October 09, 2005


I'm still a bit stunned.

I was at a launch event for CryoSat yesterday. All looked well for the first hour-and-a-half. Until we switched back to the mission control room, waiting for the first radio signals to come in. Which never came. Later that night it appeared that there had been a problem with the launch sequence and the satellite never fully performed seperation and didn't reach orbit.

A full story is here at the BBC

That's a lot of work and effort and money down the drain.

It makes me wonder how you're supposed to deal with something like this. Obviously not me personally, but the many many people who have worked on this project for years. Some who have thought out the idea of the mission over 10 years ago and now see their concept gone in the Arctic Ocean.
What do you do when something that you've worked so hard and long on ultimately fails? At the moment when you are not really expecting anything to go wrong anymore? Does this also break careers? What will these engineers be doing in the next months? A full commissioning phase had been planned at least until well into 2006, but I guess their work is done now.

And, this obviously brings up questions about the use of space exploration. Is it worth it to put so much money into such a high-risk business? Missions such as CryoSat have a clear economic, scientific, social relevance. To me, it actually seems to be one of the most worthwhile missions in ESA´s Earth Observation missions (others are GOCE, GMES etc).

In comparison, in the short term these missions will most likely be more beneficial to science and so on than research which is being conducted on actual outer space exploration. Technology which will probably only be somewhat useful in several decades, if not more. Should we really be spending millions and millions of Euros on these projects? Especially after the recent NASA problems with their space shuttles as well it will become increasingly difficult to convince the general public but also policy makers and politicians on the usefulness of developing this technology. Interesting issues, and issues which will become more and more important, I think.

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