My name is Symeon Platts. I am a dog owner first and a cinematographer second. I graduated from the University of Arizona with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Media Arts this past May, and I am now the Videographer for the OSIRIS-REx mission. I work closely with scientists and engineers to create content that showcases our mission’s objectives and explains what we’re all doing. I aim to make this content informative and also engaging.
After working on the mission for two years, I’ve become heavily invested in it, so it can be disheartening to hear people say “what’s that?” when I tell them I work for the OSIRIS-REx mission. I know what we are doing is important, and I definitely know it’s interesting because most people are amazed after I respond “OH THEY’RE JUST BUILDING A FEW CAMERAS GOING TO SPACE DOWN THE STREET.” Those moments are honestly my favorite part of working here. No one hears about OSIRIS-REx and walks away uninterested, you know? No one says, “Space? Pioneering the frontier of asteroid research? DUMB.” I’m part of a mission that’s on the edge of human knowledge, and I get to tell people “Hey! HEY! Look at this! It’s incredible! Learn about it!”
A lot of people have asked me how I ended up on the mission and my response is always the same: “I have no idea,” because it was a series of very fortunate events. In all honesty, I didn’t have an overwhelming interest in space when I was younger; that actually didn’t develop until college. I grew up in a town too small to mention where the residents were aggressively meticulous about light pollution. This gave my town a truly incredible night sky, something I took for granted at the time. I would occasionally glance up between the walk from my car to the front door and say, “Huh, neat.” I’m frustrated thinking about it now, but I was a teenager! I had important things to do!
I entered college as an undeclared freshman, which I would recommend to no one. One of my first general education classes was titled “The Physical Universe” – essentially Astronomy 101. I remember my professor explaining conservation of angular momentum on the first day by standing on a lazy susan while opening and retracting his arms. I dropped the “huh,” and purely thought “neat.” By the end of the first few weeks, I was completely hooked. Quasars, black holes, neutron stars, how could a tablespoon of something weigh one hundred million tons?! I took as many Astronomy classes as I could during my first year and a half of college, fondly ending with an Astrobiology course taught by Dr. Joseph Spitale. I came into the course, confident in my extensive Wikipedia background on the Drake Equation that I knew what I was doing.
Well, I didn’t. Even still, I offered to preceptor the class, and even went as far to offer my help with any work outside of class. “Yeah, I might have something” Dr. Spitale said. Little did I know that I would be helping analyze Cassini images, and that this work would land me a co-authorship in the journal Nature for the article “Curtain Eruptions from Enceladus’ south-polar terrain”. The article was published in May, and naturally, I thought “neat.”
Now at this time I was still undeclared, something that one of my professors grilled me on from time to time. I had obviously been considering Astronomy as a major, but I was hesitant. So, like anyone considering Astronomy, I turned to the next logical path: film and television. “So, what, you’re going to make space movies?” said a professor said when I mentioned I had decided on my major. “Haha, uh, well, yeah? I guess?”
Well, look at me now! I AM making space movies. And it’s perfect, because I’m still surrounded by astronomy and I still get to be passionate and work with the conceptual side of it. Most importantly, I get to try and show other people that we’re doing REALLY cool stuff. Or you might say “NEAT stuff”.
The longest lasting series I’ve produced are the 321Science! videos. This was my first real responsibility when I joined the mission, and at this point I have edited, filmed, and animated every video we have published. Not only do I get to create animated educational videos, but I’m also learning along the way, which is a huge bonus. I never would have pictured myself talking about things like the Yarkovsky Effect, or Tisserand’s Parameter. Of course, I only bring them up in circles where no one can investigate my actual understanding of them too closely, but in the right crowd, I can land a few “oooh’s,” “wows,” and “you’re being pretentious.”
I was recently given the incredible opportunity to travel to Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Colorado to film interviews with some of the scientists and engineers working on the mission. Not only was I given the opportunity to meet these incredibly intelligent and passionate people, they let me go into the MASSIVE clean room and see them building and assembling the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft and instruments in person. It was such a wonderful experience, one that I don’t plan to forget anytime soon.