Wednesday May 6th 2009. Launch -8 days and Counting.
In other circumstances I might have spent another day at home but, as last night I started to get some strength back and we are working against the clock on two fronts, it was time to get back to work. When the alarm went off there was no question that I was fit enough to get on the bike, even though it was a matter of taking it very easy on the ride and using the gears on any slope rather than doing the whole distance in top gear. Various people commented that I didnít look well at work but, in fact, it was more the stress of knowing that two important working days had been lost.
The tests this week are going pretty well. In fact, the sensation is one of prevailing calm. Things that were not quite right two weeks ago are now working and the system seems to be going as well as anyone could have imagined. In fact, even 8 months ago we would have thought that the current state of our systems would only be reached long after launch. The team has worked fantastically hard and has done an amazing job to advance so much since the first major system test last September.
My problem is one of documentation. I am the curator of the program that all Herschel observers use to plan their observations. This has really meant almost no work over the last year after the two years when I spent weeks at a time checking the operation of the program, button by button on various different computers (current a Windows XP laptop, a Mac laptop, a Linux desktop and a Windows Vista desktop machine), looking for errors and bugs, reporting them and ensuring that they were fixed. This program has nearly 30 man years of work invested in it now, just by the software developers. However, now we are preparing the launch version and it is time to update the documentation. The manual is now more than 300 pages long and some of it is horribly out of date as its last significant revision was in Autumn 2007. Since then many things have changed, piece by piece through numerous test versions and limited releases. The whole document has to be revised line by line. Image by image. It is slow work and there are a huge number of changes to be made and errors to be corrected. The job is meant to be done in two days. Right now it is becoming painfully obvious that this is not going to happen. Every time I think of the deadline that was been suggested for completing the work my guts start twisting.
Managed a plain omelette at lunch. Just smelling the food over the counter was a severe test for my stomach.