Monday 24 January 2005

Things work better when you turn them on.

From the Seattle Times :
On Thursday, Idaho scientist David Atkinson said that someone failed to turn on a radio receiver for the instrument he needed to measure the winds on Saturn's largest moon. Because of that error, data transmitted by the gear on the Huygens lander was not received by the Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft for relay to Earth.

"The story is actually fairly gruesome," the University of Idaho scientist said in an e-mail from Germany, the headquarters of the European Space Agency. "It was human error — the command to turn the instrument on was forgotten."

Atkinson spent 18 years designing the experiment for the unmanned space mission to Saturn. He did say Thursday there was a chance that some of the data that was beamed toward Cassini could be picked up on Earth.

Atkinson, who is still at the ESA working on the project, could not be immediately reached for comment today.
That's probably just as well : if it were me, the microphone would have melted. But all is not lost :
[Huygens mission manager Jean-Pierre] Lebreton said an investigation showed clearly that a remote control command to activate the receiver was not sent, which prevented the data from being collected by Cassini.

But he noted that the equipment on the Huygens probe worked perfectly.

"The probe sent a clean signal and this allowed us to do the experiment from the ground using radio telescopes," Lebreton said.

Because the data was collected on Earth, Lebreton said analysis will likely take longer and require more processing.
From a recent post :
... the most amazing thing to me as a systems engineer is that NASA and the ESA could co-operate so perfectly as to pull this whole thing off. Not so much them overcoming the myriad technical difficulties, daunting though they were, but that the management and inter-organisational rivalries didn't stuff things up.
The statement still stands - but I'm slightly less amazed than I was.

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