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Gary Blackwood

by Riley McMahon

Gary Blackwood (NASA (NASA ))
Gary Blackwood (NASA (NASA ))

Gary Blackwood is the program manager of NASA's ExEp program which is chartered to "Discover how the universe works, explore how it began and evolved and search for Earth-like planets." An exo planet is defined as a planet that does not orbit Earth's Sun and instead orbits a different star, stellar remnant or brown dwarf. The purpose of the ExEp projects are to explore these planets not in our solar system, to see if they have the capabilities for oxygen and water, to see what we can learn from them and how they may guide future space exploration. The project is based out of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Kepler 64 Moon (https://kepler.nasa.gov/ (Terrell, Boulder, CO))
Kepler 64 Moon (https://kepler.nasa.gov/ (Terrell, Boulder, CO))

Under its wing are several projects including the Kepler Project, managed by NASA's Ames Research. Kepler is a space observatory launched to discover earth-like planets orbiting other stars. It was designed to survey a portion of the Milky Way to discover Earth size extrasolar planets situated in or near the habitable zone, or the Goldilocks zone, which is the region around a star where a planet can support liquid water at its surface. Just as water was the precursor to life on earth, one of the main purposes of the Kepler, as with many of the ExEp programs, is to seek out the possibilities and probabilities of life on these extrasolar planets. Gary Blackwood is one of the thinkers who believes the probability is good that water, air and life beyond our solar system exists. They have found many planets within the habitable zones in their own planetary systems and are tracking these planets and studying them carefully with a wide range of telescopes and technology. Based on Kelpler mission data it has been reported that there could be as many as 40 billion Earth-sized planets orbiting the habitable zones of sun-like stars within the Milky Way galaxy.

Some other projects within the program include the Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer, which is a project being developed to explore the nature of nearby exoplanetary systems. K2, a new project for the program, will link up with spacecraft from the Keplar mission to observe numerous target fields, each year over 40,000. The WFIRST mission will be a telescope able to address many unanswered questions about the universe. WIth 300 megapixels per image and 100 times Webb's field of view it will be an unparalleled suit of planet discovering tools. Exo-S Starshade Probe-Class is a mission concept currently under development that would probe and image exoplanets orbiting stars other than the sun. The mission is expected to launch 2024 with the ability to reach down to Earth-size planets in the habitable zones of nearly two dozen stars, laying the groundwork for a larger flagship mission to come.

Gary's work for NASA and the ExEp program is leading the world closer and closer to discovering a planet similar to our own that perhaps we could one day visit.  

Page created on 11/19/2014 12:00:00 AM

Last edited 1/9/2017 9:59:24 PM

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