Christoph, I think it’s time we finally confess it (he agrees).
This episode took place on the 7th of November of 2005, just two days before we launched Venus Express. Christoph and me are staring intently into a laptop during preparations for launch. Daniel Scuka was visiting the Main Control Room and took this photo which got published on the ESA website and subsequently has been used in innumerous posters, brochures and countless newsletters, both from ESA and also from our Industrial partners, as “the two Venus Express engineers preparing for launch”.
We kept quiet all these years, but now it’s finally time we came clean and reveal what was really going on there.
This was the Dress Rehearsal for launch in the Main Control Room, with all ground systems having a final check-out, communications exercised, and sequence of events replicated, and as such, a lot of things are going on, but as very little of it involved the real spacecraft, it didn’t have much to do with us, two spacecraft sub-systems engineers (I was Power/Thermal and Christoph was AOCS – Attitude and Orbit Control System), which meant we had to man our positions but had nothing to do for several hours, so technically speaking, we were bored. Christoph (yes, I think it was you!) challenged me for a game of Risk (he says I challenged him). Anyway, there we were, both highly concentrated deploying our armies and trying to achieve world domination, when Daniel came along and snapped this photo. Much to our shame, it started circulating the world of media with a very different caption to it, but knowing this would not make a great example for future generations of flight engineers, we just kept quiet about it.
One aspect to note is that Christoph was wearing on this day his beloved Rosetta sweater with distinctive pink lettering on it. This had to be photoshopped out, because we were obviously doing Venus Express!
In spite of our little sin, Venus Express went on to fly flawlessly for 9 years until it finally ran out of fuel, and I was privileged to have been part of it for most of that time.