Experience launch week with us as Psyche spacecraft lifts off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, signaling the next phase of the ASU-led NASA mission
Friday the 13th — for a space mission beset by challenges — turned out to be a very lucky day indeed.
At precisely 10:19:43 a.m. Eastern on Oct. 13, a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, carrying a spacecraft destined for a metal-rich asteroid — a type of world that has never been explored before.
The Psyche mission, the first NASA deep-space mission led by Arizona State University, is a story of perseverance and inspiration, of art and science, and the possibilities of the unknown.
This is the story of one woman. But also, the story of hundreds of people.
This is the story of a world made of metal. Or, perhaps, a world not made of metal.
This is the story of a mission celebrated by Sun Devils near and far, from the ASU California Center to the Barrett & O’Connor Washington Center, and from kindergartners at ASU Prep to retirees on the Tempe campus.
This is the story of a resilient team, led by Principal Investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton, as they made their way through the final days before a much-anticipated launch — a week of nerves, celebrations and utter awe.
Follow along as we journey through launch week, leading to a momentous milestone for ASU.
TUESDAY: ASU alumna and Jet Propulsion Laboratory Director Laurie Leshin flashes a pitchfork outside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Oct. 10. At a media event that morning, Leshin talked about the university’s impact on her career and how, when she was teaching at ASU, she “dreamed of the day” when ASU would be front and center on a NASA mission.Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU
Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Science Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, speaks to media Oct. 10 at Kennedy Space Center. She described Psyche as “truly a mission of discovery. We are going to visit a place that we’ve never (experienced) before.”Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News
Lindy Elkins-Tanton (center), Psyche principal investigator and ASU Regents Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, speaks during a panel discussion and science briefing about the mission on Oct. 10 at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Science Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, and Ben Weiss, Psyche deputy principal investigator and MIT professor, listen.Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News
ASU Psyche intern Swapnil Chadotra, a graduate student in software engineering, shows visitors a meteorite in the Atlantis Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on Oct. 10. The tabling event allowed ASU's Psyche Student Collaborations interns and NASA officials to talk with visitors about space exploration and personalize the experience.Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News
NASA's Debra Hernandez teaches about the robotic spacecraft heading to the Psyche asteroid at Kennedy Space Center on Oct. 10. The outreach at the visitor complex continued throughout launch week.Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News
At the Psyche Student Collaborations outreach tables at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, visitors write their accomplishments and goals that will coincide with different points of the Psyche mission’s timeline.Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News
From right: ASU Psyche interns Tristan Tierce, Swapnil Chadotra, Samantha Beauchaine, Niketan Chandarana and others hand out stickers, pins and facts about Psyche at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on Oct. 10.Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News
The Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center stands tall beyond a Psyche display on Oct. 10.Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News
Laurie Leshin needed a moment alone, so she moved away from the group, lifted her head and reflected on the wonder above her.
It was approximately 9 a.m. Tuesday morning, and Leshin — an ASU alum and the director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory — stood underneath the Psyche spacecraft, reflecting on the journey that brought the Psyche team to this moment.
“I had a little quiet reflection and gratitude for all of the human hands, minds and hearts that have gone into making Psyche a reality,” said Leshin, who was at the launch site with a dozen people, including Elkins-Tanton. “We send robots into space, but they’re built by humans. It’s a very human endeavor.”
An endeavor, Leshin added, that was unlike any other NASA mission because it was interrupted and delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There is no mission, I think, within NASA that had to grapple with the impacts of COVID more than Psyche,” said Leshin, who graduated from ASU with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and later was a faculty member in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “Their last review before starting to assemble the spacecraft happened one week before COVID hit and shut everything down. … It’s one of the big reasons that we had to delay the launch by a year.
“So having the team address the issues and now be here today ... it’s incredibly satisfying.”
A few minutes before Leshin spoke, Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Science Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, described Psyche as “truly a mission of discovery. We are going to visit a place that we’ve never (experienced) before.”
It’s that discovery, that unknown that had Elkins-Tanton smiling during a noon briefing shown on NASA television.
“There aren’t that many completely unexplored types of worlds in our solar system for us to go see,” said Elkins-Tanton, a Regents Professor in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration. “So, that is what is so exciting about this.”
Scientists believe the asteroid could be part of a metal-rich interior of a planetesimal, a building block of a rocky planet. But, as Elkins-Tanton freely admitted, “We don’t know what it’s going to look like. We’re going to be surprised.”
Elkins-Tanton said she has asked scientists all over the world what they expect Psyche to be made of. One person stood up and said, “It’s not the Death Star (from Star Wars) because it’s too small. And it’s not the Death Star prototype because it’s too big.”
“I’ve had so much fun asking that question,” Elkins-Tanton said.
Whatever Psyche is — the metal core of an early planetesimal or material that was formed near the sun — it is sure to mystify and delight Psyche’s team.
“I think there’s a very good chance that it’s going to be outside of our imaginings,” Elkins-Tanton said. “And that is my fondest hope.”
A little more than six miles down the Saturn Causeway and just beyond Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex’s Orbit Cafe and Milky Way Ice Cream Shop, Psyche Student Collaborations interns staffed tables as part of ASU’s Psyche mission outreach.
At one table, visitors were invited to write a Post-it note saying what they would be doing at different milestones along the Psyche mission timeline. In 2028, one year before the spacecraft is scheduled to begin its first orbit of Psyche, someone wrote, “Mastering a triple standing backflip.” In 2031, upon completion of the mission, Cadet Toney wrote, “I hope to be in the Air Force.”
People could touch a small asteroid model, make a Psyche face mask, see and collect Psyche Inspired artwork in the form of comics and coloring sheets, take home Psyche swag and ask questions of the five ASU Psyche interns who wore Psyche-delic T-shirts with “16” on the back, signifying that Psyche was the 16th asteroid discovered.
“I’m a nerd, so this is fun for me,” said visitor Evan Duggan, a boat builder from Rhode Island. “I’ve been interested in the asteroid for a while. I see it as the next step into space.
“It’s also just fun to talk to people who know about this. Most people don’t.”
Samantha Beauchaine, a third-year ASU student majoring in geological sciences and the lead on @MissionToPsyche’s social media accounts on X (formerly Twitter), Instagram and Facebook, said she had met people from all over the world at the Psyche Student Collaborations exhibit.
“This week has been amazing, just inspiring,” Beauchaine said. “To be around so many people that are into space, and then just teaching others about Psyche. There’s a lot of people who don’t know anything (about Psyche) — it’s just nice to kind of inform them and get them excited about the mission.”
Tristan Tierce, a fourth-year student with a double major in art studies and business entrepreneurship, manages the psyche.asu.edu website and creates the annual coffee-table book for Psyche Inspired, as well as the virtual gallery.
As he looked around at the adults and children stopping by the tables, Tierce said he was blown away by the turnout.
“Walking into the Kennedy Space Center for the first time was really inspiring, and we’ve done a lot of outreach events (in the past), but seeing the amount of people here for this has been really cool,” Tierce said. “I’ve had people come up to the table, English is not their first language, or they don’t even really speak English at all, but we’re able to communicate and give them a little bit of information just through whatever art we have here. That crosses boundaries.”
Psyche’s scheduled launch was still two days away, but as Beauchaine took a moment away from the exhibits to think about the swirl of emotions she would feel at liftoff, her eyes became misty.
“I’ve been waiting for that day since I learned about the mission,” she said. “Now that it’s happening … I know I’m just a student, but I live for this now. I can’t wait. I’ll probably be crying. It just gets me emotional.”
Imagine how Leshin will feel. She said that when she taught at ASU, she “dreamed of the day” the university would be front and center on a NASA mission.
That day has come. And, Leshin said, it could come again.
“Being in charge of an entire mission just shows the depth of capability at ASU and really positions it well to win future competitions,” Leshin said. “And we here at JPL are so excited to partner with ASU on some of those future mission opportunities.”
If there’s a single number that defines the work, commitment and time that has gone into Psyche, it’s this: 4,474.
As of Wednesday morning, that’s how many days Elkins-Tanton and Ben Weiss, Psyche’s deputy principal investigator and magnetometer lead, have been working on the mission — from conception 12 years ago to less than 24 hours before Psyche’s scheduled 10:16 a.m. launch Florida time on ThursdayPsyche's scheduled launch date of Thursday, Oct. 12, was postponed to Friday, Oct. 13, due to weather..
Check that: 10:16 and 49 seconds. Yes, the launch time is that precise.
“So many emotions and thoughts at this moment,” Elkins-Tanton said. “But one thing about the miracle is that humans can do these mega projects that take thousands of people, and no single person actually understands how the whole thing works. And the launch is actually the starting line of the next marathon. So we’re really excited to see what comes next and eventually to be at this asteroid and to share these images with the world.”
The work these last 12 years has led to a quiet but sure confidence about the mission, both in terms of the launch and the six years before the spacecraft reaches the Psyche asteroid.
At 10 a.m. Wednesday, David Williams, a research professor in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration and co-investigator and deputy imager lead on Psyche, explained Psyche’s mission and journey to a group of people at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
After completing his speech, he asked for questions. A hand was raised.
“How will Psyche navigate through the asteroid field?” a man asked.
Williams replied by invoking one of the most beloved science-fiction movies of all time.
“We have knowledge of the positions of quite a few of the largest objects,” he said. “Unlike the movie ‘The Empire Strikes Back,’ we won’t be zigzagging around asteroids. The asteroid belt is not that dense. As my old astrophysics professor used to say, space is a big place. We’ve sent many spacecraft through the main asteroid belt, and never once have they encountered any pebble or damaging object. So flying through the asteroid belt is really not a hazardous undertaking.”
Later in the day, at a 1 p.m. media briefing, Henry Stone, project manager for the mission, left little doubt about Psyche’s readiness.
“I want to start off by letting you know that the spacecraft is completely ready to go,” he said. “It’s been fueled and fully integrated onto the rocket. The rocket’s now upright and vertical. The final version of the flight software has already been loaded on the vehicle. The final set of flight parameters that are necessary for launch have been loaded. So, it’s ready to go.”
That the launch was delayed by a week — it had been set for Oct. 5 — to allow “verifications” of parameters used by the spacecraft’s nitrogen cold gas thrusters was, as Stone said, further proof that the Psyche team has done everything humanly possible to make the mission a success.
Had the problem with the cold gas thrusters not been discovered, Stone said, there would have been a potential risk of overheating and damaging the thrusters.
“We didn’t have to do the extra testing that we were doing in preparation for operations,” Stone added. “But we wanted to do as much as we could before launch to ensure the success of the mission. It’s a huge investment. We have a personal commitment for many, many years, and we all want to see it succeed. So I’m very proud of the team for tracking it down and the heroic effort to address the issue in the time we did.”
Unfortunately, as the skies darkened over Kennedy Space Center and a few raindrops fell, all were reminded that there was one thing NASA couldn’t control: the weather.
Twenty-one hours before the scheduled launch, Arlena Moses, launch weather officer for the U.S. Space Force, said there was a 20% “go” probability because of a Thursday morning forecast that called for scattered thunderstorms in the morning with the potential for severe thunderstorms. Also concerning: winds upward of 25 mph.
Moses said the heaviest rains could fall north of Launch Pad 39A, but “we still will have a very unstable atmosphere. There still may be some storms and rainfall around, and probably lots of cloud cover. All of those things that we have concern for with our rocket launches.”
Tim Dunn, senior launch director for NASA’s Launch Services Program, said there would be a 5 p.m. meeting Wednesday to obtain the latest weather forecast and determine whether it would be prudent to bring in the launch team and begin preparing for a Thursday launch.
At 6:53 p.m., word came down from NASA’s official X (formerly Twitter) account: Psyche’s scheduled launch would be pushed to Friday at 10:19 a.m. local time.
A disappointment, no question. But as Nicola Fox, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, pointed out, the Psyche asteroid was discovered in 1852.
After 171 years, and with the launch window open until Oct. 25, what’s another day or two?
THURSDAY: Mauro Gargano, an astronomer from Naples, Italy, takes a picture of NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building on the way to a VIP reception hosted by ASU and celebrating the Psyche team. Guests rode buses to the reception, which was held at the Apollo/Saturn V Center, located far back on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News
Guests at the Psyche VIP reception were greeted by a film about the Apollo 8 launch and a control room featuring the actual consoles used for that historic launch.Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News
Guests take pictures of colleagues at the ASU-hosted Psyche VIP reception Thursday evening. The Apollo/Saturn V Center at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center houses a number of space artifacts — the most striking of which is the Saturn V rocket, the largest rocket ever flown, which stretches the length of the building over guests’ heads.Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News
Retired New York City educator Peter Eisen explores a module from ASU's Dreamscape Learn display at the Psyche VIP reception Oct. 12. Eisen's son works for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News
Sally Morton, executive vice president of ASU's Knowledge Enterprise, speaks about the resiliency of the Psyche team, which persevered through the COVID-19 pandemic, delays and even a lightning bolt that hit Launch Pad 39A earlier that day.Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News
Lindy Elkins-Tanton, the principal investigator of the Psyche mission and a Regents Professor in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, tells the reception crowd that Psyche will lift off from the same launch pad as the Apollo 8 astronauts.Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News
Ben Weiss, MIT professor and Psyche deputy principal investigator (right), listens to the speakers at the Psyche VIP reception Oct. 12.Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News
Future Tense Managing Editor Mia Armstrong, with ASU's Center for Science and the Imagination, talks with a reception visitor. Guests could cast their votes for various questions, such as those relating to the future of artificial intelligence or when humans will set foot on Mars.Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News
Psyche leader Lindy Elkins-Tanton (left) and JPL Director (and ASU alumna) Laurie Leshin share a moment at the VIP reception Thursday evening.Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News
Amy Maas (center), an assistant professor in ASU's School of Ocean Futures, talks about ocean research with guests at the VIP reception. Next to her is the 6-foot, 150-pound autonomous underwater drone, the Slocum G3 Glider, which the school and the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, part of ASU, use for oceanic study.Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News
Elkins-Tanton looked around at the 200 or so guests milling about at the ASU-hosted Psyche VIP reception Thursday night inside the Apollo/Saturn V Center at Kennedy Space Center.
Elkins-Tanton was exhausted. The scheduled launch for Psyche was in less than 15 hours, and she had a million things on her mind.
But as she took a second glance around the room — seeing members of the Psyche team, ASU officials, NASA and JPL leaders, a delegation team from Japan and other assorted guests — she understood the significance of the evening.
“It’s very, very exhausting to be 100% on, hugging and greeting and remembering people,” Elkins-Tanton said. “I feel like I need to just have a quiet moment to kind of think about where we are.
“But standing up on the podium (Elkins-Tanton made a few remarks during the reception) and looking out at the people cheering helped me realize once again the thousands of people that got us to this point. I really feel like it’s an endeavor of all of humanity.”
The reception started with guests seeing the actual Apollo 8 launch control room consoles and experiencing the three-minute countdown of the flight that took off on Dec. 21, 1968 — the first crewed spacecraft to leave low-Earth orbit and the first human spaceflight to reach the moon.
Then guests entered the main section of the center, with the impressive mass of the Saturn V — the largest rocket ever flown — overhead. As guests walked about the center, they encountered exhibits and demonstrations that showed ASU’s commitment to science and future discovery.
At the Luminosity Lab display, guests remotely navigated the six-legged lunar rover Charlotte, which was back on the ASU campus in Tempe. The rover is housed inside the ASU Drone Studio, part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, and is designed to maneuver over extreme terrain like craters or lava fields. Students at the Luminosity Lab designed and built the rover in 10 months.
Guests could check out the Slocum G3 Glider exhibited by the School of Ocean Futures and the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences. The glider, an autonomous underwater vehicle that can travel up to 1,000 meters deep and stay underwater for up to 12 hours, is used to monitor ocean systems.
Attendees could also put on a virtual reality headset and experience ASU’s Dreamscape Learn, a collaborative venture between Dreamscape Immersive and ASU that is redefining teaching and learning in the 21st century.
“I’ve always been really impressed with ASU and their investment in not just science and technology, but in the students and the future,” said Glaze. “Really investing in what our capabilities are going to be going forward. It’s an amazing, amazing (university).”
Sally Morton, the executive vice president of ASU’s Knowledge Enterprise, told the crowd that the Kennedy Space Center was the perfect venue for the reception.
“This is where people made the improbable possible, and I think Psyche is joining that history,” Morton said.
Morton took a moment to congratulate the Psyche team, which persevered through the COVID-19 pandemic, delays and, believe it or not, a lightning bolt that hit Launch Pad 39A on Thursday afternoon.
“Put simply, nothing deters them,” Morton said.
With a smile on her face, Elkins-Tanton joked that given everything the Psyche team has overcome, “Where’s the plague of frogs? Bring them on, because we got this.”
Elkins-Tanton left the reception a little early. After all, Friday morning was nearing and, weather permitting, Psyche would finally launch on — of all days — Friday the 13th.
Before she left, however, she took her cellphone out of her pocket and took a picture of the crowd.
“This mission is about all of us and our organizations,” she said. “Our determination to say yes and our determination to go forward as humanity into a positive future that includes space exploration and all the things that make us good humans.”
LAUNCH DAY AND CELEBRATIONS AROUND ASU: Jen Briggs, with Gizmodo Space Flight, is one of dozens of photographers at the site of the launch for Psyche at Kennedy Space Center on Oct. 13.Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News
The SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket carrying the Psyche spacecraft lifts off Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad 39A on Oct. 13. (This photo was taken 3.9 miles from the launch pad.)Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News
The SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket carrying the Psyche spacecraft ascends after launch at Kennedy Space Center on Oct. 13.Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News
Lindy Elkins-Tanton, ASU Regents Professor and Psyche principal investigator, talks with reporters about the successful Psyche launch on Friday, Oct. 13.Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News
Back in Tempe, ASU hosted a live launch party early in the morning for the Psyche mission at the Marston Exploration Theater in ISTB4 on the Tempe campus.Photo by Samantha Chow/ASU
First-year astrophysics student Annie Wall cheers during the livestream of the Psyche mission launch held at ISTB4 on the Tempe campus early Friday morning.Photo by Samantha Chow/ASU
Students cheer as they watch the livestream of the Psyche mission launch at ISTB4 on the Tempe campus on Friday morning.Photo by Samantha Chow/ASU
Staffers at ASU’s Barrett & O’Connor Washington Center in our nation’s capital (from left) Dillon Butler, Obi Ekweonu and Isabel Migoya Iriso watch the Psyche launch livestream Oct. 13.Photo by Roxanne Ladd/ASU
Mirabella residents show their support for Psyche by wearing the colors of the mission at Mirabella in Tempe on Oct. 12.Photo by Samantha Chow/ASU
Mirabella resident Ted Merritt poses for a photo with a painting he made of Psyche, a metal-rich asteroid, at Mirabella in Tempe on Oct. 12. He submitted the painting to the mission’s #PsycheSpaceCRAFTY public art gallery.Photo by Samantha Chow/ASU
Meanwhile, a bit further west, the ASU California Center in Los Angeles celebrated the Psyche launch with Mexican pastries Oct. 12.Photo by Caitlin Benson/ASU
Staff at the ASU California Center — clockwise from far left: Ronen Rozner, Mervin Wilson, Jon Bassinger Flores, Breanna Burnette, Saima Latif, Laura Talavera, Angela Leavitt, Caitlin Benson and Jasmin Logrono — show their Sun Devil pride at a Psyche celebration Oct. 12.Photo by Caitlin Benson/ASU
A week before, Arizona SciTech Institute volunteer Claire Conway talks with fifth-grade student Ildefonso Breton during the Psyche mission family launch event held at ASU Preparatory Academy in downtown Phoenix on Oct. 5. The launch event was held on the Psyche mission’s original launch date because the school would be on fall break during the updated launch date.Photo by Paula Soria/ASU
Sparky surprises students at the Psyche mission family launch event held at ASU Preparatory Academy on Oct. 5.Photo by Paula Soria/ASU
Carver Bierson, planetary scientist and postdoctoral researcher at ASU, talks to attendees about the upcoming Psyche mission during the ASU Prep Psyche celebration Oct. 5. He held a football covered in aluminum foil to mimic the Psyche asteroid. Read a write-up on the event at azcentral.com.Photo by Paula Soria/ASU
Elkins-Tanton emerged from the Media Center conference room at Kennedy Space Center at 12:22 p.m. Friday, wearing a purple Psyche polo, black slacks and, on her feet, metallic silver launch boots with stars and bits of metal on them.
She raised her arms in the air, smiled broadly and exclaimed, “Yes!”
A few hours earlier, at 10:19 a.m. Oct. 13 — Friday the 13th — the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket’s 27 engines roared to life and lifted the Psyche spacecraft into the sky, beginning a six-year journey to an asteroid 2.2 billion miles away and, in one sense, culminating a 12-year undertaking led by Elkins-Tanton.
“It was the first time that I have felt really, really excited because I found (that) the way to survive the incredible roller coaster of stress and crises was to be kind of level,” she said. “You just have to kind of Zen your way through.
“But seeing that rocket was super emotional because I was looking up in the sky and feeling really intimately that this was goodbye to our spacecraft. It was leaving the Earth and going out into the solar system to places that humans have never. … It didn’t make me cry, but I was filled with emotion.”
The launch began a journey of exploration and wonder. Scientists believe the asteroid could be the metal core of an early rocky planetesimal, but they acknowledge Psyche could be something completely unexpected.
“Why are we going to Psyche? Psyche is weird, and scientists love weird,” Psyche Program Scientist Sarah Noble told an audience inside Operations Support Building II (OSBII) the morning of launch. “We’re going to be wrong. I’m so excited to find out the ways we’re wrong. That’s going to teach us things we don’t know yet, and that’s what’s so exciting.”
The launch, which was delayed by one day because of rain and high winds, couldn’t have gone more smoothly.
At 9:51 a.m., Elkins-Tanton posted on the platform X, “Prop load is FLYING & @SpaceX load prop so fast. All is good. All nominal (normal). Fingers crossed. Now feeling nervous!!”
At 9:58 a.m., condensation from the 2.8 million pounds of propellant being loaded created a huge plume of smoke at Launch Pad 39A.
And then, with 3:51 on the countdown clock, official word: “Psyche team go for launch.”
“It was so smooth and fast,” Elkins-Tanton said.
The launch wasn’t just a visual treat.
Eight minutes and 32 seconds after the rockets ignited, one of Psyche’s side boosters returned under control onto a launching pad, creating a sonic boom that could be heard miles away. Two minutes later, the second booster landed on a second pad, causing a second sonic boom. An hour later, the Psyche spacecraft separated from the Falcon Heavy rocket and began its journey.
Weiss watched the launch from the rooftop of OSBII, overwhelmed that the mission he began with Elkins-Tanton had become reality.
“Totally surreal,” Weiss said a few minutes later. “It’s hard to believe I’m actually sitting here talking to you. An absolutely full-body experience. So bright you could barely look at the rocket. The sonic boom. Everything was totally flawless and a life-changing experience.”
Jim Bell, a professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and lead of the imager on Psyche, was part of NASA’s livestreamed telecast. He called the liftoff “thrilling and terrifying.”
“It’s the culmination of an enormous amount of work by so many people,” he said. “Everybody has milestones, like the birth of a child. This is kind of the birth of a child for our team.
“I call it a wild animal release in its native habitat. You have to get it out there. It wasn’t made for this habitat. It was made for space.”
In the hour leading up to the launch, members of the media and social media influencers set up cameras outside the Media Center and waited, their sense of excitement and anxiety palpable. Less than a mile away, at a briefing at OSBII for VIP guests — including former astronaut Tom Stafford, one of 24 people to have gone to the moon — by NASA Administrator Bill Nelson and Nick Cummings, senior director at SpaceX, the proceedings were carried out with a sense of humor.
“We’re going to snuggle up to the Psyche asteroid and see what it’s made of,” Nelson said. “I’d like it to be diamonds and rubies, and some precious metals.”
“I’m an engineer, not a scientist,” Cummings said. “But I want to make sure the science team has considered the possibility that it’s the Death Star.”
The audience roared with laughter.
Psyche’s journey will take it by Mars in 2026, and the spacecraft will use the planet as a slingshot to increase its velocity. If all goes as planned, the asteroid’s gravity will capture the spacecraft in late July 2029, and the craft will begin its orbits in August 2029, ending in November 2031.
Along the way, NASA will conduct its first test of the Deep Space Optical Communications technology demonstration — an experiment that is the agency’s first demonstration of optical communications beyond the moon — using a near-infrared laser to send and receive test data between Earth and deep space from November 2023 to October 2025.
“That’s probably the most exciting thing we’ll be doing (before reaching the asteroid),” said Glaze.
As she gathered her belongings to leave the Media Center, Elkins-Tanton expressed her gratitude for the unrestrained support she received from ASU.
“It takes an extended commitment to the hardware and the personnel to do these big, high-risk missions,” she said. “The university has to believe in it, want it and stand behind it.
“I think we’ve really proven that we do. I think this is just another really great step in our evolving, progressing space experience at ASU. We really are one of the leading places in the world to do this.”
Launch isn’t an ending, but a beginning. Learn more about the mission at psyche.asu.edu, including continued ways to get involved.
Top photo: The SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket launches from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Launch Pad 39A in Florida on Friday, Oct. 13, carrying the Psyche spacecraft, which begins its six-year, 2.2-billion-mile voyage to rendezvous with an asteroid, also called Psyche. (This photo was taken 3.9 miles from the launch pad.) Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News