Thursday April 30th 2009. Launch -14 days and Counting.


The last two weeks. This has hit home. And a long weekend starts this afternoon so, when we next come into the office that number will be “10” and we will be in the final countdown. It is hard to believe that we have got this far. There is a lot of nervousness about what would happen if something unexpected were to go horribly wrong. People are nervous. There are nearly 25 years of work in this project and ESA is putting its two most important satellites for some 15 years on a single rocket. Unlike an aircraft where, if something goes wrong on launch there is a very high probability that the passengers will not even notice, in a rocket if something goes wrong the most likely result is that there will either be a very loud “bang”, or that the passengers will come back to earth extremely fast and in an uncontrolled manner. It doesn’t matter how often some wise old sage says that we should not even think these things, we all do and it is never far from our thoughts.


Today has been a day for getting ready for the first science observations that will be made in mid-November in the 42 approved observing programmes so far. It is time for people to revise their observing programmes to sort out remaining problems: objects that can no longer be observed because of the launch delays; refinements of observations; changes in the way that observations will be made; updates of the software; etc. All these impact on observing programmes.


My task is to go through the Users’ Manual for the program that observers use to prepare their observations. This document is over 300 pages long and details everything that users can do with the software. Page by page everything has to be compared with the latest version of the software and all discrepancies and cases of outdated information corrected. Where the appearance of a screen has changed, the relevant screenshot(s) have to be updated, This is a long, slow, careful, systematic job. In principal I wish to complete it on Tuesday: whether or not this is possible will depend on how many interruptions I suffer.


A week ago the news of Influenza A was seeming to be extremely alarming. Today it seems that the whole issue is burning itself out. No one outside Mexico has died. No one has even, it seems, got seriously ill from the new virus. And the ‘flu season is ending in the Northern Hemisphere. However, Spanish ‘flu also started off relatively mild before mutating into something really unpleasant and I still remember a neighbour not much older than me dying in the ‘flu pandemic of 1968. But, with the probability of a vaccine being available before the winter ‘flu season starts it looks like we may have got away with this one. Some serious questions need to be asked though why so many people have died in Mexico even if, as seems, the figures have been inflated, when outside Mexico the illness has proved to be relatively mild.