What do you do if your spacecraft is 10 days away from Pluto and reboots itself, dumping all the computer code needed to perform the experiments scientists have spent the past ten years crafting?If you are lucky, you call Alice Bowman, Mission Operations Manager for the New Horizons mission to Pluto, and in three days she and her team put humpty-dumpty back together again.
The New Horizons spacecraft failed to collect one set of data due to the fact there was no time to get it, that data was scheduled to collect on the days Bowman and her team were sending the information to the probe and there was no way to do both at the same time.
Sometime the right person is in the right place at the right time. July 4th, 2015 was one of those times. What exactly did the probe lose when it rebooted?
According to Alan Stern & David Grinspoon in their book Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto, the probe lost the, “Core load. This was the long command script that New Horizons would follow to execute its many hundreds of scientific observations during the nine days surrounding closest approach and flyby. Aptly named, this exhaustively tested command script would literally perform the core of the mission, and its faithful transmission and execution would direct New Horizons through every twist and turn, every computer memory assignment, every communication with Earth, every camera shot, and so forth.”
So the central reason the probe had been sent out to Pluto in the first place, a trip that took 9 years to complete, would be left undone. Unless the team could do in three days what they had before taken months to do.
And with Alice Bowman in the lead, they did. Impressive does not begin to describe her work but let’s just start there.