Monday April 13th 2009. Launch -23 days.


This was a tough way to start after a break! First the good news: although a lot of people are still on holiday, we have heard that the fuelling of Herschel was completed successfully on Friday and that all systems are go. The BBC used a picture of the operation as its mystery science and technology picture of the day:



Click on the image to reveal the scene!


It’s a reflection of how relaxed people are suddenly that this news took three days to arrive. It’s also a reflection of just how poisonous that the hydrazine fuel is that the engineers wear spacesuits when fuelling-up.


I spent the whole day preparing the observations for next week’s tests for our Mission Planners. This job started last Wednesday with configuration of databases and servers and continued all yesterday until well past 8 in the evening when I was now getting boss-eyed from following complex procedures, modifying properties files, configuring servers, running test programmes and sending processed files to our Mission Planners to work on scheduling. Why is this important? Because our Mission Planners schedule the observations and generate a file with the instructions for the day being planned that is sent to Mission Control. Mission Control then converts this into a file with all the commands that must be relayed to the spacecraft. Herschel will operate autonomously and must know every second of every day exactly what it has to do and these commands are sent to it two days in advance and stored in its on-board memory. If the wrong commands are generated there could be an absolute disaster: we might lose some observations, we might lose a whole day of observing. We could even conceivably throw the spacecraft into a dangerous state (at 10 Euros per second, if they deduct it from our wages…). The process of checking everything step by step is long, complex and very careful and has to be followed rigidly and everything documented and one has to take care to correct any mistakes. I am going to be doing this a lot over the next six months and then with slightly lower intensity through the whole life of the mission. A full day of doing this is absolutely draining.


Twelve of the thirteen days have been generated and sent to out Mission Planners who will graciously come back from holiday tomorrow and start to process everything. By 8:10pm when the twelfth was finished the sun was getting low and had I done the last one I would have ended up riding home in the dark and, to be honest, it was only stubbornness and desire to finish the job that was keeping me going. So, it was off and try to get home before sunset.


I had some leftover salad and Spanish omelette from yesterday and by 10pm was falling asleep in my chair. By 11pm I was in bed too tired to care much about anything.