[personal profile] emelbe and I set our alarms for 02:30 and 02:35 respectively, just to be sure we got up in time to walk over to Caltech for the end of mission. We dressed and poured coffee into ourselves, made sure we had our badges, and got out the door in plenty of time to arrive before 04:00, the official start of the event and NASA TV coverage.

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Walking up to Beckman Auditorium (aka the wedding cake) from the south.

As it happened. )
Thursday was meant to be a quiet day, since we all knew we had to be up and at Caltech by 4 AM for the thing we’d all been preparing for: the actual end of mission.

In reality, there were some impromptu science meetings at Caltech, one of which I attended in the morning. I slipped out just before noon, because I had someone to meet.

I headed down from Beckman to South Mudd to see my former JPL postdoctoral supervisor, from back in those heady days when I was still a lab scientist, for lunch. I hadn’t seen him since 2006. I eventually remembered where his Caltech office was. I could’ve found the JPL one much more easily, but it would have required me to check in and get a badge, which seemed a lot of faff for lunch. Besides, there are nicer places to eat in Pasadena. Once in the correct corridor, I spotted his technician hovering outside the door, plus another UK person from the physical chemistry community whom I’d never met but knows the bloke pretty well. There were lots of smiles and hugs, and we decided to head down to a restaurant over on Lake Street.

We had a very pleasant hour of conversation, reminiscing and catching up. I had a shock on hearing that their children, whom I remembered as children or young teenagers, were now grown up and had careers of their own. Of course I knew that would have happened in the intervening decade-plus, but it’s not until you actually speak together about these things that they’re driven home to you. They were equally shocked on learning that Humuhumu has started school - and has a younger sibling! The bloke and I had been remiss in our communication, clearly. We talked of science, of course, and of politics and its effects on research direction, and of our worries about the future due to Brexit and the current US administration.

I am still kicking myself for forgetting to take a photo. You must instead picture me with a group of men: one starting to disappear into the frailty of old age, peering out earnestly from large-framed glasses, one solid and grey-haired and mostly silent with twinkling blue eyes, and one cheeky-grinned middle-aged bear of a chap with a shock of brown hair and a beard. All sitting together in a booth of a Japanese restaurant, eagerly shoveling the contents of bento boxes into our faces, occasionally bursting into roars of laughter while cheesy ‘90s music played in the background.

We parted with promises not to let another eleven years pass before we met again. I was left with the warm glow you get from (re)connecting with friendly, kind, intelligent people. It was a lovely way to buffer against the excitement and strain of what was to come on Friday morning.

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Chilling out in my JPL t-shirt before the end of mission.
On Wednesday morning, [personal profile] emelbe and I saddled up and drove over to the Jet Propulsion Lab for a tour. We put her trusty sat nav on, and I noticed that instead of a car, the little icon was an x-wing. She turned the audio on. “Driven well you have,” said Yoda. “In a quarter of a mile, turn left. It is your destiny.”

It was decided that it was fitting for Yoda to be allowed to direct us to JPL.

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JPL tour badge with Curiosity on the front. We got to keep these.

Tour, with side trips down memory lane )
I flew into Los Angeles on the Sunday before the last-while-Cassini-is-still-in-orbit-around-Saturn Project Science Group meeting began. I was feeling dodgy when I got up at 6 AM, but I napped in the taxi and took some ibuprofen, and hoped that the feeling would go away.

It did not.

I made sure my usual mobile pharmacy (ibuprofen, paracetamol, Rennie) was stocked in my rucksack before I boarded the plane, and was glad I'd done so about three hours into the flight when my fever started spiking. I alternated ibuprofen and paracetamol every two hours. The flight attendants kindly granted all of my requests for cold water/cans of ginger ale, which were frequent. It was one of the most miserable long-haul flights I've ever had.

I spent nearly all of Monday in bed apart from a brief foray out to get a hot Thai curry into my belly for lunch. This paid off on Tuesday, and I was able to spend half a day at Caltech to dial into the penultimate operations meeting. (There will be one more after the crash, but obviously we’ll no longer have an instrument status to report.) I was excited about this, because I had been saving up something for a very long time.

In fine fettle was the other option )

to be continued
(I meant to post this yesterday but ran out of oomph. Er, maybe it's still Thursday somewhere?)

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I realise this is not the most exciting photo in the world, but my Fun Space History Fact of the Day for Throwback Thursday is that the Cassini spacecraft distributed operations computers OS of choice is...Solaris. Note the countdown clock in the upper right corner of the screen. Only two weeks left.

Side note: I love those weird eye-bendy default backgrounds in Solaris. They remind me that my first experience learning to use *nix properly was on the Sun Sparc 5 workstations in the Von Karman library basement at the University of Southern California.

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Yesterday, we celebrated the retirement of one of my lab colleagues (second from right). He spent 52 years working as a technician in our lab. Power supplies he built for dozens of space missions are scattered throughout the solar system. He is a (largely) unsung hero of space history, Hauksbee Award notwithstanding. Trevor Beek, I salute you. I hope you enjoy many years in contemplation of a job well done.
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The bloke’s parents with their heart-shaped homemade cake. The chalkboard next to them colourfully reads: “Welcome to Lodge 106. Happy 50th Wedding Anniversary! Have an excellent holiday. 😊”

A couple of weekends ago, we went to a Center Parcs with the bloke’s family to celebrate his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Each family stayed in separate lodges, and we joined together for lunches, activities, tea and evening meals.

Going to a big resort-type thing in a forest in the school holidays seems to be a rite of passage for English children. Everyone else in the family (actually being English) had this innate understanding of how things were going to work and what was going to happen. I, on the other hand, was completely in the dark. I didn’t know that the “swimming pool” was going to be a massive indoor waterslide park with separate areas for children of all ages, for instance. Or that bringing our bicycles was not just so we could get some exercise, but so we could pop out to the shop for some milk for five minutes rather than have to walk for half an hour. The place was gigantic and – it being the start of the summer holidays – completely full.

The wildlife, being accustomed to the presence of humans, was very nearly tame. If you left the sliding door to the patio open, the ducks would waddle confidently inside in search of whatever food you had foolishly left out. The squirrels would take nuts from your hands. The muntjac deer would walk up to the patio door and stare in, and not run away until the toddler came outside and tried to pet it.

We had a truly typical British summer holiday experience in that it rained nearly the entire time, so we spent a good amount of time in the water park. Humuhumu was, at first, slightly afraid of the water slides. Subsequent to our first trip to the water park, we bought her some goggles and that flipped the switch. We couldn’t get her off the water slides after that. She went round them so many times that when we went to the changing room to get back into our clothes, she could barely stand, she was so exhausted. I only got the chance to try the water slides once for about ten minutes (during which Keiki apparently screamed for me the entire time), so I went for the biggest one (twice): the Cyclone, which you went down on a rubber raft in a group. I got to go with my niece and her mum, aka the bloke’s sister. I shrieked like a banshee the whole way down. It was fantastic.

Despite the filthy weather, we managed to sneak in some outdoor activities. We played boules. We climbed around the adventure playgrounds. I took Keiki to the pond, where the nearly tame baby moorhens nibbled at his wellies, to his boundless delight. We also found a peacock, with whom Keiki had a half-hour conversation. I turned my back on him briefly and when I looked at him, he had moved close enough to the peacock to stroke its tail feathers. The peacock held itself very still, almost as if it didn’t want to frighten him, when really it should have been the other way round.

The wedding anniversary celebration came off very well indeed. There was a huge, heart-shaped and delicious sponge cake, baked by the bloke’s sister, and a “cheese cake”, which was a mountain of stacked cheeses. The bottom layer, an enormous squishy brie, had to be served separately because it would have collapsed under the weight of the wheel of harder cheese above it. This was not a problem because we devoured it over the course of two days. Most importantly, the bloke’s parents had a wonderful time being surrounded by, but not in the pockets of, their children and grandchildren.

Further photos below the cut, including a series titled “Keiki Points at Things”.

+++ )

In case you’re wondering why there aren’t so many photos of Humuhumu, this is because (1) she wanted to go to the water park pretty much every waking moment, (2) you couldn’t take photos in the water park and (3) Keiki did not want to go to the water park more than once a day, so someone had to stay with him.
nanila: (me: walk softly and carry big stick)
( Jun. 13th, 2017 02:01 pm)
I had wanted to post this yesterday, as it was the 50th anniversary, but ran out of time. So, a day late, but no less important: Here is my very personal celebration of the Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court decision, handed down on 12 June 1967, that legalised interracial marriage in the USA.

Without it, my parents might have been jailed or permanently separated. Without it, I might not exist. I am grateful that what was just and correct prevailed in the face of popular opinion.

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[Image of my dad, baby!me and my mom, with one of my aunties in the pool at a Honolulu hotel. Photo taken by my maternal grandfather.]

+1 )
As many of you know, I work on the Cassini mission as an operations engineer and have done for over a decade.

Tomorrow is the spacecraft’s final close flyby (T126) of Saturn’s moon Titan.

Just to put this into perspective for you, this may be the last time in decades that we get anywhere near Titan. There are no missions to Saturn or its most interesting* moons, Titan and Enceladus, currently funded or being built. That means there’s a minimum of ten years before a new mission could be launched. Given that the transit time to Saturn is, at a minimum, seven years and on average more like ten, that’s two decades until we can repeat Cassini’s observations.

Cassini’s impending demise makes me sad, of course, but what bothers me even more is the lack of continuity in our exploration of our solar system.

You can read the details of tomorrow’s Cassini’s observations on the NASA-JPL press release here. It includes an animation of the flyby over the surface, from the perspective of the spacecraft.

* “most interesting” being ever so slightly subjective, of course
I am so very behind on posting new entries right now. Life is happening too fast and work deadlines have suddenly appeared and are making alarming whooshing sounds.

However, I wanted to note that this week, I have passed a new milestone in political activism: I have become a candidate for the local council elections in the UK. I only did it because the organiser of my local party was very persistent, and I do not expect to win or even come second, as I won't be doing any campaigning. But it was still a big deal for me to put myself out there, to fill out the paperwork and get the necessary constituent signatures (TBF, aforementioned local party doyenne got most of the signatures), even if it's just to be a paper candidate. So. Er. Go me?
nanila: fulla starz (lolcat: science)
( Mar. 6th, 2017 10:22 pm)
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[Deliberately low-resolution screenshot of my desktop with the short form of one of the design runs.]

Today I submitted, for my line manager's scrutiny, the final set of pointing designs that I will ever do for the Cassini spacecraft. These commands will execute in late August/early September.

Pointing design has been one of my favourite instrument operations tasks for ten years. I am quite sad that it's leaving my repertoire.

(I would be going off to have a whisky now, but since the toddler came home today after four explody nappies due to a gastrointestinal bug that's doing the rounds at nursery, I will instead be trying to get some other work done as he's banned from the nursery for 48 hours. And thus is melancholy tempered by necessity.)
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