Sunday morning, 7 am – you’re probably fast asleep, maybe being pounced on by small children, or hungover, or perhaps you’re still out partying. Some of us are hard at work. I just started my third stint in the lab at the Rutherford Appleton Lab in Oxfordshire, where we’re testing the mid-infrared instrument MIRI for the James Webb Space Telescope. In case you’re not up to speed with your space missions or have never read my blog, let’s have a quick glossary.
If you’ve never watched the Space Shuttle launch – either live or via NASA’s web feed - you’ve got just two chances left! Endeavour should launch later today, at 08:56 EDT. That’s 14:56 in Western Europe or 13:56 in the UK, just in time for your post-lunch coffee break. It’s the last ever launch for Endeavour, which makes space enthusiasts a little misty eyed. The 6 astronauts will be carrying the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the ISS. AMS-02 is a cosmic ray detector that will collect and analyse energetic particles as they travel through space. From these data we can gain important new insights into the nature of the unseen stuff – dark matter – in the Universe. The experiment has a neat website with lots of info and video , as well as a twitter feed. There’s a nice 365Days podcast today about this cool particle physics experiment.
I’ll be watching!
For 4 years, I’ve been a member of a team that will deliver part of the biggest ever astronomical space mission: the James Webb Space Telescope. In just a few weeks’ time, we’ll begin testing the flight hardware for MIRI, the telescope’s mid-infrared instrument, that will allow it to peer deeper into dense dusty and cold regions of our Galaxy and the Universe than its three fellow instruments. “Flight hardware” means that these are the actual bits and pieces that will be launched into space on board an Ariane rocket. Yes, that’s seriously cool.
My four years on the team makes MIRI my longest relationship in science yet. I’m rather fond of the little tyke. But four years is nothing in today’s era of mega-science. Literally hundreds of people have had a relationship with some part of the James Webb mission for well over a decade. Some may well be approaching their silver anniversary. Those of you with instrumentation experience know well what this means: meetings, documents, designs, documents, simulations, telecons, more meetings, reviews, procurement, manufacturing, testing, negotiations, documents, meetings. Endless, over and over.
This video about JWST is excellent! At a recent MIRI meeting I was asked to convey my excitement about JWST for a video by Space telescope Science Institute – sadly my nerd cool proficiency level is some orders of magnitude below that of Vlogbrothers. I sure wish we could get them to .Astronomy in April
I’ve posted quite a bit about JWST now – see everything here.