The engineer Giuseppe Cataldo: «This is how I protect our Planet». Departure scheduled for Christmas
FROM THE CORRESPONDENT FROM WASHINGTON. There is also the creativity, competence and passion of an Italian engineer, Giuseppe Cataldo, 36, of Apulian origins, in the James Webb space telescope which at Christmas will be launched into space from a base in French Guiana to scrutinize the origins of the universe.
The launch was postponed several times due to technical or weather problems. NASA is holding its breath, trusting that the time window – around 12.30 Italian on Saturday – will allow one of the most anticipated space enterprises planned 25 years ago and the result of collaboration between Europeans, Canadians and Americans, to become a reality.
In front of the TV there will also be Cataldo, for 12 years in the United States where he arrived at a very young age, chosen by the NASA academy. «I had sent – he says – almost for fun the application for admission to the advanced course. It was 2009, I didn’t think I was chosen in the slightest ». And instead the boy who came from ESA, in the curriculum the degree in space engineering in Milan and two specializations in aerodynamics at the Polytechnic of Turin and in France, passionate about music (“On the weekend I play the violin, you have to disconnect from work”) , he managed to make the leap. But woe to ask him if you feel a brain on the run: “I never had the idea of running away, I simply started working here, that definition just doesn’t belong to me.” The beginnings are not easy. Catapulted into a competitive world like the American one, it is without cultural references and the network of friendships consolidated over the years. “I had never been to the United States before 2009. There were – I admit – difficult moments, I didn’t know anyone and I saw a profound difference from a cultural point of view with Italy and Europe”. However, NASA remains the center of gravity and Cataldo emerges. Become the leader of the engineering team working on the heat shield that protects Webb. “We studied mathematical models to understand and predict the behavior of the telescope in orbit.” Webb is the size of a tennis court, 21 meters by 14, impossible to test on Earth. “The thermal system – underlines the engineer – is the most critical because it will be required to operate at a temperature of minus 230 degrees”. What will happen when Webb is launched by the European Ariane 5 rocket, Cataldo explains it as if it were the simplest and most natural thing: «The telescope is all folded in on itself to be able to enter the capsule that will catapult it into orbit. When the rocket releases Webb, it opens. The gigantic mirror made up of many small mirrors will unfold up to the maximum opening ». It is the most delicate operation since it involves the movement of hundreds of mechanisms in perfect sequence and «it is enough for a cable to twist and everything becomes problematic». It will take Webb 29 days to get into orbit, then there will be 6 months of checks and tests. The telescope has fuel to “live” ten years, then it will wander through space like a dead object. And it is in these ten years that we expect to find answers to the many questions about the origin and nature of the universe. One of the goals is to look at the chemical makeup of many planets outside the solar system and see if they can host simple life forms. “My work is finished, now it’s up to the scientists to read and understand the data that Webb will send to Earth,” says Cataldo, who has been focused on his next venture for some time: Mars.
For a few months, the robot that has landed on the Martian surface has been working to recover samples of rocks. “Now my job is to protect our planet,” says the engineer with a half laugh, who then explains: who tells us that we cannot “import” life forms or agents dangerous for the human species from Mars? “My job is to develop models and then make protections for the capsule containing the Martian rocks or prevent them from being burned on the way back to Earth.” All things that cannot be tested before, just as Webb could not have been deployed on Earth. And for which we need mathematical models developed by an Italian brain. Not on the run.
#Houston #Italian #NASA #designed #Webb #telescope