Saturday May 30th 2009. Day 16.


So much for taking my bicycle to the workshop yesterday evening. Something almost always comes up in the evening if I want to leave a little earlier. However, I am building up some muscles in my legs like Big Arnie’s… ideal if I meet a Terminator. Resistance cycling is hard work, especially on any uphill section and the last 3km of my return journey are all uphill.


Today was very enjoyable. There were some fifteen of us on duty and although it was a fairly quiet day, there was enough to be done to keep me profitably occupied. The first hour of the morning was spent preparing for the morning briefing. This meant compiling information on the status of planning of observations: what has been done, what has to be done, when is it needed and what had been done with it. The whole process of getting observations up to the satellite is pretty complicated and takes time. Mission Control needs the planning file with the observations ideally several days in advance. The problem is that in the check-out, or commissioning phase, things can change rapidly and we often do not have the luxury of even knowing a few days ahead what we will be doing and when because things may change suddenly depending on the results of previous tests, or on problems that may have appeared. Our job this weekend is to prepare Days 20, 21, 22 and 23. Mission Control needs Day 20 by 3pm. Days 21 and 22 are needed by 3pm tomorrow. The trouble is that to generate one day takes several hours and a fair bit of to-ing and fro-ing.


We receive the inputs and the programming for the instruments from the Instrument Control Centre. This has to be thoroughly checked for consistency and compiled. The observations are then sent to the Mission Planners who generate the observing file that gets sent to Mission Control for translation into commands for the spacecraft. The Mission Planners have check that the observing file agrees with the expected one and that it can be carried out by the spacecraft without danger. They then send the final file to the Instrument Control Centre that checks that everything is as they intended it to be. Only when the Instrument Control Centre gives its approval can the file be sent to Mission Control where they will then apply their own checks before generating the instrument commands and transmitting them to the spacecraft.


The long and the short of it was that at 14:45 Mission Control still did not have Day 20 and were beginning to panic and we were powerless to do anything about it. In the end, after several ‘phone calls of increasing urgency we were able to send the file with about 10 minutes to spare.


Having planned the first day the rest were fairly straightforward. Day 21 though was a psychological landmark as it was our first day controlling the spacecraft ourselves. As Alan Shepherd said “Oh Lord, don’t let us screw up”. By the end of the afternoon everything was ready to be sent out on Sunday morning. Life was looking good.


An evening trip shopping with our retired banker and then the Robocop trilogy on the DVD. By mistake I put on the second film… and promptly fell asleep. Definitely the right choice of film.



Unofficial Herschel image of the day archive:


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