IT Phone home

ThescotandthefrogBeing an Information Technology (IT) specialist may not sound as glamorous as some of the other roles that people have out here in Kourou, but it is just perhaps just as important since we all rely heavily on our computers and online communications, not only for a successful launch campaign, but also to stay connected with our families thousands of miles away back home. Being an IT specialist in the jungle also presents with it some unique challenges, but the unusual technical problems are probably the most interesting to deal with!

I’m no stranger to Kourou launch campaigns, having worked on Rosetta and Herschel and Planck in the past. Before the Gaia campaign began I was tasked with analysing the IT requirements of the campaign and putting together an IT plan. My initial job here in Kourou includes acting as a focal point for all office communications setup and support. I have installed, and am now supporting, the office IT systems that allows the rest of the ESA team to get on with the launch activities without any office technology worries. I am always on hand to deal with any questions and sort out issues that arise during the campaign.

I have installed robust systems and plan for many a crisis; so far we have had one power outage, fortunately no damage was caused. On previous campaigns, I’ve had to deal with the results of lightning strikes and flooded computer rooms. I can only wonder at what other surprises might be around the corner!

Since my previous visits to Kourou I’ve noticed that the mobile phone data network has improved, which can be quite a surreal experience when you’re deep in the jungle. I’ve been for a couple of adventurous trips in my spare time and just when I think I am reaching unexplored territory, convincing myself that I am in the deepest part of the jungle that no human has ever seen before, I get a “ding!” as an new e-mail is delivered to my phone… Have YOU ever had an IT problem solved by someone who is in a rainforest?

Back in the Gaia project office, I am looking after some vital systems that make the life of the team out here considerably easier. My team and I operate local file, print and email services, which hide the fact that we only have a very small amount of bandwidth to squeeze all of our data through. I’m also providing network and WiFi services, including a personal use network so the ESA team can Skype home.

Many of us are separated from our families for extended periods of time, missing birthdays, anniversaries and other special events. Although we do the best to limit this (thanks again Skype!) it can still be tough, but I see a pride from the team in knowing what they are accomplishing out here, and that helps everyone get though the tough times.

This entry was submitted by Simon Laird, project office IT specialist, reporting from Kourou.

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