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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

Solidarity

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 | Comments Off on Solidarity

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 | Comments Off on Hubble 25 Flashback

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 | Comments Off on Wish You Could See Your Space Cadet Kid Now Mom…

April 4th, 2017

Best Happy Hour Ever!

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

jwst_visit

How was Yours?

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

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Best Happy Hour Ever!

Visit The Woodward Class of '72 Reunion Website For Fun And Memories, WoodwardClassOf72.com


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