Sunday May 24th 2009. Day 10.


What a difference a day makes. More about the golf later. First things first. It has been a great day for Herschel.


Today first PACS was switched-on and tried out and then HIFI. PACS is a quite delicate instrument with many mirrors and several moving parts and there was some nervousness about its ability to resist launch. Through the afternoon message after message came through to say that all was well: the chopper worked, the filter wheel moved, the detectors were alive, the diffraction grating … As each test was carried out successfully the tone of the messages got more jubilant.


Then it was HIFI’s turn. When Herschel was first conceived as an 8-m space telescope, it was intended as a vehicle for high-resolution heterodyne spectroscopy (in other words, using radio astronomy techniques). In the end, HIFI is just one of three instruments, but is the most sophisticated, using a technology that simply did not exist 3 years ago and the one that has been most difficult to build.


HIFI did not go through such an extensive check-out as PACS, as their tests will continue tomorrow and there are so many things to test that today was no more than a start. However, what has been done so far has been a real success.


Overall, what this means is that all of Herschel’s instruments work. We still have not seen stars because, until decontamination of the telescope has finished, we will not eject the cover of the cryostat. However, mechanisms and system have been checked. We know that the detectors work. We know that we can command Herschel and that it is capable of working autonomously. Everything is looking really good. Ejecting the cryocover is the last big test. If that goes well we have a functional telescope and then can fix any small problems as they arise. At the moment it seems, that there are no big problems: this can only be attributable to a major miracle. As our Development Manager put it in his Twitter post yesterday, “we are blessed”. The most fabulously complicated telescope ever put into space is working better than we could ever have imagined possible.


What was a little frustrating was that as great events were going on in space, I was elsewhere, although back in time to follow a good fraction of the testing. Yes, back to the 1st ESA Golf Tournament.


After yesterday’s first day, the tournament effectively split into various sub-competitions. NASA and ESOC were way ahead in the team competition. ESOC started the day with a narrow lead, but NASA were taking it very seriously and were determined to win. A long way back, ESTEC held a lead over us and it was obvious that we were fighting for third at best, but that with a really good day we might just be able to do it. In the individual competition, a player from ESOC who was in my group yesterday was well ahead and looking like a banker to win, with a whole bunch of players tightly bunched in the chasing group. At the back, there was a close fight for last, with me just ahead of one lady who had had an even worse day than me yesterday.


As in all tournaments, the last day was played in reverse order, with the worst-placed players starting first and the tournament leader playing last. This led to me being put in the first group with, to be honest, three players who are pretty hopeless (and two of them are good friends of mine and would not dispute that judgement). In the end, one of them had to drop out injured, so I was left with just the two ladies for company.


This time I went to the practice area well in advance and started to hit balls as hard as I could. Gradually my touch came back and I realised that in the golf class on Thursday the teacher had changed the way that I tried to play: with the new method I could not even hit the damn ball! When my time came to start I was the first player to tee off and just took a massive swing at the ball, watching it disappear into the far distance. Despite making a mess of the second hole, confidence started to flow and, on the third, for which we had a prize for the longest drive. Wham!!! Despite only using a 5 iron the ball went a huge distance and became highly competitative for the longest drive prize. Overall I felt happier but, despite some quite amazing shots, I also made some appalling mistakes and was not best pleased when a makeable putt for a par 5 on the huge last hole came up short and I missed the following putt too. It was only when half the field had finished and my score was still the best of the day that I realised that things had not gone so badly. In fact, I ended up with the 5th best score of the day and should really have done better than that.


In the end, our efforts were in vain. We almost made up the gap on ESTEC, who had started more than 20 points ahead, but had to settle for fourth. We had lost third due to a very poor second round. In the “other” competition, ESOC absolutely hammered NASA, to win by an insulting margin. The two leaders from the first day collapsed under pressure and the winner came out of the chasing pack, but it was still an ESOC player.


People were very happy. They had a lot of fun and we had a very entertaining prize-giving. Those who did not win one of the major prizes won a prize in the draw at the end (mine was a weather station) and ESOC have volunteered to organise next year’s tournament by winning! Everyone had kind words for the course and the organisation.



Working out the scores as the morning progressed. The tension was incredible as a tight finish loomed.



Prize-giving. In the end, everyone got a prize of some kind, but we didn’t pick up any of the big ones. Mind you, we did get two of the smaller prizes and several of the joke prizes for bad performances.



The winning team from ESOC, led by John Dow. These people really can play. They were absolutely unbeatable, winning both best individual prizes and the prize for the best lady player.



The players and officials in the official photograph.



Unofficial Herschel image of the day archive:


Frequent updates are provided during the day on the Herschel Twitter (ESAHerschel) here: