Preparing the Mars Express launch in Baikonur

Final tests for Mars Express and Beagle-2 in Baikonur
20 March 2003

Mars Express launch diary 7

As the launch of Mars Express gets closer, the ESA team are keeping a diary. This week Michel Witting, ESA Mars Express launch campaign manager, reports on life in Baikonur.

Wednesday 19 March 2003, Amsterdam

"While the Mars Express spacecraft is being shipped directly from the integration site in France, the launch campaign team is on the move to Baikonur, too. For some of us, it's going to be an almost continuous stretch of 2½ months away from home, so there are some emotional farewells.

"About 40 of us from all over Europe, will gather in Moscow today to catch a special charter flight to Baikonur. Our plane arrives safely in Moscow after a 3½-hour flight. After passing immigration, we meet up with the rest of the team that has already arrived from Italy, France, Germany and the UK.

"There are lots of familiar faces and lots of 'hellos' are exchanged. Our plane leaves Moscow after a short delay and three hours later we arrive in Baikonur. By now it is about 2:00 in the morning, it's dark, and the trip is showing on everyone.

Thursday 20 March 2003, Baikonur

"The four-hour time difference compared to continental Europe means waking up this morning is really hard. Our bus (the term 'rental car' does not exist here) leaves the hotel every morning at 07:30, 7 days a week, with 1 off-day for each individual per week. The ride to work takes about 40 minutes. It's a rough track and sleeping on the way is not an option, believe me!

The Mars Express spacecraft, the Beagle 2 lander and all support equipment are arriving from Europe this afternoon. We are expecting a huge Antonov 124 cargo plane full of containers. I guess most of us will spend the next few days working as packers!

"The schedule to get the spacecraft ready in time for the launch beginning of June 2003 is very tight. Everybody is feeling the pressure. Work in the facilities goes on 7 days a week, often until midnight. It's difficult to align the shift times for the team so that, on the one hand, we stick to the planned schedule and, on the other hand, we guarantee each individual their rest.

"It's all go now. We have to take care of several different things and there is no room for error if we want to be ready in time. We do a thorough check of the satellite's propulsion system, including a small rocket engine. We need to repair a failed electrical unit and reintegrate it and then a whole series of tests.

OK, now we can go ahead and integrate the Beagle 2 lander with the Mars Express spacecraft. Everything looks good and we’re on schedule. That's a nice reward for all of us here - we have been putting in so much effort in the first 2½ weeks of the campaign.

Saturday 5 April 2003

Finally the great day has come. The Beagle 2 team are organising a party to celebrate. It's the first time since we arrived that almost all of us get the chance to let off some steam. And what a party it was!

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