Friday April 24th 2009. Launch -19 days and Holding.


My tyre was still hard in the morning. That was a relief.


Yesterday was St. George’s Day: England’s National Day. The Welsh, Irish and Scots all celebrate their National Days with great ceremony and fervour. In Spain, the Catalans (and now, increasingly Spaniards in the rest of the country) celebrate Sant Jordi or San Jorge by buying their partner a book in return for receiving a rose. Even the Bulgarians celebrate St. George’s Day. The English seem to hide the fact that it is supposedly our National Day. As a patriotic Englishman I should have worn a red rose in my button hole (red because in the Wars of the Roses Richard of York (whose symbol was the white rose), was defeated by Henry Tudor of Lancaster (symbol: a red rose) however, as anyone knows, there are not too many red roses in bloom in England in late April. Yes: I forgot that it was St. George’s Day yesterday too, so could not even engage in a symbolic celebration!


Today we were told that we can expect some kind of launch announcement. Don’t hold your breath though. We are hearing persistent references to one date in mid-May but, until it is confirmed, we will just have to wait and see what happens. The uncertainty is not good for our frayed nerves because proper planning is impossible. There is also the, possibly unfounded feeling that the longer the delay is in actually saying something, the bigger the problem must be: this is just the sort of snowball effect that people are trying to avoid by avoiding giving incomplete information that could provoke rumours! Some of the finest minds in ESA are working on espionage and counter-intelligence and reporting back that the problem that is holding up the launch is not actually, apparently, a major one but, of course, that is all just rumours!


Having checked yesterday and been told that we did not expect a new instrument software delivery before Monday, one suddenly arrived before our mid-morning briefing. Here we go again! Another afternoon of stress and tension. With practice this will all become routine but, right now, anything new is a guarantee of several hours of sweating and reciting the Shepherd’s prayer[1]. Everything went very well initially until an unexpected problem reared its head: a quick chat with the relevant instrument expert and we confirmed what had to be done to get around it (which was to back-track a little). However, to the relief of out Mission Planners it was late afternoon before the job was finished and too late for them to start work on planning the associated observations. This meant that I could get home a little earlier today, although the time-clock tells me that I have worked exactly 55 hours since Monday; add in the 45 minutes or so travel each day and the time spent working at home in the evenings and you can understand why I didn’t feel like doing anything by the time that I got home. In the end, I was even too tired to read, so “Venus Prime I” is lying, barely touched. Part of this listlessness though may be due to some kind of bug because I have been suffering from an extremely sore chest for a couple of days now. To add to my woes, it seems that I have pulled a hamstring and even the short trip down to the shop this evening to buy bread was painful until the muscle warmed-up a little.


Of course, there was no launch announcement today. We are told that people are waiting until they are absolutely certain before saying anything. Given that we have some time in hand that no one had anticipated and that we thus have an unexpected opportunity to fix the bugs that have appeared in the new software this week, an extra test has been added starting on May 4th. I am not sure how much and how deeply that the test will involve me but, the axiom that “you can never test too much” is a good one and if we get extra time to get everything working even better we should use it


Heard a report on the radio on the sudden appearance of Swine ‘flu in Mexico. My first reaction was that it sounds serious.

[1] While strapped-in to his Mercury capsule on the launch pad, Alan Shepherd, the first American astronaut, inadvertently said over an open mike “oh Lord don’t let me screw up” (although there is some debate about his exact choice of descriptive word – he was, after all, a Navy pilot).