Monday April 20th 2009. Launch -19 days and Holding.


It has been a long day. I got home just after 9pm, as dusk was beginning to fall. A few minutes later and it would have been a very dicey journey in gathering gloom.


It has been an interesting and somewhat stressful day. We expect some kind of statement from Arianeespace on the launch delay tomorrow. We have so little information on the problems that it is useless to speculate, but there is no real sense of alarm – it looks like fairly minor issues. One man’s problem though is another’s opportunity and just as one launch delay gave us the opportunity to carry out a third Simulations campaign with a major software upgrade, another will give us time to patch the new software properly, fixing the problems that we find this week: that is an opportunity not to be sniffed at.


Although we are calling this test a “simulation” (i.e. simulating taking and processing data with the telescope) really it is a genuine test. We are taking a new software that was only finally made available last Friday and we are giving it a really severe shake-down to squeeze as many bugs out of it as possible. In such a campaign you always start with the fantasy that you will find little or nothing wrong and end up wishing that you had chosen to do something more relaxing like sitting in the fast lane of a motorway and counting cars. Of course, when things are interesting it means that we are really finding the bugs and each bug that we find now is one less to molest us after launch.


The day started badly when my computer failed to start on arrival at work. One of our computer technicians came and tried, unsuccessfully, to fix the problem. Given that I have almost everything that I do at work on this one machine it was hardly a good start. He called another expert who discovered that de-installing an update that I had made over the weekend the computer would re-start and then re-installing it the computer accepted the update without problems. It took an hour and a half to find and fix the problem.


Meanwhile, I had other things to worry me. Last night I got an urgent e-mail from the Boss at 02:15am. Of course, he expected me to be on-line and available. He had realised that we had not booked a meeting room for this morning’s briefing and that the room that he intended to use was not available. Contact established he started banging out emails and instructions at a tremendous rate and I got to work helping to solve the problem, firing of e-mails to book meeting rooms for other days and promising to liaise with our secretary first thing in the morning. It kept me productively occupied for a while before bed and a lot longer while in the morning.


After the morning briefing, for which I am the minute-taker, although the Boss conducts the meeting, there was the notice board to update with the minutes from Friday and the planned daily activities for the test, removing outdated information and tidying-up the layout. Then it was a matter of trying to write-up the minutes of the morning briefing around a steady stream of visitors to my office and telephone calls: almost all of them about problems of one kind or another that needed solving. This kind of thing is fun, but hard work, although extremely rewarding. Every time that you fix a problem for someone, you do get a buzz out of it. We then got involved in a long discussion with our Mission Planners who are battling with the new software. The Mission Planning software that we are testing applies all the detailed checks that Mission Control’s software performs. However, applying the software to plan the observations is proving a lot slower and far more complicated than we anticipated.


[Later: It’s been a long day. As I was writing I simply dried-up completely from tiredness.]