Monday April 27th 2009. Launch -19 days and Holding.


After the frenetic activity of the last two weeks, a rather quieter day that allowed me to catch up with activities like writing up the minutes of meetings and getting this Blog up to date. This is a short week due to the Bank Holiday and next week we start another new test. Getting the minutes done is important, but not necessarily the most exciting of jobs and has occupied all day. It has made a pleasant change to be working under less stress and tension.


We hear that a launch announcement is imminent, probably tomorrow. Speculation has been rife as to what exactly is happening, although we have now finally been told what has happened and is being done, which is more in the measure of a precaution than out of a sense of a being a major issue. When that puff of smoke comes out of the chimney of the Sistine Chapel in ESA Headquarters we will all heave a huge sigh of relief because it is believed that barring any last-minute problems on the launch pad this will be the last set-piece delay.


One happy result of last week’s tests and the launch delay is that we have found an important bug that was hidden in our system in the tests and will have plenty of time to fix it and test it before launch. You can never get all the bugs, but the more that you hunt, the better.


More wall-to-wall coverage of the Swine ‘Flu crisis on the radio. Although the pandemic potential is high and the bug is spreading, right now there is reason for cautious optimism because the illness does not seem as serious as the 1919 Spanish ‘Flu pandemic. However, there seems to be some contradictory information coming out (one source says that the current ‘flu jabs are totally ineffective against the new strain, so vaccination campaigns have stopped, another government source says that the jab has some effectiveness and so its use is recommended!) One thing that is alarming me is that people are saying just a little too often that there is nothing to panic about. When you tell somebody too often that things they should stay calm it usually has the opposite effect because one suspects that there really is something to panic about. In this case, right now, there is not… yet.


It’s an obvious operational question: if there were a major ‘flu pandemic and people were dropping like flies (one of the assessments by the British government is that the most severe kind of pandemic could kill more than a million people in the UK), would we try to keep functioning? It’s a standard plot in films and TV series: the last survivors trying to keep civilisation running. In a crisis you could say that there are more important things in life than keeping Herschel functioning but, one has a duty to carry on while possible. Even if we were reduced to an absolute skeleton staff one would “keep calm and carry on”. Right now though things have to get an awful lot worse before we worry about that scenario.