Monday May 11th 2009. Launch -3 days and Counting.


Launch week!


We are almost there. Today the final de-brief on the final test gave us a clean bill of health. Right now we are confident that the whole part of the chain of commanding the telescope and receiving and processing the data that is under our control works as well as we can make it. We can receive observations to be made, process them, schedule them, prepare them for transmission to Herschel, receive the observations when made, distribute them to the Instrument Control Centres, reduce the data and place them in the final Herschel data archive. It has been a hard grind, but things work. Bearing in mind how complex the entire chain is, we have done extraordinarily well. Of course, the Boss posed the question “what have we forgotten?” Of course, if we knew that we would not have forgotten it… Let’s hope that any surprises after launch are small and not too painful.


The cryostat is full of helium and cold. In fact, right now it is probably the coldest place in the entire universe. The cryostat is now sealed and an external helium tank is keeping us from helium from the cryostat evaporating to keep the tank cold.


There is very little activity in Kourou right now. The babysitters are happy. Their charges are behaving well and not causing any problems.


At 11:40 UT on Wednesday Herschel will be rolled out onto the launch pad; this is early morning local time in French Guiana. We light the fireworks at 13:12UT and 13:38UT Herschel should separate from the Ariane upper stage. If all goes to plan, the first signals should be received from Herschel at 13:50UT.


So much for theory. Today has been another day of checking the Manual line-by-line, looking for errors and things that have changed, correcting plots and links. Finally, late this afternoon the job was completed. Now the document has to be compiled and incorporated into the online help of the program. It’s not thrilling work, but then writing documentation and testing software is not intended to be. Around twenty to eight it got very dark. A dash home failed to beat the approaching storm and the last three kilometres were uphill, through driving rain and into the teeth of a gale: I got home totally soaked.


A word on our damaged Mission Planner. Once it was established that he could still type at the keyboard we all relaxed. He was showing off his chest bandage to everyone this morning. Apparently his wife had offered him a very nice, decorative corset from her wardrobe…