"Launch Day"

Bridget Landry - December 4, 1996
Deputy Uplink Systems Engineer
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California

    LAUNCH!!!!! What a wonderful feeling! I was watching in the auditorium at the Jet Propulsion Lab with my family and friends and the whole place erupted into cheers when "the candle lit"! How great to know that all those people were really pulling for us. Many of them were here last night as well, and just couldn't resist coming back today. As each milestone after launch was passed and explained, there was more applause. By now we know that we're on our way to Mars, just about as we had planned, and our spacecraft appears to be working just fine. People are huddled around the screens, now that we're getting data from the spacecraft (for the first hour after launch, we had no contact with it, until it had jettisoned the used launch vehicle). It seems amazing that this was all done in three years time, from receiving the first funding to build the spacecraft, to the launch; what a strange and almost incomprehensible time we live in!

December 20, 1996

We had our holiday party today and it was fun and moving both. Several of the management types and other higher-ups made speeches and thanked people for all their hard work, not just in the last year, but in the three years it has taken to get our bird off the ground. It's always nice to have one's work appreciated, but this went beyond that. I've always known that the spirit on Pathfinder was special, but when the people who worked on Apollos 11 and 13 say that this project has more sense of identity and team spirit than even those two missions, you know you're involved with something extraordinary. But the feeling here, at least for me, is bittersweet, too. Now that we've launched, some people are being laid off, those whose jobs were primarily in developement and who aren't moving on to operations jobs. And even though most of us are staying, the whole scope of the mission ("faster, better, cheaper") means that in less than a year, this will all be over. I think I'll try, because of that, to enjoy it all as fully as I can, make the most of it while I have it.

December 23, 1996

Very quiet around here today. Officially, JPL is closed today, but flight projects don't keep the same schedules the rest of the world. Anytime we have time allocated to us on the Deep Space Network (DSN) to be in contact with our spacecraft, we have to have someone here to monitor it. Ordinarily, for the first month or so after launch, a project will have continuous coverage so that they can determine how well the launch put them on their intended trajectory, check out how instruments survived the launch (even in our case, launch is the most traumatic time for the spacecraft) and how the instruments are adapting to the conditions of space. In Pathfinder's case, we're doing so well that we have agreed to give up some of our time at the DSN so that other projects can use it. This also means we don't have to have people working round the clock on Christmas day, but that is only a minor consideration.

I'm here today to do a little more work on the "script" called the Sequence of Events (SOE). This is a sort of timetable, telling everyone when specific activities will occur and what commands and files are used to accomplish them. In addition, in some cases, it also lists what responses we expect from the spacecraft and the duration and specifics for the various contacts we have scheduled in which we can speak with the spacecraft to send commands and receive information (aka telemetry). All this info is presented in a column and line format, somewhat similar to a play or movie script. I also put much of the same information into a graphical form, which makes some of the information easier to understand. Anyway, since my sequence starts next week, I need to do a little work today to prepare for it.

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