Tuesday April 14th 2009. Launch -22 days.


Yesterday, at this same time, I was leaving work in brilliant sunshine. Today it is so dark that I have put on the light by my chair to write. It has been raining on and off all day and I see from the radar that there is an area of heavy rain just west of here. This morning there was drizzle all the way to work and, as I reached the last half kilometre, the heavens opened. Fortunately it was brief and I had almost arrived. The weather though seems more appropriate for November than for April. However, the old refrain is:


April showers bring May flowers


In fact, it has been very dry for about two months now and to get everything really green before the summer arrives and everything dries out, a couple of weeks of rain will not go amiss.


This morning I arrived and tried to finish yesterday’s work. It should have been just a an hour, maybe less, but to my horror, nothing worked. The engineer came and looked at the error message and suggested that I check carefully what I had done. It still didn’t work, even though everything was being done identically to yesterday. At that point we called in the heavies who discovered that when our database server had been re-set yesterday, it had been wrongly configured on re-start. In other words, rather than being an idiot, I had actually discovered a serious system problem. The relief was tremendous. Unfortunately, today there were two of us trying to use the system and only one can configure it at a time so, by the time that the problem was fixed it was time to hand over to my colleague and, then, it was time for a series of meetings about planning the planning for the start of the mission, which is now just 3 weeks away (if this sounds like a logarithmic spiral it is because it is a logarithmic spiral, but unfortunately part of life in a mission with complex interactions between many people and centres). The bottom line is that we are no longer pretending to be planning observations, now it is all being done for real and we have to get it right.


Today’s meetings were to plan tomorrow’s big meeting where everyone will get together in a telecon to discuss what to do in the first two weeks of the mission, or rather, how to adapt the current plan to our changed reality. Reality will change many times with bewildering rapidity in the next few months. Another reality that is being passed around like a ticking bomb is that several of the team are likely to end up spending a day and a half each week for the first few weeks of the mission travelling back and forth from Mission Control in Darmstadt for planning meetings. One of the likely “volunteers” is married with three young children: I suggested that, rather than spending so much time in hotels that she just rent a house in Germany!


When I left, the falconer was at work. Even though the antennas are mainly mothballed, the falconer still comes every week to train the falcon and to frighten away the birds that would nest in the antennas. Watching the pair at work is very spectacular. I can never resist stopping and watching for a few minutes.


It’s raining again and the heavy rain is getting closer. Anyway, I have a washing machine on and will put on another when the first finishes and have a set of minutes to write and send out before bed.