Jose Vinicius de Miranda Cardoso

Jose Vinicius de Miranda Cardoso
Jose Vinicius de Miranda Cardoso

Student intern

Hometown: Campina Grande, Brazil

"Back in Brazil, when I first heard about NASA’s Kepler Mission, the first thing that came into my mind was, ‘These people built and operate a space telescope with the goal to find Earth-like planets dozens or hundreds of light years away. They themselves are out of this world!’ Working for Kepler was an absolutely amazing experience. The mission and its quest for habitable worlds are so fascinating that every day at work felt like there was going to be a pink box of donuts waiting for you. And that was what actually happened. The feeling and privilege of being surrounded by the outstanding NASA teams of scientists, managers and engineers simply cannot be put into words. Go Kepler!”

Doug Caldwell

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Doug Caldwell

Instrument scientist

Hometown: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

I was in graduate school studying star formation in 1995 when 51 Pegasi b, the first exoplanet around a Sun-like star, was found. I remember being very skeptical of this Jupiter-size planet orbiting its star every four days. Little did I know then that I would spend much of my career studying exoplanets and helping the Kepler mission find even more bizarre and amazing planets. In 1998, I started working with Kepler’s principal investigator, Bill Borucki, on the Vulcan project. Vulcan was a small, 10 centimeter-diameter telescope designed to look for planets like 51 Peg b that happen to pass in front of – or transit— their star as seen from Earth. At the time this approach was not widely accepted in the astronomy community and Vulcan was a proof-of-concept for the much more ambitious Kepler mission. I was part of a small team (three of us!) working on incorporating our Vulcan experience into the design of Kepler’s data processing pipeline to help convince NASA that Kepler would work. After NASA agreed, our team grew significantly as we began the detailed work of designing and building a spacecraft and data analysis pipeline that could monitor over 100,000 stars searching for the tiny transit signals of Earth-size planets. My role shifted to uncovering the quirks of the instrument and understanding how they would affect our search for planets. As instrument scientist I helped oversee the testing and characterization of the photometer and helped develop the models and algorithms needed to calibrate Kepler’s science data and distinguish between transit signals from exoplanets and the often much larger artifacts from the instrument. While I enjoy burying my head in the minute details of the data, perhaps the most satisfying part of my time with Kepler is when I step back and see how Kepler’s results have fundamentally changed not just the field of astronomy, but humanity’s understanding of our place in the universe. We now know that there are not just a handful of oddball exoplanets out there, but that there are more planets than stars, including planetary systems with many that are potentially habitable. I am proud to be a part of the Kepler team.

Jon Jenkins

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Jon Jenkins

Co-investigator for data analysis

Hometown: Merritt Island, Florida

“Nothing compares to when you get the spacecraft up there and it opens its eyes and sees for the very first time. I was actually going to work (in May 2009), en route, when I got word the data was ready. I got to work at 6 a.m., ready to sit down with my coffee, looking at the data. I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it, I was so anxious. I actually washed the coffee pot – 12 people (in the office), but the coffee pot rarely got washed. I took an extra 10 minutes to calm my nerves, to give it an extra scrub. Then I started pulling data across, looking at light curves. The brightness variations of stars were phenomenal – everything we imagined they could be. It was very easy right off the bat to see eclipsing binaries, lots of variable stars and transiting exoplanets. A colleague turned to me. He had this encyclopedia of variable stars. He said, ‘Jon, I don’t see anything like that in the encyclopedia.’ That was what Kepler was like. It showed us stars in a whole new light, in ways we’d never seen or appreciated before. Right out of the box, we knew Kepler would be a success.”

Steve B. Howell

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Steve B. Howell

Project scientist

Home town: Oakdale, Pennsylvania

“Kepler and K2 have changed the course of human thought. They have provided an inflection point not only in science but also in the very nature of our existence. These missions have provided paradigm-changing results in stellar astrophysics, new views of cosmology, and their greatest finding, the discovery of a multitude of exoplanets including potentially habitable worlds scattered throughout the galaxy. Bringing together not just scientists but all people, these two missions, assembled here on planet Earth, give us pause to reflect upon ourselves and upon our existence in the Universe. As in the Copernican Revolution, when we learned we were no longer the center of the universe, we now know that we are unlikely to be alone, unlikely to be the only life-bearing rock orbiting the distant stars. Yet for now, Earth is our only home. All of us are important and all our lives are precious. Here there is no room for hate, fear, and bigotry. Perhaps now we can finally dispense with the futile and ignorant belief in war as a political tool and choose instead to go forward together and become emissaries to all life everywhere.”

Jeffrey E. Van Cleve

Support scientist

Home town: Newark, New Jersey

Jeffrey E. Van Cleve
Jeffrey E. Van Cleve
“One of my favorite memories of the Kepler mission was our trip to an asteroseismology conference in Aarhus, Denmark, in June 2010. We were excited to present and hear the first Kepler astrophysics results, and we spent a few days as a science team in Ebeltoft. Four of us – Mike Haas, Doug Caldwell, Steve Bryson, and myself – decided to go on a pilgrimage to Tycho’s observatory on the island of Hven in the North Sea, where much of the data analyzed by our namesake Kepler was generated. We got there 10 minutes before closing at 4 p.m. and were crestfallen. Then, Steve Bryson noticed that the young man running the museum was reading the CERN web page, and thought he might be interested in astrophysics as well. He was very excited that we were from the NASA Kepler program. He gave us the keys to the underground observatory and said, ‘Just drop the keys off on your way out.’ So the four of us went over to the observatory and looked with reverence at Tycho’s equipment, things that looked like giant protractors and sextants kept underground for the stability of the measurements – just like the Kepler spacecraft, for which thermal control of the instrument is a key part of doing the precise measurements of the shadows of planets around other stars. I felt great admiration for the people who had come before us in astronomy who did their work without computers or telescopes, but with a great passion for revealing the past and foretelling the future, and felt great gratitude to the taxpayers of the U.S. and our European friends who support our participation in this great adventure.

Khadeejah Zamudio

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Khadeejah Zamudio

Data processing lead

Hometown: Sonoma, California

“I started in 2007 as a student worker for Dr. Natalie Batalha, while working on my (master’s degree) in physics at (San Jose State University), doing light-curve modeling of eclipsing binary stars on Vulcan (photometer) data. In 2009, I was hired on full-time in the Science Operations Center (SOC) as an operations engineer. Work as an operations engineer consists of processing the science data through its lifecycle. The process began with running pipelines to help the science office choose which stars to observe during a (data collection period). Then we'd export those tables and send them off to be uplinked to the spacecraft for science observations. After three months of collecting science data on the spacecraft, that data set would be delivered to the SOC for data accounting, (importing the data) into the computing cluster, processing, and export. The processing and export results get pushed to the science team, and then delivered to the MAST (Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes) and the NExScI (NASA Exoplanet Science Institute) Exoplanet Archive for the science community. Getting to use the NAS supercomputer to process the big multi-quarter data sets was pretty exciting! It was always fun to go to team meetings to hear the science results before everybody else: when we found the planet going around two stars, or finding the heartbeat stars (binary stars that seem to pulse more strongly as they approach each other). It is hard to choose a favorite science discovery, but I would say that Kepler 186f had a big impact on the team. Looking back, I think this has been a challenging job, but sometimes there would be fun times – like back earlier on, we used to go gather back in a conference room to watch episodes of original Star Trek. I remember watching ‘The Trouble with Tribbles’ and eating snacks and thinking this was an awesome place to work.”

Steve Bryson

Support scientist

Hometown: San Rafael, California

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Steve Bryson
“The project evolved over time. We started out (with) a huge software pipeline that we used to analyze data. I was taking responsibility for converting pixel data into light curves. It’s mostly about knowing which pixels you want (and) exactly how light is spread out by the system. We needed to test data before we flew. We made simulations of everything from how pixel values appeared to the spacecraft through communications coding, (to the) ground and all the organizations it would flow through. It was absolutely critical; we revealed all kinds of problems doing that. Once (Kepler) launched, I was commissioned with the responsibility of actually measuring how light spread out. It was exciting because it was very high pressure. It fed directly into what we got from the spacecraft. We couldn’t do all the pixels; if I selected the wrong pixels, that’s it. I got very involved in validations of discoveries. My specialty was making sure they weren’t polluted by background objects, by analysis of pixels. One thing I can brag about is being second author on two papers that validated discoveries: first 800, then 1,400 planets, all in one shot. Both of them hold the record. No other single paper validated that many planets at once. One day I came home and my wife, Hanna, asked how work was. I said, ‘Fine, we found about four more planets today.’ Like that was normal. Then I paused, and realized what I just said. Wow, it’s amazing what you get used to. What Kepler was doing: Is this rare or normal? The answer we came up with was, wow, this is really normal. That’s what makes it history.”

Ann Marie Cody

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Ann Marie Cody

Support scientist

Hometown: Sunnyvale, California

“Back in 2009 I was in graduate school getting ready to write my thesis. I was working on some photometry projects, monitoring the whims and outbursts of young stars (where ‘young’ in astronomy means a few million years old). I had used the Canadian space telescope MOST and was soon to use the French space telescope CoRoT. But what was this Kepler telescope that had just launched? Could I use it to observe young stars? It turned out that the answer, at least initially, was no. Kepler was dedicated to a particular patch of sky, and there were no young stars there. I instead became heavily involved with the analysis of young star data from CoRoT. But in late 2012, a computer failure brought the telescope to its knees. Some nine months later, a major problem (loss of a reaction wheel) would strike Kepler too. But there was a ray of hope: unlike the CoRoT mission, which was unsalvageable, Kepler was still able to carry out science. The telescope had simply lost its ability to point stably. Kepler’s engineering teams came up with a radical idea: re-orient the spacecraft such (that) it was in rough equilibrium thanks to the Sun’s light impinging on its solar panels. Kepler would no longer be able to stare at the same patch of space that it had spent four years on, but it could look to entirely new areas. And in those new areas...were young stars! In early 2014, Kepler was reborn as the K2 Mission. I applied for a postdoctoral fellowship position at the NASA Ames Research Center headquarters to Kepler. Some months later I moved to the Bay Area of California to work with this fabled telescope. It’s now been nearly four years, and it’s one of the best moves I ever made. I’ve had the privilege to get the first look at incredibly high quality and intriguing data on young stars, and with that data we’ve made numerous new discoveries. We have found orbiting blobs of dust around them -- potentially related to the initial seeds of exoplanets. We’ve observed gas funneling onto the young stars in huge bursts. And we’ve identified the youngest known planets orbiting these objects.”

Christina Hedges

Christina Hedges
Christina Hedges

Support scientist

Hometown: Cambridge, United Kingdom

“Kepler has been such a paradigm shift for people like me. I remember using it for my pre-master’s project. It’s such a constant, such an assumed thing. I’m in a really privileged position to be in the first generation of astronomers able to use it as readily – from the beginning of my career it’s been available. I’m incredibly grateful for it. We use it so much every day; so much relies on it. It’s seamlessly part of the astronomical landscape. I cannot imagine what astronomy was like 20 years ago without Kepler.”

Joe Twicken

Lead scientific programmer

Home town: San Mateo, California

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Joe Twicken
“I joined the Kepler team 1.5 years before the (2009) launch as a senior scientific programmer in the Kepler Science Operations Center (SOC). The SOC was responsible for developing, testing, validating, operating and maintaining the Kepler Science processing pipeline. The pipeline consists of a set of software modules; when run in sequence the modules produced photometric light curves for roughly 160,000 target stars in each observing quarter, searched the light curves for signatures of transiting planets, and generated planet models and vetting diagnostics to help distinguish between legitimate planet candidates and false positive detections. I have a Ph.D. in electrical engineering in the area of signal processing, and had already been involved with NASA programs and planetary missions for over 20 years when I joined the Kepler team. Working in the SOC was a fabulous professional opportunity. Detecting the signatures of transiting planets, in particular small planets orbiting in the habitable zone of their host stars, seemed like the ultimate signal processing problem to me. And so it was!!! The Kepler mission received a great deal of visibility, and the results revolutionized the exoplanet field. Significant contributions were also made in astrophysics and asteroseismology. After a few years in the SOC, I became the lead scientific programmer and assumed a greater responsibility for the work of the group. My workmates were experienced, bright and highly skilled; they were also great fun to work with. I made friendships in the SOC that will last a lifetime. Developing the Kepler pipeline, and identifying the signatures of thousands of potential exoplanets, was greatly challenging and highly rewarding. I am thankful that I had the opportunity to become involved with the Kepler mission, and I am proud of my contributions to Kepler science.”