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December 12th, 2023

City Life Has Its Benefits

One of which is the pleasures of walking here and there and happen chancing across someone you know.

I needed some groceries I could only get at the local organic food store, so I take a short walk there. On the way back I pass a guy who is looking at me so I give him a polite wave. Then I hear him say that he knows me and I turn and look more closely. I’m usually horrible with names but pretty good with faces and I recognise him as one of the STScI cafeteria staff from way back when.

He has apparently become a teacher in one of the local schools, encouraging his kids to believe that a life in the sciences is possible to them. He tells me they grow up thinking Baltimore isn’t the center of the universe, and he tells them actually, in one sense, it is. And he talks to them about working at the Space Telescope Science Institute and Hubble and James Webb. We chat for a while, and it’s clear we both have very fond memories of working at STScI.

That really perked me up.

by Bruce | Link | React!

December 23rd, 2022

‘Tis The Season!

My brother put up the Casa del Garrett West Christmas Tree last night and we’ve put each other’s presents under it.

by Bruce | Link | React!

July 22nd, 2022

20 Years…Well…Actually 23…

Finally! My 20 Year Service Award came. They FedEx-ed it to me a few days ago. I was sincerely afraid I would never get it because it is the kind of thing that routinely falls through the bureaucratic cracks at other workplaces. But they remembered me…and I have to assume everyone else that didn’t get theirs in 2020 because of the COVID lockdowns. 2020 was when I hit the twenty year mark.

I’ve never worked so long anywhere else. Partly that’s because gay guys tend to get the pink triangle…I mean Slip…once management figures out why you’re expressing an insufficient interest in the opposite sex. But also because who in their right mind walks away from a job like this one? For twenty-three years I worked somewhere they harvested light from near the dawn of time and gave it to astronomers, physicists, and other researchers to study. We were Space Explorers. And I was part of that team. Not an astronomer, not a physicist, simply a computer systems engineer who helped them. But I was part of it. I helped test the Mission Operations Center systems. I conducted tests across the deep space network. Just basic end to end testing, and only for a short period before the Goddard flight engineers took over, but I spoke instructions over the Deep Space Network. I had to learn how to use the systems in order to test them, and then for several years prior to launch I tested them. I managed the telemetry stream from the initial cryovac tests, first from Goddard and then the big full up OTIS test in Houston. I maintained the telemetry streams from all those tests and cataloged the data so other engineers could use it to develop the flight systems. I helped with the playbacks. I did performance testing on the final system designs. I watched a spacecraft being born and speaking its first words. I did that. I was a Space Explorer.

It’s still so…amazing to look back at what my life eventually became, against all odds and expectations.

So now I have a complete set of service awards to hang on my den wall. I have 5, 10 and 15 year awards and they are all like this one except they’re beautiful Hubble photos. For the twenty I asked for this artist’s rendering of JWST because I knew I would be retiring after launch and I wanted the set to end on the project I was working on when I retired.

23 years I worked there…almost half my working life. It’s been amazing. I was the kid without a dad, living with his mom on the other side of the tracks. But the techno geeks and freaks in the nice neighborhoods on the other side recognized a member of the tribe in me, and kept encouraging me to go for it when I had my doubts. We are still a tribe.

Somehow I need to rearrange the STScI memorabilia on my den wall to accommodate all four of these. It’s do-able if I remove the shrine to my three strikes. Maybe I should do that. Do I really need that shrine in my den? Maybe. That’s also a part of my life, if not the best one. What do You think, LonerNoMore?

by Bruce | Link | React! (1)

July 13th, 2022

What All That Work Was For

Yesterday (as I write this) I attended the unveiling of the first James Webb Space Telescope science images and reception afterward at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI). Though I am retired since last February, a couple months after launch, my project manager got me an invite. Some day I should sit down and write my memoirs, since it’s been a long strange trip.

It was an amazing day. I’m still feeling the afterglow. To have been a part of it all for the last 23 1/2 years is so very cool. I did not expect to have this life.

They were all happy to see me at the Institute. How is retirement they asked. Very strange I said. And then they all made me feel like I was part of the team again. We did this.


by Bruce | Link | React!

July 11th, 2022

Called Back To My Previous Life For A Celebration

I’ve an invite this morning to go to Hopkins and watch the release of the first James Webb science images with the Institute staff. It was so very nice of my project manager to get me the invite though I am retired now. So I’m all excited about it. And really touched to know that I’m remembered fondly among those I worked with. This last half of my life is very Very different from the first.

…And I finally get to wear the suit I bought for watching the launch that I didn’t get to use because they moved the launch date back to Christmas and the campus was closed that day so we all had to watch from home. Apart of course from those of us actually working in the MOC. I can get all dressed up tomorrow. I’ll take a mirror selfie if I remember, for posterity. I am rarely to be found in a nice business suit.

by Bruce | Link | React!

January 29th, 2022

Mirror, Mirror…

It’s about time I think, to be breathing a sigh of relief and letting the stress of the past several months slide off my shoulders. The entire process of launching and deploying the James Webb Space Telescope terrified me, but everything about the launch and deployment happened without a hitch. It was a Mary Poppins launch…practically perfect in every way! The surprising immediate deployment of the solar array, only possible if the launch was absolutely spot on perfect, turned out to have been a sign that the rest of it was going to be perfect too. But that entire process terrified me. If any One thing had gone wrong we would not have a telescope, and billions of dollars, and the hopes and dreams of astronomers all over the world would have gone down the tubes. But not only did nothing go wrong, it all went so well that they’re estimating we could be good, fuel wise, for at least twenty years, not just the ten that was planned for.

And now…now…it’s time for me to say goodbye to this part of my life. I set myself a goal of seeing JWST through to launch. Now that it’s happened, and we’re all good, I’m just a few weeks from retiring. I can leave on a high note. The plan initially was to retire at the end of December 2021, but launch delays pushed that back to January, and then I was asked to stay another month since January was going to be busy for everyone with the tasks of getting JWST deployed and ready for commissioning. It’s time for me to move on.

I’m 68 years old now, two years past a heart attack and feeling my age. I want to have at least some retirement time to do other things with my life before the big sleep. Make some art, explore some highways, walk along some beaches, look at the stars, gaze at some new horizons…while I still can. I’m not sure how I can get 50+ years of working for a paycheck to slide off my shoulders, but I’ll give it my best shot. 23 years of that I’ve worked at the Space Telescope Science Institute, loving almost every minute of immersion in an environment of science and exploration. So many memories to take with me.

Like this one…

The photo below was taken from the observation deck at Goddard, where the JWST science half with the big mirror had been assembled and tested and was being readied for its trip to Houston for testing in the big Apollo vacuum chamber back in March 2017. Those of us working on the project were invited to see the telescope for it’s last viewing before it got packed off to Houston. I’d been to Goddard many times prior to this, getting our test servers approved for connecting to the Goddard network, and doing end to end network testing between Goddard and Northrop Grumman in the backup MOC, but it was the first time I was able to actually see the telescope we’d all been working on.

So there I was, snapping off a bunch of shots of that huge mirror when I realized…that if I positioned myself just…so…

Heh…  Yeah, this was before I started wearing a beard. Here’s another shot that gives you a better sense of scale…

That guy in the orange Sierra Designs mountain parka holding his cell phone up to take a picture is me. That’s my Goddard badge around my neck. I’ll know my time with the Institute is over when they ask me to hand it and all my other badges back…probably while I’m signing the paperwork on my retiring.


by Bruce | Link | React!

December 26th, 2021

We Went To Space To Discover The Universe And We Discovered Ourselves

That’s a paraphrase of something Neil deGrasse Tyson once said about going to the moon. We went to the Moon, and discovered the Earth. What I’ve learned from 23+ years working at the Space Telescope Science Institute, first on the Hubble Space Telescope grant management system, and then JWST integration and test, is how deeply human that desire is to know more about the cosmos. All the tribes of the Earth share it. And doing that work not only gives us a better understanding of the universe, but also of each other. 

Webb launched from the European Spaceport in French Guiana. It’s a cooperative project between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA). The morning of the launch I was at home watching the event on NASA TV, streamed through my Roku box. As we got down to the final minutes of the countdown, I was hearing NASA commentary in English, but the mission operation center in Kourou is run by the French, and all the call outs I was used to hearing from Cape Canaveral, I was hearing now in French. I don’t know much of any French, and yet I could follow along because I knew the drill; I’d watched this over and over and over again since the first Mercury astronauts went up. Hearing it in French for the first time, it struck me how Webb was a human project.

For a moment we were all earthlings with a common purpose. I’d heard that said over and over during Apollo, and I could see the truth of it, but my reference back then was still firmly planted in the United States. This was a European launch. It was their baby, with ours on top of it. I was watching it happen from the European point of view. But even our baby on top of that rocket, the telescope itself, was a project of many different countries. And I knew that for a fact, because for the past couple decades I’d been living it at the Institute.

I was raised by a single divorced mother and made my way there by way of restoring shortwave radios and building my own computer from parts I got at a HAM Fest. I taught myself how to program it, and that path eventually led to my becoming a software developer, and eventually to the Institute. And there I was working side by side with scientists, astronomers, computer geeks with multiple college degrees in computer science. But also facilities people, AV nerds, public outreach specialists. Many people, from many walks of life worked on this thing. I could walk the hallways and hear English spoken, but also other languages. We had astronomers from all over the globe working there. And we’re located on the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus, where kids from all over the world come to learn. Practically every human tribe on Earth had a hand in the work we do.

For two decades I have been surrounded by this culture, this deeply human culture of science and exploration. It has kept me sane through the past several years more than I knew.

And so yesterday morning was a very spiritually uplifting event. Something I really needed to see in this horrible time of rising fascism, conspiracy theory kookery, anti-science nuttiness. From all walks of life and every corner of the Earth we came together and put a new instrument up into space because we wanted to know more about the universe that we were born to. I got back my view of the human status. We can do good things. We can make progress. 

We went into space, and we discovered ourselves.

by Bruce | Link | React!

My Wee Part Of James Webb

Note: Those of you who know I’ve a part of the James Webb Space Telescope that launched yesterday (Finally!)…this blog doesn’t have much of my moment-to-moment thoughts on that. Those are on my Facebook page and they’re usually (but not always) set to “Public”. I will try to be more communicative about it here since we launched, and since I am trying to disentangle myself from Facebook. But this isn’t the easiest place for me to whip my smartphone out and start posting when something happens like Facebook is. I’ll try to change that too…somehow…



[Posted to my Facebook page on Christmas Eve…the day before launch…] 

You may be seeing on the news now, shots and videos of this room. It’s going to be a very busy place tomorrow, and for months to come. But for a while, I was part of a team working there. Back in 2017, when this was taken, I was part of the Integration and Test team that did the initial end to end tests between the spacecraft and the Institute. I did work for a time in the flight ops room. Early on it was actually a simulator we were talking to, just to test the network connectivity, although I was there later, when the first commands were sent to the actual spacecraft and it replied.

This is me, sitting in the center front row seat in flight ops, performing Test Conductor duty. The three ring binder there next to me holds the very meticulously established test procedure for us to follow (I blanked the pages out here and the monitors too because that’s a high security area). After each step there was a place for my initials to sign off on that step having been done. I would call out the steps over the deep space network to all the stations involved in the test, and the flight engineer next to me would send the commands on my mark. One of my team members sat in the row behind us, doing Test Director work. Test Director was who you talked to when you needed an executive decision on how to proceed. I just basically followed procedure. Those test documents will be stored away for I don’t know how long, but once again there’s a little piece of me in the record of space exploration.

And it’s all still so stunning. So amazing. I did this. I really did this.

About a year or so ago my work in the flight ops room was done, and my access to it removed. That’s how it has to be, though I may still have work to do later in the other areas of the MOC. But this will always be for the rest of my life a fantastic part of it. I had other work besides this, gathering telemetry from the various cryo-vacuum tests on the science part of the spacecraft, watching as it spoke its first words. It was amazing.

Oh..and that little gold keycard around my neck is…special… (I’ve distorted that also for security reasons) I’ll probably have to give it back someday but at least I have pictures of me wearing it.

And now…it’s time to launch. Everything all these years has been leading up to this moment. Time to launch.

[Note: I’d call that a Mary Poppins Launch…practically perfect in every way! As of my posting this we’ve had our first course correction burn and everything is still looking good! Best Christmas present ever!]

[Note: That photo was taken in 2017 and and…yeah…I look much better with the beard at this age. Alas. I really don’t like beards…but…gay male vanity. I reckon I’ll keep it…]

by Bruce | Link | React!

July 20th, 2021


I had a full day today in the JWST Mission Operations Center, working on an automated performance testing program (‘program’, not as in software but as in “a set of related measures or activities with a particular long-term aim.” It’s very tedious because it’s running through the same set of operations over and over and over and over and…so on… But this is necessary to insure the MOC systems can handle the stress of launch and commissioning, and also to make sure that the small fixes and updates to the systems haven’t broken anything that Was working previously.

As I said…tedious. And I have other things on my plate at work that I need to attend to. But for various reasons I won’t go into here, these tests needed to be done this week. It is Important to do these tests at this time. So I stay on it. Everything we do now is critical to moving us toward launch, and after that, commissioning. Then we have a space telescope that will show us amazing things about the early universe, and maybe even find life on nearby planets. I was in on Monday…I’ll be working this through Thursday at least. I want to see this thing through to launch (still scheduled for the end of October), but I am counting down the weeks until I retire. I have other things I want to do with my life, before I run out of life.

I come home, tired…very tired. I’m feeling my age more now. There’s a Hemingway quote about going broke that maps very well to getting old: gradually, and then suddenly. Yeah. That. I make some dinner…a frozen package thing from the chest freezer because I am too tired even to think now. I just want to sleep. It’s the routine repetitive work that drags me down.

I turn on the TV. Smithsonian channel is running stuff about the Apollo moon landing. Oh yeah…that was today. 52 years ago. I remember watching it raptly on the black and white vacuum tube TV in our 1969 garden apartment living room. I even took a few snapshots of the TV screen while it was happening. There were no home video recorders in 1969.

I remember how it felt, I remember how amazing it all was. There really was a great big beautiful tomorrow shining at the end of every day back then. Everything was possible. I watched them put human footprints on the moon.

And then I realize I spent the day today working in the JWST MOC and I hadn’t even remembered today was the anniversary the entire time I was in there. I was busy. I had a job to do. Solidarity reaches across the decades and taps me on the shoulder. I’m really here now. I’m really part of all this. It’s about time I started believing it. I don’t think 15 year old me would have figured there was where I would be in 52 years. Certainly certain maternal family members would never have believed it. I should really stop carrying that weight around with me. I did my job, and I’ll get back to it tomorrow.

And I will feel a little less old and tired…

by Bruce | Link | React!

April 24th, 2020

Hubble 25 Flashback

Today is the 30th anniversary of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope. Here’s a picture the birthday boy took

Thirty years ago today (April 24), Hubble launched into space on a mission to open humanity’s eyes to the wonders of the cosmos. In a new Hubble image released today, the telescope captured two neighboring clouds of cosmic dust and gas: the giant red nebula NGC 2014 and a smaller blue nebula nearby called NGC 2020.

…and here’s a shot from Hubble’s 25th, taken in front of the Space Telescope Science Institute at Johns Hopkins, Baltimore Maryland. (click for larger view)

The astronauts participating in the last servicing mission are front and center. Institute crew and some of their lucky kids surround them. Steve Hawley, in the red tie in the center, lifted HST out of the shuttle on the robot arm. Next to him is commander Scott Altman. The guy in the red shirt off to the right with the camera is expecting to wake up from a dream at any moment…

by Bruce | Link | React!

April 24th, 2017

Wish You Could See Your Space Cadet Kid Now Mom…

Got a chance to sit for a few moments in the test director’s seat this afternoon, in the Flight Ops room, and talk with White Sands on the NASA voice loop during a test of JWST data links. I’m still in training for this slot, and won’t be single-handedly directing tests for a while, but it was so very cool to be talking with other ground stations on the NASA loop…nervous first timer though I was…


by Bruce | Link | React!

April 4th, 2017

Best Happy Hour Ever!

Here’s what I did  during Happy Hour last  Friday…


How was Yours?

(I’m the guy in the orange Mountain Parka on the right…)

by Bruce | Link | React!

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