Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

 
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

 
The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.


He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

 
Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit.
 

Europe’s BepiColumbo mission to Mercury threatened by COVID-19

Because of the strict rules and work suspensions imposed due to the Wuhan virus panic, there will be a reduced workforce during the April 10, 2020 fly-by of Earth by the European Space Agency’s (ESA) BepiColumbo Mercury mission.

The press release tries to make it sound like they are heroically working through the fly-by, but the truth is revealed far down in the text:

The operation, however, will be performed with limited personnel at ESA’s European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany, where engineers will have to comply with social distancing rules presently in place all over Europe as a response to the coronavirus pandemic. “The Earth swing-by is a phase where we need daily contact with the spacecraft,” says Elsa Montagnon, BepiColombo Spacecraft Operations Manager at ESA. “This is something that we cannot postpone. The spacecraft will swing by Earth independently in any case.”

The coronavirus threat forces the team to work with minimal face to face interaction while ensuring all steps in the process are properly covered. “During the critical two weeks prior to the closest approach, we need to upload safety commands to prepare the spacecraft for unexpected problems,” says Christoph Steiger, BepiColombo Deputy Spacecraft Operations Manager. “For example, we need to prepare the transfer module for the 34 minute-long eclipse when its solar panels will not be exposed to sunlight to prevent battery discharge.”

Operations can still be conducted as planned, he adds, but will require more effort and attention than in a normal situation. [emphasis mine]

I suspect that much of the software work is now being done remotely, but there is no doubt the inability to be present in the control room will prevent any quick fix, should the spacecraft need help during the fly-by.

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7 comments

  • Ray Van Dune

    “During the critical two weeks prior to the closest approach, we need to upload safety commands to prepare the spacecraft for unexpected problems,” says Christoph Steiger, BepiColombo Deputy Spacecraft Operations Manager. “For example, we need to prepare the transfer module for the 34 minute-long eclipse when its solar panels will not be exposed to sunlight to prevent battery discharge

    34-minute eclipse by Earth was certainly not unexpected! Typical total journo-clueless blather about software.

  • Lee S

    Hmmmmm…. Given the high speed internet available pretty much anywhere these days, I see no reason why mission controllers cannot “work from home”, the ESA has had many weeks to anticipate these kind of problems, and it’s not as if folks are shouting to each other from across controle rooms. Remote working should work just as well. If anything goes horribly wrong it will be down to lack of forward planning by upper management, and nothing directly to do with Corona.

  • Andi

    And they certainly should be able to use something like remote desktop for some of the more critical control consoles.

  • John

    I hope it crashes and burns, right where the sun don’t shine. And I’m not talking about the dark side of the terminator. Oh, can I go outside now, pretty please.

  • john hare

    Alternately, they could test/clear the group absolutely needed and sterilize the control room and a set of nearby apartments. If important enough, a few weeks of mission time treated like a deployment overseas.

  • David

    Lee, Andi,… Are you seriously suggesting that mission critical command consoles for a spacecraft passing near the Earth on an interplanetary trajectory are, and should be, internet connected, and that those machines should be accessible to RDP? I mean, it probably doesn’t have the dV to change to a collision course, but still, you don’t put control of your multi-billion dollar, once every other decade mission where some hacker can tell it to shut down the antenna, for example.

  • Time, tide, and orbital mechanics wait for no man.

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