Tuesday April 21st 2009. Launch -19 days and Holding.


Today has been one of the toughest days that I have had for a long time. It is only Tuesday and already I feel really bone tired, which can’t be a good sign.


The daily routine for me is fairly settled in these tests. Over breakfast I have checked my e-mail for any urgent items that have appeared overnight. Eighteen months ago it was quite usual for me to have a whole series of urgent e-mails to attend to about software testing, this though has now ended and breakfast is generally more relaxed (after launch it probably will not be any longer). When I get in in the morning, the first order of business it to update the notice board. The launch countdown gets changed (still no news since the latest hold started). The minutes of the previous day’s briefing are posted. The list of daily activities for the day gets updated. Any out of date information is removed, especially if more space is needed (there is never enough, even with two large boards). The emails gets a good check again because people are coming into work and things may suddenly start to appear urgently in those 20 minutes or so when I am on the bicycle.


If possible, a number of the team will then go to have coffee together. This is actually one of the most valuable activities of the day, as it is when we exchange information privately and find out what is going on behind the scenes each day. Staying up to date is vital because a lot of what we do depends on “crosstalk”. Usually the time between coffee and our 11am team briefing is taken up with assorted administrative tasks.


The 11am briefing takes anything from 25 to 45 minutes depending on how many incidents there are to report. During this time I am sat up front scribbling furiously, trying to keep up with the flow of information and note down everything of importance: people speak more freely and give more information than they would do if the had to submit a written report. Some days I am hard-pressed to keep up and may struggle to find enough space in the different boxes of the daily report form.


Today, as soon as we finish I start processing the new instrument software and observations delivery from one of the instrument teams. This will be a regular feature in flight: their calibrations will be refined, the code that controls the instruments will be refined, updated, tweaked and occasionally, even re-written. Part of this week’s exercise is to see how quickly and efficiently we can do this, from the moment that we hear that new code has been delivered, until we have the affected observations completely re-planned and approved. Things went somewhat wrong: the email was not working most of the afternoon, some of the configuration of the computers was just plain (and mysteriously) wrong and it ended up being stressful and difficult. The whole process is slow and extremely complex and every step must be followed perfectly. If a mistake is made, it must be rectified at once.


In the end, I finished by the late afternoon, feeling extremely tired and stressed and then set about writing up the minutes of the day’s briefing. The Sun was almost down and it was time to get out fast or face a wait for it to get dark enough to use the lights on the bicycle effectively. In the end I got out around twenty to nine and just about made it home before the light faded too badly to make cycling unsafe. By now all I wanted was to freshen-up and put on my pyjamas before having some dinner and finishing the minutes to send them to the Boss for his comments. These came back some time after midnight and had to be incorporated and the minutes sent out to everyone ready to be read first thing in the morning.


It ends up being typically an 18-hour day…