T-7 days and counting. At the Universitat de Barcelona we have countdown clocks almost everywhere. And these are counting down, second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour. It is getting really serious now with the launch of Gaia. Every single progress statement from the European spaceport Kourou, official or unofficial, is awaited eagerly. The news are distributed with twitter, Facebook, emails, …. People are talking about it on the floors. You can feel the excitement rising day by day.
Many of us have spent several years already working for the Gaia satellite project. A few colleagues were already contributing to the very first studies for a successor of the Hipparcos satellite in the mid-90s. A few days ago I had my seventh anniversary working for the project. Now in a few days the Gaia will be launch and the real space mission will start. Exciting times.
Many of my colleagues are now interested in all aspects about the launch. Questions are f.e. how safe the launcher is or if it is not too early to drop the payload fairing a little bit more than three minutes after the lift off. I am a little bit of an “expert” for these kind of questions. As a kid I was growing up with the first missions of the Space Shuttle. I followed every mission even during the night by radio – AFN (American Forces Network) was distributing the information all over in Germany. Interesting stories were told – orbiting satellites or retrieving them, untethered spacewalks, the Spacelab science missions. It seemed to be very realistic as a mixture of many successes and small failures were reported. Then the big failure happened – the Challenger disaster. A few months later there was Chernobyl. During these months I lost my believe that technology alone can make really everything possible. Before these events I was undecided if I want to considering a career as engineer or as a scientist. The events helped me to decide to study physics. With the overdose of the classic Star Trek taken during my early childhood the main direction of my study was also clear – it had to be Astrophysics. Oops, it seems to be I am a bit off topic here – sorry for that.
I continued to follow all the Shuttle missions and other spaceflight events. I have watched several hundreds of space launches on TV, and one live – the final launch of the Space Shuttle on the STS-135 in July 2011 from the Kennedy Space Center. A dream was coming true.
As a “space geek” with “my launch experience” I am still calm at the moment. But I think that this will change in the coming days. It really should change! Working several years for a satellite project ties the connection with it a bit more than usual I think. Probably when the countdown clocks will show only a few hours left the launch fever will have infected me, too. 😉 Exciting times, indeed.