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Notes from the Field

CYGNSS Launch weekend is finally here!

December 9th, 2016 by Mary Morris

My name is Mary Morris and I’m a Ph.D. candidate in the Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering department at the University of Michigan. My advisor, Prof. Chris Ruf, just so happens to be the principle investigator (PI) of the University of Michigan-led NASA Earth Venture class satellite mission, CYGNSS. CYGNSS consists of a constellation of eight satellites, scheduled to launch on December 12th. Soon! This mission will provide scientists with key hurricane ocean surface wind speed data, which we hypothesize will improve our understanding of how hurricanes form and develop. You can learn more about CYGNSS by reading earlier posts made by science team members on this blog section, or by going to

Since I have such a unique opportunity to be a CYGNSS science team member as a graduate student, I was asked to blog about my experiences in the days leading up to the launch. This has been a dream job for me and I’m excited to share my thoughts with you. In a few decades, if this blog still exists, I hope old-me will be able to look back at young-me and laugh at my wide-eyed, young scientist perspective recorded here for eternity.

So, why is working on the CYGNSS mission a dream graduate school gig? Well, I knew from a young-age that I wanted to study the weather, I just didn’t know the details of how to make a career out of my math and physics-based fascination of the atmosphere and Earth. Once I learned about remote sensing and satellite imagery, I was hooked. I knew I wanted to study more about remote sensing and eventually work on Earth science satellite missions. After a series of last minute applications to remote sensing-related research opportunities—applications that I thought were long shots—I ended up accepting Prof. Ruf’s research assistantship offer to join his remote sensing group as a Ph.D. student. The position turned out to be the graduate school jackpot: CYGNSS was selected for funding right as I started grad school. The timing could not have been better. I would get to see the inner workings of a satellite mission being developed throughout all of the design reviews and pre-launch data product development. Needless to say, it’s been an interesting ride. Since CYGNSS combines two of my passions—satellite observations and weather—it’s been a fun project to be a part of.

Graduate students are basically apprentices. If your ultimate goal is to be a scientist on Earth science satellite missions, being the graduate student working under a principal investigator of a NASA satellite mission is ideal. CYGNSS is my first satellite mission, but not my first hurricane-related research project. Here is a picture of me doing research as a part of the NASA HS3 mission (which, I also blogged about here!).

Here I am, downloading data from an aircraft instrument, HIRAD, after a science flight as a part of NASA's HS3 mission.

Here I am, downloading data from an aircraft instrument, HIRAD, after a science flight as a part of NASA’s HS3 mission.

I’m nearing the end of my graduate school career, and by working on both the HS3 and CYGNSS missions, I’ve gained a lot of great experience by working for and with the best engineers and scientists in our field. With the CYGNSS launch coinciding with the end of my graduate school journey, I can’t help but be a bit emotional at the end of one journey and the beginning of another.

Stay tuned for more updates throughout the weekend.