Thursday May 28th 2009. Day 14.


Today was a long and tiring day. It’s not for the operations, although there is the permanent strain of knowing that things could go wrong at any time, or there could be a sudden crisis. I have been on high alert for several days because at some point I am going to receive a very large, time-consuming and stressful job that I have never tried before, but no one has told me WHEN. The task is to control the observations that are to be made manually when we are in direct contact with Herschel. Although it is people at Mission Control, both from the instruments and the controllers there who actually send the commands up, there is a whole process of checking and verification beforehand that needs to be done under time pressure and with 100% accuracy. Our mad Irishman is, as usual, trying to do everything himself and is discovering that there are not actually sufficient hours of the day to do it… the trouble is that he doesn’t actually have time to tell me what to do so that he doesn’t have to do it!


As of last night, we are told that 31% of all commissioning activities (89 of 289) have been completed. Really, all the absolutely critical tasks have been done: systems work, instruments are alive, detectors respond, mechanisms move, etc. What has to be done now is something that could not be done on Earth and that is to fine-tune everything for space conditions. This is a process of finding what settings, what temperatures are required to make the instruments work best IN SPACE. Testing on the ground is one thing and the massive test campaigns that we have had have been, to a large degree, responsible for things working so well in space, but on the ground you do not have the exact operating conditions of space. Changing the temperature of a detector a fraction of a Kelvin may change completely the way that it works. The radiation environment of space may change radically the way that electronics responds, etc.


Everything is building up to the day when we pop off that cryocover and see the sky for the first time and, with luck, see stars (actually, Herschel will not see stars… it will see the dust clouds around stars, but will be able to detect very few stars indeed directly). That will be a very tense moment indeed.


This coming weekend it is the ESA football tournament. And a new fashion is coming into vogue. There will be a ladies tournament for the first time, so now it seems to be the height of fashion to wear a nice pair of crutches and a plaster cast. The team are dropping like flies and, when I got back from golf practice I was told that they had played the men and that it had finished 3-3: this I interpret as meaning “3 men in hospital and 3 still standing!” I then found one of the ladies team with her leg stretched out over a table and a very large bag of ice on her ankle too… Another bites the dust!


Had dinner last night with our retired banker, the tall patrician Englishman and our new youngster (who, I suspect, has still not washed the hand that Pedro Duque shook). An excellent Chinese meal and the most diverse conversation, ranging from polar expeditions to Maxwell’s equations! (and everyone saying how nice it is NOT to talk about football continuously) By the time that I got back I just felt utterly exhausted. If I can get the front brake on my bicycle adjusted this evening, I will: climbing hills with the front brakes on is hard work!



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