Observer Feedback

“The flight crewmen were provided an exceptional array of highly useful data,” Gibson explained. “We had displays in white light and at a wavelength called hydrogen-alpha, both very useful and also visible on the ground. We were provided individual displays of the sun in extreme ultraviolet and x-rays as well as a display of the corona. Lastly we had a highly versatile display in the ultraviolet that allowed us to read the intensity of radiation across the ultraviolet spectrum at a point or over a region of the sun at a sin­gle wavelength.”

Although all Pis firmly supported the central role of the in-flight observ­er in the data acquisition, the astronauts had an insatiable appetite for dis­play of far more real-time data than the instrument designers could afford or provide without degrading reliability. In the design phase a classic chick – en-and-egg controversy ensued: “Why do you astronauts need to see the atmosphere of the sun in real-time? We’ve never seen any rapid changes from down here!” versus “But we don’t know for sure what the sun’s atmosphere is doing unless we look at it. If we only take data at preprogrammed times, we’re likely to miss some very important observations.” Over many months the spirited discussions oscillated between lofty observational philosophy and detailed nut-and-bolts design. Fortunately, the instrument designers were able to make a few accommodations, which, knowing what we know now, produced some very important real-time understanding of the sun for both ground and in-flight observers and the capture of data on events that otherwise would have been missed.

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