I had a friend whose mother ran the village shop. Just before closing time a small boy ran in and shouted “Have you got any lollipops left”? Having got the “yes” answer he hoped for he ran out shouting, “That’s your fault for buying too many.”
If I had been at the press briefing where the ESA Director General implied that the failure of nine out of the 72 Galileo clocks launched to date had no operational consequences, I would have been tempted to shout “that’s your fault for buying too many”.
Is this a navigation system or a clock experiment? Even journalists are getting muddled now. A recent article stated, “Something strange is going on with the Galileo satellites, and the European Space Agency wants to find out what’s causing it”. Don’t tell me! ESA are about increase the size of the satellites to hold eight clocks and Tim Peake’s going to be invited to travel with them to make notes in his jotter.
But it gets worse. “If this failure has some systematic reason we have to be careful not to place more flawed clocks in space”, said an ESA spokesman, shortly after throwing six sixes in a row and winning the euro millions lottery for the third week running. Of-course it is systematic!
So, should ESA postpone the next launch until the root cause is identified?
In his poem, As Bad as a Mile, Philip Larkin reflected on the cause of his apple core missing the waste basket. He saw
“…failure spreading back up the arm
earlier and earlier, the unraised hand calm,
The apple unbitten in the palm.”
The journey to find the root cause of the clock failures must not only travel down copper wires and lines of code but also along supply chains and lines of management accountability. The response by ESA to date has been worryingly and inappropriately scientific. ESA may still be looking for the root cause but the rest of us are beginning to have a pretty good idea where it might lie.