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Aug
11
2005

Aaargghhh!!! I’ve lost my helium!!

Things had been so going well until about two weeks ago. After my first test with the on-board X-ray source, I rested for a while, and then the NASA folks wanted me to take some more calibration data. Before I knew it, there was gas from the liquid helium where it shouldn’t have been. I gave the NASA folks my temperature readings to let them know what was going on. They devised a way to get rid of it, which seemed to work OK. But it happened again, and they used their fix again.

But on Sunday it happened twice more. There was enough build-up of the helium gas outside the helium tank that it effectively put the liquid helium (at 1.3 kelvin) directly in contact with the solid neon (at 17 kelvin), which is pretty warm compared to the helium. Then I watched as the liquid helium boiled away. That was the worst few minutes of my life!!! I can’t operate without the liquid helium.

Everyone back home is so disappointed. Both the Japanese and the Americans will work on figuring out what went wrong. But they said they are really proud of what I did, and they learned so much. And I had such a great time – I got to see so much, and the scientists, engineers, and technicians both back home in the U.S. and in Japan were great to work with.

The Suzaku mission will continue with its other instruments, and they’ll continue to run some of my electronics for as long as they can. And the other instruments will do some great science. So I hope you’ll be watching for it.

But for me, sadly, this is the end of the road.