and how important it is to our lives. The impact of the storm on the ocean also shows us how important our understanding of the interactions between our atmosphere and our oceans are.

What do you do for PACE?

The PACE mission aims to accurately study the ocean and its constituents as observed from space. The Earth’s atmosphere has small particles called aerosols and air molecules that interfere with ocean observations. My role within the PACE mission is developing algorithms to separate that ocean signal from the atmosphere and correct for these atmospheric particles in order to have a more accurate view of the ocean and phytoplankton particles.

What was your favorite part of the launch?

I was fortunate to be able to see the launch at Kennedy Space Center. It was a very joyous moment. I was able to see many years of work come to fruition with the launch of the satellite.  I am excited to be able to get the data and attempt to answer all our science questions.

What are you most looking forward to when data starts coming in?

Over the past several years, we have been building a simulator to predict what PACE is expecting to see from space. We’ve spent a lot of time and effort building that simulator in order to run through our algorithms, conduct tests and get ready for the launch. Now what I’m really excited about is actually seeing if all of our algorithms are actually functioning and working on real PACE data. Simulating data is not as much fun as the real stuff.

What is your favorite color and why?

My favorite color is blue because it’s my son’s favorite color, too. Also, growing up by the seaside in the Mediterranean, I loved the blue color of the ocean and the sky above it, and I always wanted to understand why the ocean and sky are so blue. The blue sky comes from sunlight scattered by air molecules, creating a phenomenon called Rayleigh scattering. Interestingly, that later became part of my work activities, which involves understanding the light in the atmosphere in order to correct for the different colors of the ocean below it.

A man wearing a dark shirt and a headset with a microphone attached in front of his mouth sits in the cockpit of a small airplane. He is seen from the shoulders up. The image is being taken from behind him, so he is turned around, smiling at the camera. In front of him are the controls of the plane including six circular gauges. Out of the front window of the plane is a gray sky.
Ibrahim is taking flying lessons in a small Cessna. Image Credit: Samantha Weltz

What is a fun fact about yourself?

I have a big interest in flying and have taken some flying lessons. One day, I’d love to be a pilot. Maybe when the dust settles from PACE, I’ll be able to go back and take more lessons or fly with an instrument to study the ocean from an airplane!


What advice would you give to aspiring scientists looking to get where you are today?

A man stands at the top of a small orange step ladder, centered in the image. He wears jeans, a dark colored jacket, and a yellow hard hat. He is standing next to a structure that is about the same height as him and has a scientific instrument on top of it. In the background of the image is a body of water, which is blue and still. The sky is cloudy and is a light blue and gray color.
Ibrahim is in the process of setting up a hyperspectral radiometry system in Long Island Sound for the purpose of validating satellite data. Credit: Robert Foster

The three most important things to me that got me into this position are being passionate and persistent about what I do, networking, and continuously learning. Being dedicated is very important, and if you hit obstacles, you can always get around them with dedication. Connect with various scientists and other people in the field in order to have a network of people who can support you in your career. And finally, as a scientist, you should never stop learning. You have to be humble enough to know that there are things that you don’t know. So, read papers and publications, write, engage with the community, and go to conferences. Those are all really critical things that can help you with your career.

What is a catch-all statement that you would want the public to know about PACE?

PACE will revolutionize our understanding of the ocean and the atmosphere for two reasons; One, PACE will have the first hyperspectral instrument dedicated for ocean color, which is quite unique and has never been done before. And two, it will have multi-angle polarimeters that will improve our understanding of aerosols and the ocean beyond any other instrument that is currently in space. It’s an interdisciplinary mission.

Header image caption: Ibrahim posing with PACE in the integration and testing facility at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Image Credit: Dennis Henry

By Erica McNamee, Science Writer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

People of PACE: Bridget Seegers Sails the Seas… and Studies Them Too!

Bridget Seegers is an oceanographer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland and a team member for NASA’s Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission.

A woman stands slightly to the right of center of the image. She is wearing a black T-shirt and has a hat on. She looks to the left of the image, out in the distance. She is standing on a boat and is holding the steering wheel in her left hand and rope in her right hand. Behind her is the ocean, part of a harbor, and a blue sky with some clouds.
Bridget captaining her sailboat, Blissfully. That’s the boat name and she is quite blissful while sailing. Image Credit: Azul Gutierrez

What is your favorite atmosphere or ocean related book or movie?

“Life Aquatic” definitely comes to mind. It’s amazingly accurate in how it depicts certain aspects of life on a research vessel. For a book, there’s one called “The Long Way” by Bernard Moitessier. It’s about him sailing solo in a race around the world, way back in the day (1968), which is very interesting.

What is your research about?

I focus on harmful algal blooms. There are a lot of little, teeny organisms called phytoplankton in the ocean and lakes, and sometimes they grow into huge numbers, and we call that a bloom. That can be good because it feeds the food web, but sometimes it can be toxic and cause problems. People monitor those harmful events to reduce human exposure to any of the harmful toxins. I use satellites to monitor for these harmful events and help water quality managers respond to them.

A woman with curly blonde hair stands in the image seen from the knees up wearing black pants and a navy blue T-shirt with the words "PACE Launch Team" written on it. She is holding her right hand up in a "thumbs up" motion. Behind her and in the right side of the image are tall structures of a launch pad. A rocket is attached to one of the tall structures, the PACE logo printed at the top of it. The sky behind the launch pad and the woman is a gray blue color, filled with clouds.
Bridget with PACE ready for launch on top of a Falcon 9 rocket. Image Credit: Bridget Seegers

What was your favorite part of watching the launch?

The PACE team, friends, and families being together sharing all the excitement, hugs, and emotions was my favorite part of launch. It was incredible watching the rocket light up the night as PACE began its journey to space! And, of course, fantastic to hear updates throughout launch and since that all is well with PACE and the instruments. All wonderful experiences!

What are you most looking forward to post-launch?

The data and exactly what we can do with it. There’s been a lot of talks and hopes of what this data will be like, but there’s never been a satellite like PACE. We can imagine all these products, but it’ll be great to see what we actually can do with the products. If we can tell one type of phytoplankton from another, we can hopefully tell some of the more harmful ones from ones that are just average members of the phytoplankton community that aren’t causing problems.

We know that OCI on PACE is going to be able to look at all the colors of the ocean, so what is your favorite color and why?

My favorite color is purple. Why? I don’t know, it just feels right.

Centered in the image is an aquatic creature - a Christmas tree worm. The magenta colored creature is in a spiral shape, spiraling upwards, where the diameter gets smaller as it rises - looking like the shape of a Christmas tree. Towards the center of the spiral, the color changes to a pale mint green.
Christmas Tree worms from a reef in Rangiora from when Bridget was sailing there. Image Credit: Rory Moore

Do you have a favorite type of phytoplankton or sea creature?

I think my favorite sea creature would be Christmas tree worms. They live on coral reefs and they like pop out and they look like an evergreen tree. They come in all these different colors. When you get close, they like pull themselves in, but then they pop back up. They’re really fun and colorful, and they’re kind of interactive. For phytoplankton, there are a variety of species that bioluminesce and I think that’s pretty magical when you see the ocean light up at night, either with breaking waves or running your hands through it.

A woman stands on a pale pink surfboard, riding in a wave. She wears a black wet suit which covers her legs, torso, and arms. Her hair is wet. She is facing the right of the image, while traveling towards the left. The water she is surfing on is a dark gray color, with a white wave break behind her. The sky is cloudy and gray.
Bridget on her surfboard named Purple Rain catching a little wave and waving to a friend on a gray July day along the Southern California coast. Image Credit: Matt Marbach

What is a fun fact about yourself?

I like to sail. I had a friend who solo circumnavigated the globe, so I met him to sail in a variety of places like around French Polynesia, around nearly half of South Africa, and north of the Arctic Circle in this chain of islands called the Lofoten Islands. I was also able to surf north of the Arctic Circle from the sailboat!

What advice would you give to aspiring scientists who are looking to get where you are today?

A woman and two children are seen in the picture. The woman, with blonde curly hair, is to the left of the image, wearing a gray shirt with a NASA meatball logo on it. In the middle is a young girl wearing a purple shirt that says, "I want to be a princess and a physicist" with planets surrounding the words. To the right is a young boy with blond hair who wears a gray T-shirt with the NASA worm logo on it. He is reaching forward and holding a microscope.
Bridget with Chloe and Luca at a San Diego elementary school. They are prepping a plankton sample to view on the microscope. Image Credit: Isa Tavera.

Stay curious and be motivated by asking questions. Follow what interests you and what you’re passionate about. It’s not always a direct path and science can be a little bit tedious, so it’s really important to trust yourself and to pursue things that are interesting to you. Ask questions and don’t be afraid to chat with other scientists. Sometimes people think scientists are intimidating, but we’re mostly pretty nice and slightly awkward, so I would have those conversations!

What is one catch-all statement describing the importance of PACE?

Knowledge is power. For both PACE and science in general, the more information we have the better we understand things, and the more able we are to respond to the changing planet in an effective and meaningful way that empowers us.

Header image caption: Bridget with the PACE observatory. Image Credit: Dennis Henry 

By Erica McNamee, Science Writer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Why the PACE team is nocturnal this week

Editor’s note, Feb. 6, 2024: NASA and SpaceX stood down from PACE’s Feb. 6 launch attempt due to unfavorable weather conditions. Launch is now targeted for 1:33 a.m. EST Wednesday, Feb. 7.

Editor’s note, Feb. 7, 2024: NASA and SpaceX stood down from PACE’s Feb. 7 launch attempt due to unfavorable weather conditions. Launch is now targeted for 1:33 a.m. EST Wednesday, Feb. 8.

There’s a good reason why NASA’s PACE satellite is launching in the early morning hours. Late tonight, I’ll venture out in the chilly Merritt Island air to catch a glimpse of a historic sight. At 1:33 a.m., February 6, NASA is slated to launch the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) satellite atop SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.

Why so early in the morning?  The launch is timed to accommodate the satellite’s orbit around Earth.

PACE will be in a Sun-synchronous orbit, meaning it’s synced to always maintain the same position relative to the Sun. This also means it will cross Earth’s equator at the same local time for each orbit, and the angle at which the sun illuminates Earth will be consistent for each image that it takes. This allows scientists to collect consistent data.

“An Earth-observing satellite generally wants the Sun well overhead during observations,” said Scott Patano, flight dynamics system development lead for PACE at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

To get this level of lighting during its orbit, PACE wants the Sun to be almost behind it as it observes the Earth. Though if the Sun happens to be directly behind the satellite, there may be glare or reflections off the ocean, which isn’t ideal, especially considering one of its main purposes is to collect ocean data. To prevent glare, PACE will be slightly offset – not directly in front of the Sun. If you imagine the Sun is at the 12:00 angle, PACE will orbit at 1:00.

So why the 1:33 a.m. launch? The best answer to that question is… math. Really cool math. By launching south out of Florida on the dark side of the Earth, the math works out perfectly to get the satellite right into place on the approaching India as it crosses the equator for the first time on the daylight side of the Earth by 1:00 p.m. local time.

Centered in the image is a rocket, mid-launch. The launch is taking place at night, so all around the rocket and it's stand is black. The only light is coming from the fire emerging from the bottom of the rocket in an orange glowing color, illuminating a cloud of smoke coming from the rocket as well.
A previous night launch at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches with NASA’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) spacecraft onboard from Launch Complex 39A, Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021. Launch occurred at 1:00 a.m. EST. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

While some satellites launch first into a temporary orbit, before moving into their permanent position, PACE will be directly injected into its final orbit, “an effectively instantaneous launch,” said Joel Parker, flight dynamics lead for PACE at Goddard.

This leaves little wiggle room for the launch time: a mere 90-second window for the launch to proceed. A tense minute and a half for years of striking data.

So while I’ll be prescribing a late afternoon nap for myself, I know that when I wake up, I’ll be getting ready to see PACE rocketed up to its new home – where it will provide a stunning new view of ours.

Header image caption: The dark water of the turn basin at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center mirrors the night lights and the Vehicle Assembly Building and Launch Control Center, silhouetted against the post-sunset sky. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

By Erica McNamee, Science Writer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Trivia All About NASA’s Next Earth-Observing Satellite

I’ll take “All About PACE” for 300, please.

While not exactly like “Jeopardy!”, PACE trivia is just as fun – and often as challenging! To prepare for the upcoming launch of the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) satellite, PACE team members, friends and family gathered on Feb. 4 for an afternoon of facts, food, and fun at the Tiny Turtle restaurant in Cocoa Beach.

Two children stand in the foreground of the image facing away from the camera. They are looking at a screen in front of them. To their right is a woman with blue and purple hair pointing to the screen. On the screen are several blurry blobs - phytoplankton - which are being displayed from the microscope, seen between the heads of the two children.
Ivona Cetinić, an oceanographer at the Ocean Ecology Lab at NASA Goddard, pointed out phytoplankton during the hands-on-experiment portion of the event. The phytoplankton, found in a lake earlier in the day, were projected onto the screen from under a microscope. Image Credit: NASA Goddard/Erica McNamee

The excitement in the atmosphere was palpable – everyone talking animatedly among themselves. The crowd quieted down, however, to see Bridget Seegers, oceanographer for PACE at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, start the hands-on activities scheduled for the event. She and other PACE team members peered into a microscope, showing live phytoplankton and zooplankton that are invisible to the human eye.

She demonstrated how chlorophyll, a molecule found in phytoplankton that gives them their green color, fluoresces in red light. This led into a discussion about satellite remote sensing and how people see light in comparison to how satellites measure it.

Seegers and co-trivia-host Andy Sayer, PACE’s project science lead for the atmosphere, explained how PACE is going to help scientists learn more about the ocean, aerosols, and clouds. They encouraged the crowd to listen carefully – they dropped helpful hints for the trivia questions to come.

This led into what the crowd had all been waiting for: a friendly competition of trivia. Split into teams, the crowd went through a series of 36 fun questions all related to PACE in some way. It ranged from questions familiar to the crowd of scientists and engineers, like “What color does chlorophyll fluoresce?” (answer: red) to some more obscure questions like “How big was the shark from ‘Jaws’?” (answer: 25 feet long).

Four woman are around a table - one standing and three sitting. They are all looking down at pieces of white paper with handwriting on them, pencils in hand for grading. There are other objects, glasses, cups, menus, on the table as well. In the background of the image is a window to the outside, which has a building and a brick road on it.
Seegers and her team of graders checked off correct trivia answers. Image Credit: NASA Goddard/Erica McNamee

It was a competitive crowd and a smart one too, answering some difficult questions about Earth, PACE, and even moons far out into the solar system. Points were tallied, but Seegers stressed that everyone walked away as a winner, having learned more about the mission and gathered together for a fun event.

Header Image Caption: Bridget Seegers and Andy Sayer presenting about phytoplankton and aerosols before the trivia questions began at the Tiny Turtle. Image Credit: NASA Goddard/Erica McNamee

By Erica McNamee, Science Writer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

People of PACE: Fred Huemmrich Plants the Seeds of Inspiration

Fred Huemmrich is a member of NASA’s Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) science and applications team and a research professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

What is your favorite atmosphere, land, or ocean related book or movie?

“Dune.” To be specific, I really liked the appendix of Dune which has the story of the imperial planetologists, and when I read that as a kid it was the first time I ever thought of the concept of looking at an entire planet’s ecosystem. So, my goal in life is always to become an imperial planetologist.

The image is a selfie of a bearded man seen from the shoulders up. He is wearing a dark green zip-up jacket, and also has glasses on. Behind him are scientific instruments, which look like long metal rods standing up as well as some buckets. In the far background is a grassy field and a clear blue sky.
Fred on top of an instrument tower at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. Image Credit: Fred Huemmrich

How will PACE help your research?

One of the things that I’m really interested in is the dynamic of ecosystems on land, and how they change over time. PACE really excites me because it’s an opportunity to look – with new, hyperspectral data – at seasonal dynamics of these ecosystems, or even shorter-term effects like droughts or heat stress or cold snaps. With the hyperspectral data available from PACE and OCI we’ll be able to do things like look at changes in leaf level pigment contents and biochemistry. Plants are constantly altering themselves to adjust to the environment and that is something we can see from data on the light that reflects off them. I’m really excited about PACE giving us this data of time series for vegetation types all over the world.

What are you most looking forward to after launch?

I envision doing a study, looking at the indices of plant conditions globally, after the first month of data. I’m going to make a global map because we just don’t even know what it will look like. That’s going to be the first step after launch.

OCI on PACE is going to be able to look at all the colors of the rainbow. What is your favorite color and why?

My favorite color is one you can’t see! Almost all the light that hits plant leaves in the visible wavelengths gets absorbed, except there’s a little hump in the green that they don’t quite absorb as much, which is why we see them as green. But just beyond what we can see, in the near-infrared, leaves have almost no absorption. If we could see leaves in the near-infrared it would almost be like looking at like highway signs that like reflect light back on you really brightly. In green leaves the transition from the visible wavelengths to the near infrared wavelengths is called the red edge and measuring it gives you a lot of information about how much chlorophyll is in leaves.

Do you have a favorite plant?

The image is a selfie of a man seen from the shoulders up. He is wearing a dark colored shirt and has a netted material covering his entire heat. His face can be seen through the netting and he is wearing glasses and has a beard. Behind him is a large grassy field. The sky is bright blue and has some white fluffy clouds.
Fred doing fieldwork in the arctic tundra dealing with the mosquitos. Image Credit: Fred Huemmrich

One that I’m fond of is black spruce. Over the years I’ve done a fair amount of work in the boreal forests. In fact, just last this past summer I was doing fieldwork in the boreal forests in Alaska. I’m really interested in seeing if we can use the PACE data to detect changes in the spruce needle biochemistry that we can’t do with the satellites we have now.

What is a fun fact about yourself?

I worked my way through college in a brewery!

What is some advice that you would give to aspiring scientists who are looking to be where you are today?

A man stands on the left side of the image, seen from the knees up. He is wearing brown khaki pants and a button up shirt which is rolled up at his elbows. He also has glasses on. He looks to his right (the left in the image) and is pointing to a map projected onto a screen to the right of the image. The map is of ice-covered areas in the ocean.
Fred presenting results of arctic tundra research at Grey Towers National Historic Site in Milford, PA. Courtesy: Fred Huemmrich

One of the pieces of advice I give to my undergraduate students is that when I was an undergraduate, not only did I not know what I was going to end up doing, I didn’t know that what I ended up doing even existed. Very often undergraduates don’t have a lot of experience in the range of jobs available in the world. And that’s, of course, changing all the time with technology. One of the things that’s important for them to do is to look around and try to get outside of a narrow thing that they’re focused on, and spread out a little bit to look at what might be available because they might be surprised at what they find.

What is one catch-all statement describing the importance of PACE?

PACE is going to give us a fundamentally new view of the way ecosystems work on the planet.

Header image caption: Fred measuring spectral reflectance and photosynthesis in a cornfield. These types of measurements are used to develop approaches for applying PACE data to determine crop productivity. Courtesy: Fred Huemmrich

By Erica McNamee, Science Writer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

People of PACE: Jeroen Rietjens Followed His Passions to SPEXone and PACE

Jeroen Rietjens is an instrument scientist at the Netherlands Institute for Space Research (SRON) and worked on the SPEXone polarimeter. PACE’s SPEXone instrument is a multi-angle polarimeter. It measures the intensity, degree and angle of linear polarization of sunlight reflected back from Earth’s atmosphere, land surface, and ocean.

What is your favorite atmosphere or ocean related book or movie?

I like “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell a lot. It doesn’t have anything to do with clouds except for the title, but it counts. And it concludes with an ‘oceanic’ wisdom when the impact of actions by individuals are compared to insignificant small drops in a limitless ocean: “Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?”

The image is focused in on a man to the left of the image wearing glasses and a blue and red short sleeved polo short. He wears a headset, where the wire is hanging down past the far side of his head. He is pointing at a computer screen which is in the background of the image. In front of him, but out of focus in the iamge are two other people, one sitting next to the man and one sitting across from him, closer to the camera. At the table they are sitting at are computers, coffee mugs, and water bottles.
Jeroen looking at instrument telemetry in the PACE I&T control room shortly after the integration of SPEXone onto the PACE observatory. Image Credit: Dennis Henry

What is your background?

I have a background in applied physics, and I worked with polarization sensitive instrumentation for my master’s and PhD research. At SRON, I work as an instrument scientist. We are the people who fill the gap between the scientists who have great ideas about what they want to measure, and the engineers who build the hardware that perform these measurements. We specify the instruments and do the analysis and make sure that the hardware will survive in space and perform as the scientists desire.

What are you most looking forward to during launch?

It concludes a long period of tremendous work and I hope that we can experience that with all the people who contributed to PACE.

The focal point of the image is the bright sun, centered. Two reflections of the sun are seen to the left and right of the main bright spot. Below the sun is a grassy landscape with a bush directly below the sun. The sky is a dark blue color.
An image of a sundog, one of the most common types of ice halos. Image Credit: Adam Voiland

What is your favorite color and why?

My favorite color is green. The why is more difficult. My second favorite color would be blue, so I think it’s colors from nature that I like.

The image looks down from a plane, looking at an expanse of fluffy clouds. Centered in the image is a glory, a faint circular rainbow.
A glory photographed from 11 km altitude somewhere between Greenland and Canada as Jeroen was coming into the US to watch the 2017 solar eclipse. Image Credit: Jeroen Rietjens

Do you have a favorite atmospheric phenomenon?

I like rainbows a lot! And any other scattering phenomena, such as a glory, or a sundog. The latter occurs in the presence of high clouds with ice crystals: due to refraction by horizontally aligned ice crystals, you can see two additional ‘suns’ at specific angles left and right of the sun.

A man and a woman are standing side by side, the man to the left with his arm around the woman's shoulder. They both have glasses on and their faces are covered in a glittery face paint. They wear green, yellow, and red striped shirts and black vests that have colorful puns on them. They both have large hats upon their heads with green, yellow, and red spirals on them. The lighting in the room is dim and there are streamers hanging on the walls behind them.
Jeroen and his wife in their parade costume of 2020. Image Credit: Jeroen Rietjens



What is a fun fact about yourself?

Outside of work, and mainly during the winter period, me and my family participate in the “Vastelaovendj”-activities in my home-village. This is the Limburgse (a Dutch province) carnival, consisting of, among other things, a yearly music contest, open stage, presentation of the Prince Carnival, a ‘peasant’s wedding’ and a parade. It is a lot of fun and I particularly like the role-reversal aspect of this tradition.

What advice would you give to aspiring scientists or engineers who are looking to get where you are today?

Follow your passion. I had a weakness for space. I was playing with a Space Shuttle and Lego rockets when I was young and was always interested in space. Along the way, I lost track of it but it’s not really a coincidence, I think, that I still ended up working at a space research institute. So, follow your passion and try to make work your hobby and I think you have awesome life.

What is one catch-all statement describing the importance of PACE?

PACE will yield unprecedented data sets that will enhance research into climate modeling, understanding clouds and aerosols and their impact on the Earth climate.

The image shows a landscape of a neighborhood with grass areas, streets, and some houses to the left at the horizon. There are som trees in the center as well as a lamp post. The sky is cloudy and a gray color. The featured part of the image isa double rainbow, spanning from the entire left to right of the image. The inner rainbow is brighter while the outer rainbow is faint.
An atmospheric treat for Jeroen during a bicycle-ride coming home from work. Image Credit: Jeroen Rietjens

Header image caption: “Very proud to have had the opportunity to pose in the Goddard cleanroom with the fully assembled and tested PACE satellite, which hosts our small SPEXone instrument,” said Rietjens. Image Credit: Dennis Henry

By Erica McNamee, Science Writer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center