Mitch Gordon

Mitch Gordon
Research Scientist
Curriculum Vitae: 
Solar System Dynamics
“It is suicidal to create a society dependent on science and technology in which hardly anybody knows anything about science and technology.” Carl Sagan

Planetary scientist Dr. Mitch Gordon joined the SETI Institute as a principal investigator in 2005. While his research interests focus on planetary ring systems and the resonant interactions between rings and the attendant natural satellites, the bulk of his time is spent preserving the vast treasures of planetary data returned by NASA’s spacecraft.

Dr. Gordon is the deputy manager of the Planetary Rings Node of the NASA Planetary Data System (PDS) Currently the Rings Node is responsible for the preservation and distribution almost 4 Terabytes of outer planets data.

In 2009, a five member working group was formed within PDS to analyze the then current data system used by PDS and to recommend a way forward. Dr. Gordon was one of the five. The group’s analysis resulted in a major project to redesign the PDS data system from the ground up moving to a new paradigm for data documentation, storage, retrieval, and distribution. That same five member team produced the new design using Information Modeling techniques. Once the overall design and skeletal structure were in place, the working group was expanded to include members from each PDS Node, but the initial five core members remain at the center of the ongoing project.

His current focus with in the project is as a co-lead of the team developing an information for geometry metadata, which includes, for example, attributes of the lighting and viewing angles of observations, position and velocity vectors of a spacecraft relative to Sun and observing body at the time of observation and the location and orientation of an observation on the target. The PDS geometry model is based on requirements gathered from the planetary research community, data producers, and software engineers who build search tools. A key constraint for the model is that PDS archives a wide range of data types from missions and instruments observing many types of solar system bodies such as planets, ring systems, and smaller bodies (moons, comets, and asteroids). Thus, important design aspects of the geometry model are that it standardizes the definition of the geometry attributes and provides consistency of geometry metadata across planetary science disciplines. The model specification also includes parameters so that the context of values can be unambiguously interpreted. For example, the reference frame used for specifying geographic locations on a planetary body is explicitly included with the other geometry metadata parameters. The structure and content of the new PDS geometry model is designed to enable both science analysis and efficient development of search tools. The initial version of the geometry model is focused on geometry for remote sensing observations conducted by flyby and orbiting spacecraft. Future releases of the PDS geometry model will be expanded to include metadata for landed and rover spacecraft.

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