The faces behind JunoCam: Kevin Gill
JunoCam is the visible light camera on the Juno spacecraft orbiting Jupiter. The instrument’s primary purpose is to engage the public in citizen science. In fact, many of the raw images returned are processed by citizens with a passion for space exploration. SpaceFlight Insider reached out to five of these individuals. The second in this series is Kevin Gill, a software engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Located in Los Angeles, Gill is a science apps and data interaction engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He said he first heard about JunoCam during the Juno’s Earth flyby in 2013 when engineers were testing the camera on Earth.
SFI: Were you interested in space prior to hearing about JunoCam?
Gill: “Yup. I’ve had an interest in space since elementary school.”
SFI: What interested you about JunoCam?
Gill: “It’s a camera. In space.”
SFI: On average, how long does it take to process a JunoCam image?
GIll: “Hard to say. I don’t really have a workflow that I like best for dealing with JunoCam images. Using the map projected and somewhat color corrected raw images are easiest, but have a lot of lossy compression artifacts. Only recently have I attempted to create scripts that processed the grayscale banded raw images, which actually makes processing take a little longer since now I have more image detail to consider and color calibration to perform.”
SFI: What software or equipment do you use to process your images?
GIll: “For JunoCam images I use Photoshop. Recently I created a Python script to process the grayscale banded raw images, but I have a lot of work to do with that to get alignment and projection correct.”
SFI: Do you have prior experience processing images? What about specifically scientific images?
Gill: “I have been working with Cassini, Voyager, and Galileo image processing since 2014. Not long, really. Before that, I was creating visualizations by means of scientific applications and CGI.”
SFI: Do you see your images more as art, science, or a combination of the two?
Gill: “Depends on whether I’m working with raw or calibrated/validated imagery. With calibrated image data (generally PDS archived data), I attempt to portray the data as accurately as possible. With raw imagery, most scientific value is lost due to JPEG compression, so I feel I have freedom to take a slightly more artistic approach. While the goal is always scientific, working with imagery data not in the visual spectrum takes a certain amount of artistry to have the product make the most sense. The images were programmed to be taken by scientists for their scientific value so I try to respect that.”
SFI: Do you have goals and/or hopes for the images that you produce, and if so, what are they?
Gill: “My goals are to just to represent the cosmos in the most accurate and beautiful way possible. It’s an attempt to answer ‘What does it really look like out there?’”
SFI: What are some of your favorite JunoCam images that you have processed?
Gill: “I’m much happier with the newer images since I have a better way to deal with the better quality raw image data. However, I won’t be fully happy with them until I work out an alignment and color calibration scheme that works.”
SFI: What are some of your favorite JunoCam images that others have processed?
SFI: What has the response been to your JunoCam images? Was that the response that you anticipated? What have you learned about the importance of public outreach in the process of processing JunoCam images?
Gill: “I get some retweets on Twitter and views on Flickr and Instagram, but generally not near as much attention as much as with Cassini or Voyager images I have done. I suppose so. I’ve yet to really work out a process that sets my JunoCam images apart from the others. It is my belief, as much as it may irk some PIs (Principal Investigators in charge of missions), that every spacecraft leaving low-Earth orbit should carry a camera, at a minimum, for public outreach. Taxpayers have a tough time stomaching the millions to billions it takes to launch and operate these missions and I think it only fair that we give back in a medium most appealing to people. Also, people generally find these images to be inspiring and full of wonder and we need that.”
SFI: What do you love/enjoy about space?
Gill: “It’s where we live. Earth is only such a disappearingly small portion of we were born into, yet it’s all we see. To expand our vision into space and see something new, something never seen before is just the best. Really, I lack the vocabulary for the feeling of discovery.
SFI: What inspires you?
Gill: “All the things. From something as small as a quark to as large as a galactic filament. From not just knowing that something is, but knowing why and how something is.”
SFI: If there was one thing that you could say to someone who looks at your images, what would that be?
Gill: “Generally, I would want to explain what’s happening in the image, such as camera angle, phase angles, the objects visible, etc. I would share the technical aspects. I leave interpretation to the viewer.”
Part three of this five-part series will be published March 28, 2018. Be sure to return to SpaceFlight Insider to learn about Sophia Nasr, a Ph.D. student in Physics at the University of California, Irvine. To read the first part in this series, featuring Justin Cowart, click here.
Correction: The story was updated to clarify that JunoCam is the sole visible light camera on Juno. There are a total of nine cameras including two star cameras for navigation, four stellar compasses to aid in locating the spacecraft’s magnetic field sensors in inertial space, as well as infrared and ultraviolet imagers.
A native of the Greater Los Angeles area, Ocean McIntyre's writing is focused primarily on science (STEM and STEAM) education and public outreach. McIntyre is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador as well as holding memberships with The Planetary Society, Los Angeles Astronomical Society, and is a founding member of SafePlaceForSpace.org. McIntyre is currently studying astrophysics and planetary science with additional interests in astrobiology, cosmology and directed energy propulsion technology. With SpaceFlight Insider seeking to expand the amount of science articles it produces, McIntyre was a welcomed addition to our growing team.