early career

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I did my PhD at Paris Observatory in Meudon, getting my first ‘taste’ of Titan from Voyager 1 infrared data working with colleagues who since then have become good friends. Once I got a glimpse of Titan, I was hooked, bewitched, inspired and haven’t left the Outer Solar System since then… Right after my Ph.D. defense in 1989, I was engaged in three instrument proposals, all of which managed to get aboard Cassini-Huygens: CIRS on the orbiter (I knew quite a lot by then about infrared Titan spectra analysis of Titan) and HASI and DISR on the probe. I was the luckiest girl in world! The teams were fantastic, we threw ourselves into the definition of the instruments, we made observing plans and created models to be tested against the ground truth one day.

By then, the French National Center for Scientific Research had offered me a permanent position and France had become my home. I am grateful to both my mother (Greece) and host (France) countries and feel quite European. While waiting for the mission to arrive safely at its destination, of course I had to occupy myself. I went to large telescopes all over the world and observed Titan with spectra and images. I used the Infrared Space Observatory (ISO). I attacked the problem of understanding Titan from all possible perspectives: models and observations, atmospheric chemistry and surface geology, inside and out and using anything I could get my hands on…

And then one day (very early in the morning of October 1997), we watched, during one of my most memorable career and personal moments, the launch of Cassini-Huygens from Cape Canaveral… just us and the alligators waiting for their breakfast… I cried seeing the launch, I cried of joy and anticipation and thankfulness and pride to be part of this wonderful crowd of people: All the members of the teams, the ESA and NASA representatives who had us on our way to a big new adventure.

And while I was waiting for Cassini to arrive at destination, I also managed to ‘“settle down’” as my mother had long hoped for, got married to Franck, with extraordinary computer skills in his repertoire, and brought into this world my daughter, Callista (“the most beautiful” in Greek), a little star brightest than any in the sky.… Neither one of them cares very much about astronomy, but our association has worked wonders in making me happy and productive in both my personal and professional lives. It takes some organizing efforts for me to attend meetings and also be present for school and dancing shows while following all the mission’s landmarks, but it was and still is worth it.

About Athena Coustenis

Athena Coustenis is a planetologist working at Paris-Meudon Observatory and studying the outer solar system, the giant planets, their satellites and the exoplanets. She is also interested in future space exploration of the external solar system.

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