The past few days have been full of astronomical space missions. There was the launch of STS-125 with the Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission (ongoing and can be watched on NASA TV); NASA's Kepler ended its calibration phase and started taking science data; and ESA's Planck and Herschel spacecraft were launched successfully.

The last of these missions was particularly nerve-racking for me as I have a personal involvement. Over the past three years I've helped a huge team of scientists and engineers with some of the calibration and characterisation of one of the two instruments onboard Planck. This has been a truly international effort and has been a great experience. I'm particularly thrilled to have handled some of the amplifiers that are now on their way to Lagrangian point L2.

Today, like many others, we had a party to follow the launch. We had background talks, ESA TV by satellite, and a big countdown display with ongoing text commentary. The launch, and our party, even made it onto the local news. As well as the TV feed, we set up a projection screen showing a stream of Herschel/Planck-related Twitter updates from people around the world. This display automatically updated every 30 seconds so that the 100 or so people at the party could dip in to what the world was saying. It was a nice way to connect our party with the rest of the world and was quite useful to look back at if you'd not quite heard what was said on ESA TV. Amongst the many hundreds of updates that scrolled by, I spotted some from @orbitingfrog, @govertschilling and @Nancy_A. Thanks to them for taking part in our party, even if they didn't realise that they were.

Launch Tweets
The live Twitter display during the Herschel and Planck launch with a local TV news camera in the foreground CREDIT: Mike Peel.

Of course, a successful launch is not the end of the hard work. There is now a three month period of instrument checking and calibration before the science can begin. It is going to be fun.

All the events this week have made the International Year of Astronomy slogan, "The Universe: Yours to Discover", feel particularly apt.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Thursday 14th May 2009 (21:03 BST) | Permalink
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