Friday, December 16, 2016

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

Our 44 page HASP application has been submitted! We met our personal goal to submit it by close of business instead of the actual midnight deadline. It has been a taxing few days as we put the finishing touches on the document but I think it looks incredible and I can't believe that we pulled it off.

We went from no one having Solidworks at home to all of the engineering team installing a begged, borrowed, or um...gifted version of the software.

I've logged about 20 hours of Google Hangout time with Jimmy and special guest stars Ryan and the Dans. I'm so used to being on a call with Jimmy that I'm forgetting and saying things out loud to him!

 He can't hear me.

Now we wait. 

You Are The True Scientists

Presented without [much] comment: UK team flies meat pie to space
Scrapping our current lame idea for this delicious one.

Solidworks Google Hangout

Accepting donations of RAM.

And prayers.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Quick Update

HASP application: 23 pages and counting. Have at least 7 pages of mechanical drawings waiting in the wings as soon as my poor not-RAM-having computer and I finish translating these pages into CAD models.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

On a scale of 1-10

How badly do you want us to get accepted to HASP?

Because if your answer isn't, "15" I don't even know what to do with you right now.

FAQ: No, he doesn't ever wear shoes.

Sunday, December 4, 2016


Why are we working so hard on this HASP application when we have finals?
Why are we doing this when we could be sleeping?

When I get tired of reading about butterfly valves and solenoids and 3-D printed servo arms I like to stare at these for a little while.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Sixteen Days

We have 16 days until our HASP application is due and the team has been squeezing in meetings between finals, deadlines, and for one team member, a job at FedEx. We had a three hour Google Hangout in the middle of the night on Tuesday, a three hour engineering team meeting, scattered sub-group meetings and have an All-Hands meeting next week to put the final touches on the draft.

The Google Hangout produced a three page long task list for engineering team to solve before Saturday morning. One of the things that they tackled today was to ensure that everything fits inside a small Payload and weighs less than 2.5 kg.

Ryan made a model of the payload and we grabbed all of the items we hope to fly and tried to see if they would fit in what is basically the size of a shoebox.

The next task was to discuss if we can ensure that the tUR spine can fly in its current form
or provide a design for a streamlined spine/Arduino (i.e. eliminate the breadboard) as it can fly.
The Arduino needs to be able to:

  • control unknown electrical elements (servos, valves, etc.)
  • receive/send data 
  • and within bitrate parameters
  • measure temperature* (internal), temperature*/humidity*/pressure* (external), pressure* (internal), acceleration (internal), time*, as well as the SO2 sensors

STRETCH GOAL: The Arduino could also control a small ‘keychain’ camera.

The sulfur dioxide sensor for the Arduino proved to be a bit of a challenge. Mainly because we knew what we wanted but it was difficult to find enough information on the websites to tell if what we were looking at was a good fit. Dank and The Fixer did a lot of research and made a few phone calls to pick out a winner. One thing that we've learned from this project already is how to make friends with Customer Service.

I had to leave the meeting to go teach a class but things were well underway when I left. It sounds like they are meeting again this weekend and that research team is going to have a meeting. If we aren't accepted to HASP it won't be because of a lack of effort.

Here's a room with four students who have basically just met and one more stumbled in for introductions before I left. It's amazing to watch how quickly they can bond over this work and what a safe space this is for sharing ideas.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016


The acronym I've chosen for our HASP experiment is the Greenhouse, Ozone and Atmospheric Trace gas (GOAT) project. 

I've chosen this acronym for two reasons.

1. To bother Jimmy who likes acronyms about as much as he enjoys intern videos.

2. As a nod to a friend we made while in Fort Sumner. A friend I regret not hanging out with for longer.

Food was pretty scarce on our trip because we made bad decisions at the grocery store in the middle of the night. However, we had one standout meal at the Iron Mill Coffee shop . This little gem is so cute! They sell antiques and hand made items as well as delicious food and the best coffee in Fort Sumner.

We arrived there one day, totally famished, and ate apples as we ordered our food. I noticed that the yard across the street had goats and we decided to feed our apple cores to the goats after we got our lunch. I had picked out a goat that I liked because he had very parallel horns. When we left with our sandwiches and coffee I ran across the street to feed the goats while Jimmy indulged my whim but stayed with the car and took this photo. 



That goat. The one with the parallel horns? Also known as my second favorite goat of all time?


~The End~

OK, it's not really the end but come on. That's the best story you've heard today. I haven't told that story to anyone who did not immediately have follow up questions and you know what? I can't answer those questions but I had but a brief moment in time with this splendid beast and Jimmy did not let me go back. 

So. We HAVE to go back to visit this goat. 

This goat is tUR's spirit animal/mascot. Let's examine the evidence:
1. Goat. Goat's are the coolest.
2. PVC pipe
3. Duct tape

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

This Just GOAT Serious

The Unacceptable Risks, comprised of students from UNC, NC State, NC Central and Durham Tech, convened on Sunday night via Google Hangouts to discuss research findings and decide what payload we want to submit for consideration to be included on NASA’s 2017 High Altitude Student Platform (HASP).

We reached a consensus to continue pursuing an atmospheric study, with sulfur dioxide (SO2) being the focal point of the research. We will be examining the results of a variety of SO2 collection methods, including using hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), an Arduino sensor and two Ogawa samplers.  

Additionally, data on temperature, pressure, humidity and ozone (O3) would also be collected during our flight. Our submission will be called the Greenhouse, Ozone and Trace gas project, or, not so humbly, GOAT for short.

Upon the conclusion of the meeting, team members were given additional research assignments to complete before going on holiday. We intend to meet again on the Sunday following Thanksgiving for further discussions and to relay any new and pertinent information that may have been researched over the week.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

More North Carolina Space Grant Student Team Awards

If we are accepted to HASP we'll be able to fund supplies and travel because tUR was granted $5,000 through the NC Space Grant Student Team fund. What a relief!

North Carolina Space Grant Student Team Awards

Congratulations to the Durham Tech Programmabulls for being awarded the Student Team grant. This will help send students to Kennedy Space Center in April!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Darling, it's incredible that someone so unacceptable, thinks that I am unacceptable too.

We have new members. We are growing as wildly as Jimmy's hair.

And there's even more today!

Why would we mess with an unbeatable formula? Well. Let me back up. 

The last time I wrote, Jimmy and I had just returned from New Mexico. Soon after that, we had a presentation to give in Greensboro about our experiences with ballooning.

That talk went so well that we decided to add Dan to it and give another talk at the State of North Carolina Undergraduate Research and Creativity Symposium. 

But in between all of this talking, we've also been writing, writing, writing. We applied for $5,000 from NC Space Grant.

Why did we do that? Well, let me back up.

The entire time we were in New Mexico I kept saying to Jimmy, "I feel like we'll be back here." I don't remember him contradicting me and that could either be because he didn't disagree with me, or he did and I was too tired to listen, or because I didn't want to hear it and chose not to. Regardless, I had a spooky feeling the entire time we were at CSBF that we'd be back!

The week I got back from New Mexico was hectic and I had a lot to do to get back up to speed. One day Jimmy and I had a serious conversation where we agreed not to take on any new projects until the projects we were currently working on were completed. We shook hands. It was at that moment that an email landed in my inbox with an opportunity to launch our own PIPER scale balloon from CSBF in New Mexico. I almost didn't tell anyone about it, and by that, I mean I had told Jimmy about it within the hour. 

We told the team and they were on board, too. We agreed to shelve tUR-3 until the Spring and focus all of our balloon energy on this application. 

This challenge is going to be huge! This payload will be more advanced than tUR-1 or tUR-2. In order to complete the application we'll need to plan the entire project from wiring to diagrams. The proposal will be about as long as our PLAR. We'll need to call on help from all of our contacts and reach out to new people. Luckily, we've been meeting some talented individuals from all of our schools and other projects and some of them are crazy enough to want to join us.

We've already spent hours and hours of work just getting ready to apply and it is a national competition with only 12 spots, so we know that our odds of acceptance are slim. 

Last night we had our second all hands meeting and managed to get most of the team in the same room.

 We were focused.

We were a little worried.

We were at times overwhelmed by the challenge we've chosen.

But we're also eager to get to work!

Monday, October 10, 2016

PIPER Mission Day 2 and 3

(Currently they are hoping to launch on Tuesday around 9:30 am EST or Friday. If it doesn't work either of those days they are going to pack it up and head back to Goddard. Think happy weather thoughts for the PIPER team.)

Tuesday was another busy pre-launch day with the team scrambling to troubleshoot some problems that popped up in the middle of the night and get the payload ready to go for the Flight Readiness Review and a possibly Wednesday launch.

I did my best to become one with the hangar and not get in the way. Jimmy kept apologizing for being off working but I was doing my own thing. It was neat to be working on my other NASA projects at NASA.

 Plus, it was like live hangar cam!

Some people watch their friends play sports...I watch Jimmy engineer things. It's all about the same.

I've spoken to a few people about the trip since I have returned and it's hard to impress upon folks how novel this whole set up is to someone doing small scale ballooning. CSBF has a huge team of people who take care of many different aspects of the launch from weather to rigging. They make sure that the launch is safe and efficient. They have planes to follow the payload and recover using giant trucks.

I have to hand it to Doug Knight, the brains behind the High Altitude Balloon challenge. He did a fantastic job with the set up of that event. Sure the Flight Readiness Review, check in and late night payload reconstruction bender were all very stressful at the time but I think that it did the best possible job of mimicking a real launch experience on a smaller scale. I saw a lot of parallels here.

One thing that I did learn from this experience with NASA and that I am hoping to impress on all of my students, is the importance of breaks. These folks were working full tilt around the clock, don't get me wrong, but if you're working with your brain, heavy machinery and 12 ft tall ladders you don't want to get too loopy. It can be tempting to push through one "quick thing to finish up." We all do it from time to time. In some cases a short break can keep you safe, recharge your brain and actually lessen the net time it takes to complete a project. Fatigue can lead to careless mistakes and accidents and that is just going to eat up more precious time. I was really impressed when the team left to get milkshakes. I hope my students can learn from this.

I took a break to decompress and eat a peanut butter sandwich at the hotel and saw this gorgeous car!

When I returned to check on Jimmy it had gotten dark and another beautiful moon was visible over the hangar. 

He was still working very hard to complete the sunshield. It proved to be a greater design challenge than we initially suspected. Another thing that I learned, or at least was reminded of, during this trip is that at the end of the day most of science and engineering is just winging it. You are trying to do something no one has done before so you have to make it up as you go along. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. You can't major in balloon engineering. (Yet.)

We had a tarantula visit. It was so unexpected to see one in real life and not in a tank that I wasn't scared of it. I kept my distance but I enjoyed following it around and watching it pace across the hangar. Watch out bunnies!

Is it weird to say that I miss the machine shop? 

Something about the little details on these machines just makes my skirt fly up. 

I told Jimmy I had business in the machine shop and snuck off to take this photo. I have a feeling I'm going to get a lot of mileage out of it. 

I'm not sure when we left the base but I know that everyone was still furiously working when we did in anticipation of a 3:30 am roll out. We had the luxury of arriving around 5 am when everything was all set up.

 My silver space tubes looks so majestic in the flood lights!

Alas, the fickle weather caused the folks who run the base to wait an hour to see if the wind would settle down in time for an optimal launch. Unfortunately they decided around 6 am to scrub for the day in hopes of better weather later on in the week. 

We were disappointed. Sure. But we knew going in that we might not be lucky enough to see the launch in person and honestly, the entire experience was a million times more amazing than I had anticipated even without the grand finale. 

The PIPER team was exhausted and certainly not thrilled to hear that they would be spending even more time away from home but they also quickly jumped to the silver lining that they would have more time to perfect all of their systems and fly the payload they hoped to fly and not the most field expedient version. They took the time to secure the payload and then went off to take a much deserved rest but I'm sure that most of them were back at their posts in a few hours. 

We were a little sad to leave the base and start the 12 hour journey back to NC but we left with high hopes and big ideas. 

The 2.5 hour drive to the airport was not without its own share of excitement...including but not limited to when Jimmy set his cheese balls free.

These are New Mexican cheese balls. They will never be happy in the more humid climes of North Carolina. If you love something set it free, Jimmer. (Actually, no. That hardly ever works out. Maybe you have a 50/50 shot with inanimate food type objects but don't try this with your pets.)

Goodbye noble cheeselike orbs. Thank you for your service. We'll never forget you.


So in conclusion, because this weird snack food off ramp can't possibly serve as a conclusion....

Thank you to everyone who supported us on this adventure. I can't wait to share what I've learned with my students and the rest of the Unacceptable Risks.