Page last updated at 13:02 GMT, Friday, 24 February 2006

'All involved should be proud'

Prof Duncan Wingham

The UK scientist behind the Cryosat probe reflects on the changing fortunes of the mission.

Cryosat launch, courtesy European Space Agency
Some 1,000 man-years of engineering and the hopes, even careers, of 100s of scientists had been incinerated in just four minutes
Cryosat-1 was a very happy mission. We were convinced of its scientific and wider importance, and we were happy to accept the challenge of its low budget.

Technically, we had the first team, and everyone pulled out the stops. As time went by, we found the mission's importance increasing, not diminishing, as evidence of rapid change in the Arctic accumulated.

As the launch approached, we were feeling pretty pleased with ourselves: we had a mission everyone considered important; we had a first class satellite and payload; we had a ground station ready to go; and we had over 80 scientific groups around the world ready to receive the data.

Some 40 minutes after launch I texted a colleague in the US with the message: "Jay, I think we lost her". It was a very difficult day.

Some 1,000 man-years of engineering and the hopes, even careers, of 100s of scientists had been incinerated in just four minutes.

A day later I read myself quoted on the BBC News website as saying, "Cryosat is too important to lose", but in truth it looked to me a rather thin, lonely call.

That wasn't the low point. That was later, after I had rung anyone I could think to ring, and written to anyone I could think to write.

Cryosat impression (Esa)

The fate of Cryosat-2 was then no longer something I could affect; it was up to other people. I was wrong to feel lonely. Everyone called upon to play a part in recovering the mission has done so.

The scientific community, through its international bodies and through its national advisory boards, strongly endorsed the re-flight of the mission, although that meant compromises elsewhere.

The European Space Agency also immediately and clearly stated its intention to re-fly. The national states, through their ministers, and their civil servants, have all worked to ensure this mission gets its chance.

Everyone involved should be justifiably proud of their contribution, large or small as it may be, to ensuring that the Cryosat-2 now has an opportunity to prove itself.

For myself, it is a privilege to know that our little mission is so widely supported.

The Tuesday after I returned home following the failure, an artist friend of mine, who had become rather bored with my stories over the years, came through the door and remarked that he had always known that I "couldn't get it up". I am looking forward very much to telling him that we could.

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