Wednesday, September 28, 2016

I've been glued to my screen the last few days trying to catch the experiments that are launching before PIPER.

We had a little riffle of concern this morning when we heard that the BETTII flight had been postponed to next year because of the weather. I spent the morning in limbo, wondering if I should pack or research cancelling our plans. It was a RAVS. 

An email from Paul Mirel assured us that PIPER was still ready to fly and this was actually fortuitous for us because it meant that no one was in the queue ahead of PIPER so our odds of actually seeing PIPER launch were even better!

To celebrate, I've been watching LDB climb heavenward as I pack and obnoxiously emailing prntscrns of the progress to my friends and family.

ETA: We've changed our plans AGAIN! Now we're not leaving until Sunday. Stay tuned/alert.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

G'Boro Maker Faire

First of all, the Greensboro MakerFaire was a great event and I wish that I'd made more time to browse. Secondly, we didn't go to Fort Bragg but Fayetteville weather came to us. It was hot and way too sunny for this redhead.

Not too hot for the fire eaters, though.

NC A&T had two cool projects out but I didn't have time to chat because we were focused on balloons. I had the new tUR Cannon and SPOT so I was trying to test them. (This is part of the reason why I dropped the ball on live blogging.)

Paul L., who helped us with our hydrogen launch, was leading these event and did a good job of bringing in a crowd.

The launch, NC NearSpace's 50th, was smooth and quick. The crowd was impressed with the whole thing and a few people spoke with me about the goals of the operation. 

After we lost sight of it, Paul went to man the base and Chris, Jimmy and I were off on chase. Unlike our other launches, this balloon wasn't going very far so we had time to eat a leisurely lunch and wait for the balloon to land.

What didn't go well was our recovery! We had a good idea of where it landed, and it did land very close to the launch site, but we climbed out of the car without gearing up and that was a mistake on such a hot day. Chris found the payload almost immediately but then we all lost each other. After two hours of stumbling around a dry creek bed we met up with Chris and he took us a short walk away to the massive tulip poplar that had snagged the payload. The release mechanism they had engineered failed and the payload stayed out of reach. Chris marked the tree and then we drove back home empty handed.

Jimmy and I agreed that we learned a lot from this launch and made some quick notes in the car on the way home. 

Our Spot isn't tracking us yet. (User error?) The Canon took some nice photos (above) but currently takes them v-e-r-y-s-l-o-w-l-y. We're going to need to address that.

NC NearSpace has a plan B for recovery so hopefully we'll get some photos of the mission.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

RAVS and a Fundraising Idea

We will be in town for the Greensboro MakerFaire and the weather looks warm and dry. It should be a pleasant day for a chase and projections show the balloon going away from the coast! I'm going to brave Gaspocalypse 2016 and fuel up the Adventuremobile tomorrow.

As of the time of this writing, we have re-scheduled our flight, rental car and hotel for the PIPER mission a total of three times and anticipate having to do it at least one more time. It's stressful because we can lose money rather spectacularly if we tick the wrong box, but on each iteration we learn more! I feel like our most recent round of bookings is our best yet. If you need to book a room at the one hotel in Fort Sumner, NM let me know, and I'll tell you all of my tricks. (But you should call because they are totally sick of my shenanigans.)

My best friend keeps referring to this trip as a vacation and recently encouraged me to view our itinerary changes as an exercise in radical acceptance. Now I'm calling it my Radical Acceptance Vacation Situation. I've been prepping by making packing lists and lurking on the Fort Sumner Hanger Cam. (It reminds me of late nights in graduate school watching NASA TV. Do you know about NASA TV? My favorite is when they show a mostly vacant control room with people shuffling around and drinking coffee.)

My past students are concerned that I'll add another entry to the ways I've almost died.
Current students are concerned that I'll never leave and I won't cancel class or that I'll end up in actual, what some might refer to as, "Old" Mexico.

I'm concerned that this is the trip where Jimmy and I finally devolve into some sort of ginger-speak-
crypto-language. Either that or we'll implode in full Machiavellian glory in an airport Sbarro and Ryan will finally get to lead The Unacceptable Risks and turn it into a Folk Punk band.

Feel free to place bets on any one of these eventualities as part of our new fundraising scheme. Contact our bookie, David.

I like how these pictures show me looking carefree and full of sunshine while Jimmy looks like a big ball of stress when the reality of launch day is the opposite 99% of the time. The constant blogging by phone is entirely accurate. I'm looking forward to these two upcoming launches because they are neither my circus nor my monkeys. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

As the Bloon tURns

When we last left our intrepid heroes they had completed another successful mission in an epic season finale full of excitement! 

Even though the blog has been quiet the team has been active. Everyone had a busy summer. 

Jimmy went to Goddard for his internship. Hopefully he'll tell you about that in his own post.

The rest of the team met a few times over the summer to test out the new drone and prepare for our new UAS project that we are going to do with NCCU. We met so many times because the new drone was being persnickety. If you're wondering when we met, just think back to all of the days where the weather said, "Feels like 110 degrees." It was so molten one day that the factory plastic was melting on the drone. On the day we finally got the thing to fly it was so hot that we just made it hover for a minute, landed it, and ran inside.

And of course, one day it was just me and Ryan and we talked about anarchist literature and giggled for a full hour. This is why we won't let Ryan complete the bloodless coup to overthrow Jimmy that he wants so badly. 

We also took the time to hike and keep up our balloon retrieval bushwhacking skills. 

I purchased a new balloon chase vehicle that can haul all of the TURDS that we lovingly dubbed, "The Adventuremobile." We've been testing it on all sorts of adventures already! Now it has a fabulous HAB sticker on it too. I should take a photo of that because it's adorable and says, "SEEN" and "HEARD" on it.

So what's new for Season 2 of,  "As the Bloon tURns?"




We began the season, like all good television, with a surprising plot twist.

As you've seen above, Jimmy had an internship at Goddard over the summer and near the end of his term he gave a poster presentation as a part of a massive intern poster session, and I was lucky enough to be invited to attend. The event was jam packed and full of fascinating student work spread all over an entire building. They were crammed in like extremely intelligent sardines. I was buoyed to see so many remote sensing projects!

While I was there I sneaked into the lab that Jimmy was working with and had the chance to meet with Paul Mirel, his summer mentor.  Below you can see the payload of the PIPER project. This will be carried by a balloon the size of two football fields. It was humbling and inspiring to think about the scale and mass of this project compared to ours. 

NASA NC Space Grant pledged to fund Jimmy to go to New Mexico at the end of this summer to see the pay off of all of his soldering and riveting as this thing gets launched into the sky. I offered to drive him to the airport. Imagine my surprise when Paul sent Jimmy an email that said, "Bring Julie." 

Julie? Me?

Or as my role model Miss. Piggy would say, "Moi?"


I CAN even and I will. I don't know if he meant me but -SURPRISE- I'm coming. I bought steel toed boots. You don't have to ask me twice.*

After a few emails with Jimmy to double-check he meant me (I'm still not entirely sold) we booked our passage to New Mexico. We're essentially on call from now until mid-October because huge balloon launches are even more weather dependent than teeny ones. Here's hoping this one doesn't land in Fayetteville, NC. 


This summer I spent two solid weeks writing an application for the NASA Swarmathon, a competition put on by the University of New Mexico that we had the honor to participate in last year. I was hopeful that since the team had medaled in the Virtual competition that we would have a shot at the Physical competition. This is the one where we would get to play with the small rover bots. If we were accepted they would send us actual robots to build and program and we might even get to compete at Kennedy Space Center. This competition is open to schools across the US, and not just community colleges. Most schools host the work in a class. Most schools have a faculty lead who knows a lot about programming and robots. I knew it would be a long shot but I owed it to the team to apply.

Well, hold onto thine hats people and hold onto the hat of the person next to you and if you don't have on a hat go find one because you're going to need it.

We were accepted!

Kory Menke, back from his fellowships over the summer, has generously agreed to mentor us even though he is now at NCSU. 

We've already had one organizational meeting and a ton of bright students came out. I am continually amazed at how talented our students are. I had them fill out information sheets where they listed their skills and I can assure you that this is going to be an exciting year for the Durham Tech Swarm.

Above is a small portion of the new team unboxing the Swarmies and here's me looking derpy and bleeding all over some official NASA Swarmathon screws.

We've also spent the last month writing a drone grant proposal with NCCU. We might not get it because it's a very competitive grant but we've decided that either way, we're going to do something scientific with drones and NCCU this year because we both bought drones and we're tired of making them fight.

"Wow. That's a lot of excitement. I need a nap."

Too bad. I'm not done.

This weekend, 09/24, if we are still in town, Space Viking and I will be assisting NC Near Space with a balloon launch and chase at the Greensboro Maker Faire. (Does that extra "e" on "fair" mean that I have to wear a corset? I really hope not.) We'll be launching around noon from the Forge at 219 W Lewis St, Greensboro, NC 27406. Come on out! I will probably blog about this. We're looking forward to the opportunity to see how NC Near Space runs a launch, check out their telemetry, and hopefully have a fun chase. 


I hope that Greensboro likes having we gingers around because we've also been asked to speak at the Greensboro Science Cafe on October 20th. If you're perusing this entry, and you've made it down this far, you're probably a pretty faithful reader of this blog, so you know all about our past adventures, but you should come out anyway! It'll be fun! Jimmy can sign your baby!

So, Julie, this is all very glamorous but what about bloonz? 

Bloonz heard.

I am thrilled to announce that the gang is all back together and we're working on a new launch for the fall! The challenge is that we need to amass a whole new set of TURDs from scratch! We're having weekly calls and researching equipment. While it is nice to have the freedom to fly whatever we want it's also quite daunting because we want to make sure that we are investing in the right stuff, launching reliable materials, engineering the best payload that we can and doing all of it for basically $0. We're going to have a yard sale to boost some funds but I'm also very resourceful so I am looking forward to the challenge of a patchwork, mini, space program.

So, stay tuned!

*Actually. You often have to ask me multiple times because I'm very polite and will demur.