Letter: Written in the Stars

In the Montanan article, Brian Nixon said, “Most of Western Montana is now represented on Mars.” He can add Polson, because that’s where I’m from.


Categories: Alumni , Campus , Academic , History , Research

This self-portrait of Curiosity shows the rover at the Big Sky site on Mars. (Photo by NASA/JPL-CalTech/MSSAs usual, I enjoyed reading the Montanan from cover to cover. This time was extra special when reading “The Last Best Space” [Winter 2016].

As a physician, I have had the cosmic jolly of keeping many NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory employees healthy. This has given me many opportunities to be in the Clean Room, including watching when Curiosity took her first “steps” as her wheels received their first commands. 

There was the time of chewing my nails to the quick as we waited to hear if Cassini entered orbit around Saturn. A photo taken by Cassini looking back at Saturn showing Earth as a speck in the sky has an honored place in my office.

Then there was the time we stayed up all night waiting to hear if Opportunity or Spirit or Sojourner would communicate with us. 

I remember New Horizons people telling me about the nine-year, 3-billion-mile trip. How could that possibly happen when technology changes so quickly? How could the computers of then talk to the computers of now? Well, they made it happen. The joy and surprises of the first pictures have left everyone stunned and excited.  

The tradition is to eat peanuts while waiting, which is not too healthy. We implemented relaxation techniques and breathing cadences to help with the waiting.

But waiting is challenging in other ways. Will these amazing projects continue to be funded? Think about the difficulty of these projects and how successful they have been. There just aren’t words to describe it.

In the Montanan article, Brian Nixon said, “Most of Western Montana is now represented on Mars.” He can add Polson, because that’s where I’m from. When Curiosity was launched, a disk was placed on her containing the names of all of the people involved with the project. Family members and friends also were named, including me. I doubt that I will get into space—I get air sick really easily—but my name will forever be on Curiosity.

Now that is a true cosmic jolly!

Thanks for keeping me connected to UM and Montana.

Dr. Khelly Webb ’72, Long Beach, Calif.

The Montanan would  like to thank the following readers for recently donating  to the magazine: Christina Van Roekel, Judith Herber, James Wells, Thomas Fulton,  Michael Heine, William Hegland, Marilyn Anderson, T.M. Powers, George McElhinney and Suzanne Repasky, Ethel Byrnes, Daniel Poole, Roger Bieber, Margaret Herbert, Richard Lea, Don Kinzle, Robert Alley, Janet Dargitz, Vicki Todd, Rebecca Marsh, Brian Pederson, John Hodgson, Claudia Tidball, Jerry Hayes, and  Park Densmore.

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