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Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The Satellite that Swings

Greetings from Titusville, Florida. My association with the seamy underworld of gamma-ray astronomy has been richly rewarded. I'm down here at Kennedy Space Center for the launch of the Swift satellite. We had a bus tour of the Center today, which consisted of driving around a lot of identical parcels of swamp land while the tour guides pointed out the sights: And here's pad 32A, where in 1962 the... VROOOM! around another corner...And over there, on pad 128C, is where the famous... I'm fairly sure there's really only one launching pad, which they drove around several times.

After the tour, we had a "briefing" from several people in charge of various things, including Anne Kinney of NASA, whose title is apparently "Director, Universe Division". So don't piss her off. The guy from Boeing showed us an "expanded diagram" of the Delta rocket which will lift Swift. "Notice I don't say 'exploded diagram'," he said. "That's a phrase we don't like to use in our business." Har!

We also got to hear the Swift song, which goes, in part:

We know that gamma ray explosions happen randomly all over the sky.
(It's like a lottery: a ticket for each square degree)
You see a FLASH! and then there's not another till about a day has gone by.
(But that depends upon detector sensitivity)

How I've longed for a song acknowledging the role of detector sensitivity! Another part:

Swift is the satellite that swings
Onto those brightly bursting things,
To grab the multiwavelength answer of what makes them glow.

Swift, the satellite that swings!

Go here to read about Swift, and hear an MP3 of the song. The singing is actually good.

UPDATE: Rats, the launch has been delayed due to a problem with the range safety system, i.e. the self-destruct (in case the rocket should go astray). It's that damned Gary Seven again. He thinks everything is an orbiting thermonuclear device. Next launch opportunity is tomorrow noon.