Monday, June 20, 2016

One week!

(This post is photo heavy. I apologize if you're on dial up...for a variety of of which is that it's 2016.)

A week ago this morning we were fresh faced, well rested, and full of hope as we embarked on our second launch. I've had a few people marvel that we prepared for this launch in twelve days but I am quick to point out that it was actually one year and twelve days.

I'm still wading through the photos that we captured on the flight but a few of them are jumping out at me today. It's a bummer that the landing photos don't shed much light on why the SPOT and APRS gave us some misleading final data points.

Right above this text you can see the landing site in all of its tick infested glory. After wading through SPOT and Google Earth imagery for two days it's easy for me to pick it out of the pile. Little did we know that it was in the middle of the very symmetrical field. I wonder why that backwards, "B" of forest is more dense than the woods around it. I guess I'll never know because I'm never going back! (Until our next payload lands in Spring Lake again. Maybe I'll launch from Spring Lake! That'll show 'em.)

Here it is from higher up:

This is it in the bottom left.

This is the Baseball Center with the comfy shade and the pretty dog. You can see the break in the trees where we parked. In the bottom right you can see where I was standing when I saw the orange from the chute.

When I look at these photos I'm always like, "Ooh! Can I see the payload in the field?" No Julie, you can't, because the payload took these photos.


A good thing about me, well maybe it's not a good thing...a THING about me is that even though I have a hard time with transitions, I adapt to new routines surprisingly well. I don't know where I learned this skill. So, like, on our second day in the field, wandering around this pond all day, err day I was just thinking, "Ok. This is it. I live here now. This is my life."

I'm still having dreams of getting whacked in the face by tree limbs and stumbling over briers. 

Stop. It's not there yet.

One week later my bug bites are still healing, the scratches on my legs are fading, I'm well hydrated, and the whole thing is starting to seem more like a fun adventure.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Shine On, Shine Off

Who knew that neon Sharpie would fade so dramatically over the space of ~18 hours in the sun? Wow. (The brighter band was protected by the reflective Mylar tape we use to seal the hull.)

I wonder how much faded during the flight and how much faded during plain ol' grounded sunbathing.

Something to bear in mind next time!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Why hydrogen? Do you have a death wish?

That tank is pretty heavy considering it's going to take our balloon to space.

Mercilessly Perky: Balloon Chase Playlist 2

Balloon Chase playlist one had a technology and we-are-the-champions theme.

Balloon Chase playlist two was clinically engineered to be incessantly upbeat. (This turned out to be a great idea because I drove over 400 miles in two and a half days and because I was generally in a humid stupor while that was happening.) Jimmy was patient with me when I needed to listen to the last track fifteen times.

This music is full of swears, eclectically  discordant and, as promised, unrepentantly, ceaselessly, tirelessly, cheerful.  

Good Job, David

Still going strong.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Out of the Woods

We're out of the woods and this mission is a wrap. It's been a crazy few days full of ups and downs and perseverance. I am so thankful that we recovered the payload. We can't believe it.

I wanted to take some time, while it was fresh in my head, to talk about the recovery and the recovery site. You've seen the photos so you know that we were mostly tromping around in the woods near a tobacco field (spoiler alert). Those woods were totally brier infested, teeming with insects, snakeville and in some parts impassably crowded with brush. You'd be trying to track a diagonal from the corner of the pond to the field and you'd be bushwhacking so much you'd end up off track. When Jimmy and I were setting points last night we ended up way off course from each other and even though he was 20 ft away I couldn't see him.

The day we got there, we were using an indirect path to get into the woods that made it hard to tell where you were going. I was wearing a skirt, like always, and getting snagged on everything and fenced in by briers. Very quickly we were all dirty, sweaty and bleeding. My legs and arms are shredded. Every second I was out there I felt so, so close to recovering the payload. The first day we were full of hope that any second now we'd stumble upon it and go home. I think that really drove me to keep out there. That and dreams of sno cones and swimming pools!!

Shout out to Jessica Frega for being my Mindy and looking at maps for me from afar. Big cheers to everyone who sent supportive texts, chats and emails. These were little bright spots that kept me going. (Balloon Chase Playlist 2 coming soon...)

Driving home from Linden on Monday night with empty bellies and pounding headaches was exhausting but then, after showers and food, we got back onto the computer and started consulting the GPS, imagery and all known data in order to make a better plan for Tuesday.

Tuesday morning I picked Jimmy up at Walmart and we spun out to Linden as fast as we could. The first item of business was to make sure the pinger was still working. As you've read, we had a scare on our first pass because we couldn't hear it...but then after a radio change and a doughnut in a church parking lot, we were back on the chase. While viewing the imagery, we found some likely roads around the perimeter and decided to examine the signal strength there. One major score was a gravel road with a Baseball Center that had shade, parking spots and convenient access to the woods. We also got some great readings from a pig farm in the back of the property. We saw a huge hog and piglets! And deer!

After that we met up with Naomi to commence the serious searching. It was couchrex hot already but my morale was improved because I had 48ml of water, leggings, and garden shears. Oh yassssss...those garden shears were my jam. TAKE THAT BRIERS. YOU'VE MET YOUR MATCH NOW. I clipped things I didn't have to just out of spite. It was very satisfying. I recommend that you add some shears to your TURDS.

We searched for a few hours before David and Erick joined us. It was so good to have the entire team search with us. I could feel the love. David, Erick and Naomi kept at it systematically while Jimmy and I went to fuel up at Panera and buy a $$$ drone. Then we jetted back through a million red lights and caught up with Erick and David before they had to pack it in. Jimmy and I spent some time in the field triangulating where the pinger fuzzed out before taking a cartography break. Then we hoofed it BACK out to the field to use the rest of the light. The blood birds were aggressive, the flies were out and all of our precious map making seemed to amount to zilch. Before too long we agreed that the light was fading too much and we'd have to regroup and come back with the new drone in the morning.

On the way to the car Jimmy was nattering on about like, boats or something, while I was looking at the fluffy clouds over the field. I paused to take a picture and say, "Dude. I hate this field" and I was explaining to Jimmy how, generally, I would email him a photo like the one I just took (I call it Jimstagram) but that since he was there, he'd just have to settle to listen to me whining about the field...when...I saw...the tiniest...farthest away...most improbable....bit of blaze orange.

"Julie," I thought to myself, "Don't even say anything. You're imagining things."

But instead I said, "Jimmy do you see that?"

He didn't...but he was willing to check it out. Probably because he knew there'd be no appeasing me until we did. As we trudged through the sandy soil we'd crossed so many times before, we explained it away.

"It's a Doritos bag."

"It's a trick of the light."

But as we got closer we both got more excited until Jimmy jogged ahead, turned and beamed at me. "Come look at this."

I can't really explain how I felt seeing our payload sitting there after searching for two days in the adjacent woods. I was relieved to see it. I was surprised because I had made my peace with never seeing it again. I was...a little pissed. I was thrilled. I was exhilarated. I was hallucinating that I could hear the pinger....I still am. IT WAS GLORIOUS.

I'm totally addicted to this balloon business.


We got position data from the flight!!! This is super-exciting at face value, but also because:
1. we didn't last time
2. it'll help shed light on the weird, weird descent
3. it looks cool.

Here's the .KML for any bloon nerds who want to play with it. Thanks to Greg Clark of BigRedBee for his prompt, last-minute customer support, and Paul Lowell of NC Near Space for providing expertise, hydrogen, and troubleshooting.

More Quick Analysis

Another quick glance through the numbers for some initial stats:
Max internal temperature: 38.44 C (just before launch; looks like we cooked the GoPro again.)
Min external temperature: -42.9 C (at ~14627 m)
Total team-hours spent recovering: 52.75
Total team-hours of illegal child labor: 6
Face-spiderweb encounters: INTEGER_OVERFLOW
Hydrogen bloons exploded: 0
Surprise holes: 4+
Piglets sighted: 5
Trees climbed: 3
"Hobo Specials" consumed: 3
Tobacco plants harmed: 0
Pictures taken during flight: 3,357
Pictures taken: 5,969
Pictures taken of dirt (UPDATE: CORRECTION: Our field geologist points out that this is 'soil' or 'sediment,' more likely the latter): 1,903
Lines of data recorded: 27,091
Inter-team fights: 0

Almost home.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Signing off

It's been a brutal day -- with a magnificent ending, for sure, but we've been in the sun, the brambles, the bugs, and the field for 9 hours and awake for 16. We're going to pack it in here and we'll get more data and pictures posted as they come. Thanks for all the help and support! Yay! Go Spaceteam! :)

You kids wanna see some space?



Julie was taking in the scenery for one last wistful look...


Time flies

"I definitely feel better than I did this time yesterday."
"Yesterday... ... ... ..Did we launch... yesterday?"
"Yes we did, Jimmy, yes we did."

Jimmy do you see that?



Definitely thinking we're going to overnight here. We just executed an enormous loop, trying to describe the boundaries of the pinger's broadcast range. Gonna plot it and see if we have a big circle; if so, we can then focus our efforts at the center. If not, I've just wasted a whole boatload of time.

Back at it, again

We just took a long lunch and picked up an expensive piece of equipment. Back out for some map building while it charges.

Looks like we might be spending the night in Linden.

$$$$ heard

Still at it

We are taking a break through the heat of the day, buoyed by fresh Gatorade and fresh reinforcements. David and Erick are here, and Naomi is continuing to search while we go get some lunch and maybe buy an expensive piece of equipment.
Our Pinger data is implying that the landing zone is right underneath the last SPOT location. This seems improbable in the face of such things as wind and trajectory, but... it's what we're seeing. Still no luck with triangulating, we've started setting our radios off by a couple frequency Hops and we're still playing with the squelch. At this point we're worried that we could be directly underneath the payload at various points but just can't see it with a thick canopy. To this end we may, may, may, may, buy a drone to look at things from above.
Julie is frustrated because we feel like we are so so close. On the plus side, I found the radio I lost yesterday, and we saw some cute piglets. We have also befriended the landowners, and have been given permission to stomp around in the woods, so that's one piece of anxiety off our minds.

I've been searching every which way.

The game is afoot!