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From a clean room to deep space

April 14, 2022

Media get final glimpse of ASU’s Psyche spacecraft before it’s on its way to Florida launch

Editor's note: On June 24, 2022, NASA announced that the Psyche mission will not make its planned 2022 launch attempt due to the need for more time to ensure that the spacecraft’s flight software and testing equipment will function properly in flight.

PASADENA, Calif. – It’s just before 9:30 a.m. when you arrive at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

You’re here to see the Psyche spacecraft, which is in its final stages of testing before being flown to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

You sign in, receive your media badge and are handed a printout titled “Clean Room Rules/Logistics.” The rules are designed to make sure not a single loose strand of clothing or dust particle somehow finds its way onto the spacecraft’s inner workings and instruments.

You can’t bring a notebook or writing utensil into the clean room. You can’t wear makeup or any frayed clothing. Most of your skin must be covered, and you cannot wear jewelry with sharp edges.

After a few minutes, you and the other media members pile into a white van and are driven to the entrance to the clean room, where Psyche is located.

But you’re not in yet.

In an outside room, you’re told to place your feet, one at a time, into a brushing machine that cleans the bottom of your shoes. Your cellphone or camera is wiped down. You’re given a smock, booties, a mask, hairnet and gloves to wear.

Finally, properly fitted and vetted, you walk through the air lock and into the clean room. There it is: Psyche.

And standing nearby, a smile evident even under her mask, is Lindy Elkins-Tanton, the principal investigator for the Psyche mission, Regents Professor in Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration and vice president of ASU’s Interplanetary Initiative.

Elkins-Tanton is smiling because the day is almost here. In late April, the Psyche spacecraft — which will be approximately the size of a singles tennis court after its huge solar panels unfold in space — will be flown to Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where it will undergo final preparations for its scheduled launch in August and 3 1/2-year journey to the asteroid Psyche.

“It does feel surreal to me,” Elkins-Tanton said. “But I’m trying really hard not to count my chickens. I was giving a talk to a bunch of high schoolers a couple of years ago, and one of them said to me, ‘What if it blows up on the launch pad?’ First of all, I was like, ‘How can you say those words?’ He goes, ‘Do you get a do-over?’ And I’m like, ‘No, we don’t get a do-over.’

“It’s such a high-risk endeavor, so I try to really just enjoy every day and not count on exactly what’s coming next. So, it’s hard for me to be over the moon. Yes, we’re about to launch, but there’s still a lot of days between now and then.”

Still, Elkins-Tanton said, the impending flight of Psyche is “an important milestone to celebrate.”

She has been working on the mission for 11 years. There have been stops and starts and questions and answers, and although there is still much that can go wrong — it’s the nature of a space mission — Elkins-Tanton and her team are at the point where they can feel confident about the launch and mission. They completed their final hardware and instrument testing last Saturday, and the remaining software testing and mission operational tests will be performed at testbeds at JPL and on the flight vehicle between now and launch.

“Honestly, it feels like a lot of relief,” said Brian Bone, Psyche’s assembly test and launch operations manager at JPL. “Knowing the spacecraft is ready and the last little step is kind of upon us is unbelievable. It’s gone through all of the system tests. It’s gone through all of its key functional testing. Its ready to ship to the cape in preparation for launch.”

The Psyche spacecraft sits in a clean room at JPL

Another view of the Psyche spacecraft in the JPL clean room. The mission team completed final hardware and instrument testing last Saturday, and the remaining software testing will be done before the late-April departure to Florida. Photo by Scott Bordow/ASU News

Bone is asked about the clean room rules, and why it’s vital to avoid even a single dust particle. If a particle settles on the spacecraft’s cameras, called the Psyche Imagers — principal investigator of that instrument team is Jim Bell of ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration — it could potentially cloud or obscure the images they take of the asteroid.

“We have to protect those images,” he said. “Now that the cameras are installed, any particle that finds its way onto the lenses we may not actually see until we take that first picture in flight, and then there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Once Psyche arrives in Florida, its solar panels will be installed. The days will be counted down until the launch period opens on Aug. 1.

Then, after liftoff, the long wait begins.

The spacecraft’s cameras will be able to see the asteroid — which is the shape of a potato and about the size of the state of Massachusetts — as a point of light during the entire cruise phase; starting near the end of 2025, it will start slowly getting larger to the onboard cameras, Bell said.

Henry Stone, Psyche’s project manager at JPL, said once the asteroid is close enough that it can easily be seen by the cameras, the mission operations team will adjust the trajectory of the spacecraft and bring it into orbit.

Psyche will not land on the asteroid; but as it orbits, its objective is to determine, among other things, whether the asteroid is leftover core material of an early planetesimal (a building block of planet formation) or simply unmelted material.

“If it is a core, which is the leading hypothesis, that’s going to be just tremendous in pinning down which models best explain how the solar system was formed,” Stone said.

That’s the dream. On Monday, as media took pictures of the spacecraft and Elkins-Tanton did interviews, the reality was settling in: Psyche will soon be on its way to Florida. On its way to the launch pad. On its way to the Psyche asteroid.

“We’re going to have 3 1/2 years in space, and then we’re going to have almost two years at the asteroid,” Elkins-Tanton said. “But it’s those key milestones where you say to everyone, ‘Great job. Look what we’ve done.’ And I feel like this is one of them.”

About the NASA Psyche mission

ASU leads the Psyche mission as the home of the mission's principal investigator, Lindy Elkins-Tanton. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech, is responsible for the mission's overall management, system engineering, integration and testing, and mission operations. Maxar Technologies delivered the solar electric propulsion chassis, the main body of the spacecraft and most of its engineering hardware systems. NASA's Launch Services Program at Kennedy Space Center manages launch operations.

For more information about NASA's Psyche mission, go to and

Top photo: The Psyche spacecraft is shown in its clean room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, on Monday, April 11. Members of the media were invited to get a last close-up look at the spacecraft before it is flown to Florida for final launch preparations. The launch period opens Aug. 1. Photo by Scott Bordow/ASU News

Scott Bordow

Reporter , ASU News

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ASU Lodestar program teaches church leaders skills to navigate a new future

As churches face declining membership, ASU teaches skills for new way forward.
April 14, 2022

Customized certificate curriculum teaches marketing, communications, volunteer mangement

Like many churches in the United States, Cheryl Farrell’s congregation is in transition, with a membership that skews older.

Farrell, who is a moderator at Morningside United Church of Christ in Inglewood, California, learned practical skills to keep her church thriving at a unique program offered by Arizona State University.

Best Skills Best Churches, a certificate program of six modules in ASU’s Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation, teaches clergy and lay leaders how to communicate, deal with finances and market their spiritual communities. 

Most importantly, the program gives hope, Farrell said.

“There was definite enlightenment about how these secular principles can apply in this religious setting,” said Farrell, whose role as moderator is to work closely with the minister in a leadership role.

“There’s help for us. The church won’t die.”

Farrell said that the COVID-19 pandemic, along with a general decline in church attendance, has been challenging.

“It’s not enough to want things to be better. There has to be a strategy behind it, and these courses gave me ways to effect change beyond just praying on it,” said Farrell, who works as a corporate communications consultant.

“You have to pray. But there are tools you’re given to help churches that are stuck. Some of the churches are big and vibrant. We have a small church with an older congregation, and that requires a certain level of compassion and patience to see them through to this next vision we can have for them.

“And because the classes were on Zoom, I was able to have a cohort of leaders from all over the country and it reminded me that I wasn’t alone in this.”

Skills not taught in seminary

Best Skills Best Churches began in 2015 in response to a request from the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona, according to Robert Ashcraft, executive director of ASU’s Lodestar Center and the Saguaro Professor of Civic Enterprise in the School of Community Resources and Development at ASU.

“The bishop said, ‘We send our clergy off to seminary and they’re steeped in the faith tradition, and the spiritual dimension of their work is spot on.’

“But they found out that they’re running a nonprofit at a parish level. They have a building, a congregation, volunteers and they have to raise revenue.

“They don’t learn that in seminary school.”

The bishop contacted the Lodestar Center, which had the knowledge and the skills to create the content for Best Skills Best Churches. The effort was led by Cindy Thiede, who was director of professional development education for the Lodestar Center’s Nonprofit Management Institute, and retired last year, Ashcraft said.

“This was not top down from the university, saying, ‘You need this.’ This was not only socially embedded but co-produced at the community level,” he said.

Seth Wispelwey, interim pastor at Rincon Congregational United Church of Christ in Tucson, Arizona, had experience with faith-based nonprofits before he became a member of the clergy, but he agreed that seminary training typically does not emphasize the practical skills of operation — nor do congregations who are looking for dynamic spiritual leaders.

“I think a lot of well-meaning people in nonprofit and church spaces believe that having rigorous standards and best practices applied with accountability and transparency will somehow take away from the actuality of the good work, but I believe the opposite is true.

“The most valuable thing in Best Skills Best Churches is that it makes accessible and underscores the importance of just how more thriving churches and organizations can be if they put in place the best practices for governance and finance. Yes, it requires a little extra work up front (but) the payoff is so profound.”

Lodestar piloted the certificate content not only with clergy, but also with lay leaders. Margaret Wisehart is very active in her church, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Woodland, California, and participated in Best Skills Best Churches as part of a cohort from the Episcopal Diocese of Northern California that included her priest.

“It gave me the opportunity to raise questions with him about what was happening in our church,” she said.

Wisehart, who works as an office assistant in a senior center, had had some marketing experience, but was interested in applying it to the church.

“I run into people all the time that I want to encourage to be a part of our church community, and one idea I came up with was that we should have business cards,” she said.

“But I learned that that’s not the way it operates any more. I was updated on the marketing world, which uses a lot of promotion on Facebook, Instagram and direct emails, and not so much business cards anymore.”

Wisehart said her congregation is changing as well.

“Our church is going through that transition where the budgets are lower and some of the expectation of what’s needed is different than in the past,” she said.

“I’m on a little different path than the people that have jobs in the church, but that might be part of the change that’s coming.”

Customizable content

While originally created in partnership with leaders from the Episcopalian church, the content can be customized for any faith tradition, including synagogues and mosques, Ashcraft said.

“There are language differences in different faiths, with things described and discussed in different ways,” he said.

The program has been delivered online during the pandemic, but Ashcraft said the hope is that in-person sessions will resume this year.

The modules cover volunteer management, fund raising, legal aspects of governance, communication and conflict, marketing, financial management and fund-raising.

Program participants have two Zoom sessions for each module, one on a Friday night with an ASU knowledge specialist, typically a senior level leader of a nonprofit. The other session, on Saturday morning, is with a leader from the church who teaches how to apply the principles with a faith-based perspective, according to Cassandra Coburn, coordinator of professional development education in Lodestar’s Nonprofit Management Institute.

“A good example of that is our module on effective communication and handling conflict,” she said.

“Our ASU presenter gives a variety of conflict-management models to understand conflict triangles. Then the second session with faith responders was about understanding that denomination’s leadership structure and who to point concerns to in the event of a conflict.”

Farrell found the module on managing volunteers particularly helpful.

“Volunteers are the foundation of churches, and it’s very helpful to understand that the people you’re working with to advance the mission are there for reasons other than financial compensation,” she said.

“And there’s a way to appeal to them to get the best of their contributions.”

Older volunteers often have given over several decades and want to contribute to their legacy. But they’re also looking for companionship.

“Being a volunteer gives them a social outlet,” Farrell said. “We want to appeal to what their need is.”

Best Skills Best Churches is one of 10 certified programs in Lodestar’s Nonprofit Management Institute, which is part of ASU’s Learning Enterprise, devoted to resources for people across the age spectrum.

“This is part of our mission too,” Ashcraft said. “You never age out of learning.”

Top image courtesy Pixabay

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News