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From the Director: Waiting for Launch

(Photo - GLAST Beach Party)The Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST) Observatory is mated to the launch vehicle and is ready to go. It has passed all stages of testing designed to ensure that it can withstand the rigors of launch and operate in the space environment. Both instruments, the Large Area Telescope (LAT) and the Burst Monitor, are beautiful.

A few weeks ago, the launch date of June 3 was announced and a LAT collaboration meeting was scheduled, bringing many of the collaborators from around the world who have worked on GLAST, some for over a decade, to Florida's Cape Canaveral this week. By the time most people had arrived, the launch date had slipped to June 5, as the Flight Readiness Review identified some additional issues with the launch vehicle that needed to be closed out before launch. Thanks to the hard work of everyone involved with the launch vehicle, good progress was made on all the issues, but the launch then slipped to June 6 and then June 7 to give the engineers enough time to complete their work. On Wednesday, an additional issue was identified with a battery on the launch vehicle that has given the mission a launch date of NET (No Earlier Than) June 11. Launch campaigns can be like this, we're told.

Meanwhile, the collaboration meetings have gone extremely well. In addition to presentations and discussions on preparations for the early science analyses across a variety of topics, a full day devoted to the Instrument Science Operations Center (ISOC) issues and readiness for data was quite lively. Splinter sessions have been springing up, making very productive use of the time. And, while few GLAST scientists have been spotted on the beach, there was quite a concentration at Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday as the NASA Guest Operations Center welcomed GLAST visitors, and tours of the center offered a distant view of the rocket tower on pad 17, where GLAST sits waiting for the final countdown.

On Thursday evening, an informal rocket-launching party was held on the beach with ten rockets launched using a variety of propellants. It was a wonderful opportunity to relax after the days of hard work and waiting. An international team of judges including LAT Principle Investigator Peter Michelson awarded prizes to all with special mentions for style. The picture above shows the launch teams and judges.

The good news is that the observatory is ready to go and these final launch vehicle issues will be resolved shortly. The sad news is that many will leave without seeing the actual launch. Those with some flexibility can choose to be patient a bit longer while the work is completed to ensure GLAST has a safe ride to orbit. The rocket launching party on the beach Thursday night and the official pre-launch party on Friday night will allow the teams of scientists, engineers, and technicians working on GLAST at the Cape to celebrate together despite the delays. In the good news column again, a weekday launch means we can broadcast live to the SLAC staff. The best news of all is that a first-light party is already being planned at SLAC so that when GLAST is in orbit and we have captured the first sky images, we can all celebrate the tremendous achievement of the instrument construction and successful launch, and begin a new era of gamma-ray astrophysics.

Persis Drell, SLAC Today, June 6, 2008