Monday, July 31, 2017

"The bigger the gob the better the job."

So. We landed in Houston, TX around 7:30 AM on Sunday as planned. We grabbed some "coffee" at the airport before being herded down to claim our giant pile of rolling suitcases from baggage claim, and then hung out to wait for Jimmy for an hour or so with some people who were going on a cruise.

When Jimmy came in we hopped in the car and had the finest lunch that Houston has to offer before 11 AM on a Sunday: Jack in the Box.

Then we took the advice of a few of my Houston folk and drove over to something called the Orange Show. It was super cool and hard to explain.

It was super weird and like a million degrees but we enjoyed it. I don't know why I look like I want to cry in this photo. I could be slightly delusional. My hair looks cute, though.

Munir doesn't look like he loves orange.

After that we needed a break for some air con so we went to a doughnut shop to cool down and stall some more while we waited for DanK.

Then we drove laps around the Houston airport for an hour while we waited for Dan to disembark. He was greeted with a hearty "Koris" of, "Yi! Yi!" (as is our custom) and then we drove the 2.5 hours to Palestine.

We agreed that it was sensible to check in and then eat some dinner, it sounds like all we're doing is eating but don't worry, that's about to change, and went to an Italian restaurant that the Innkeeper recommended. During light dinner conversation we uncovered a pretty substantial flaw in our science payload which caused us to race back to the hotel to get to work on sourcing the parts for the solution. Luckily the flaw was surmountable and we knew what we needed.

As is traditional, no naps were taken.

 We lucked out and found a place outside of Dallas, TX that had the parts that we needed. We decided to take the gamble that we'd be able to integrate on Tuesday and use Monday for a tiny road trip and some GOAT patching.

Monday morning we ate an amazing breakfast at the hotel and then! Went! To! CSBF!!!!!

We got our badges, checked in with Dr. Guzik to make sure we were ok to leave for Monday, and then, regrettably, got back in the minivan.

We dropped Munir, Jimmy and Dan at the hotel to work and then DanD and I headed the 2.5 hours to Mansfield, TX.

We spent about fifteen minutes at Mouser Electronics and back in the car!!

ATM Jimmy is hand feeding us sugar snap peas, the room is covered in little bits of heat shrink, and we are listening to the Jurassic Park theme song. So, it's safe to say that things are all going according to the schedule.

Friday, July 28, 2017

DSBF is on the way to CSBF

The Durham Scientific Ballooning Facility is packed for the summer and ready for the journey to CSBF.

Munir, Dan, and I loaded our orange luggage with some presents for TSA and made sure our bags weighed less than 50 lbs. Munir's bag was over so I was glad we weighed it!

After they left I packed up DSBF and returned it to a hum drum geology lab.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

What is Integration?

Integration is THE deadline for HASP.

Here's the teal deer version: HASP is a big machine that's going to space. Integration is where we get to plug GOAT into HASP to see if it works and make sure we won't mess up HASP. If GOAT can't plug into HASP by the end of the week, the thing we've been building for a year won't go to space.

Here's the long version:
Integration is a week long process at the NASA Columbia Scientific Ballooning Facility in Palestine. TX. On Sunday July 30th I'll "wake up" at 4 AM and  Munir, HDan and I will meet at airport at 4:45 AM. (It makes me tired just typing that.)

We will land in Houston at 7:35 AM. (What a nonsense time to be arriving somewhere.)
We will hang out in the airport until Jimmy arrives at 9:40 AM. We'll round up the luggage, find some caffeine and pick up our dope mini-van.

Once Jimmy lands, we will get in the rental car and go see what Houston, TX has to offer in the way of lunch/tourism.  Some of my Houston friends have given me tips. The best tip being, "Assume it take 30 minutes to go anywhere."

We will return at 2 PM to pick up DanKMemes from outside the airport. Then we will drive 2 hrs 41 minutes-ish to Palestine, TX. Since it's Sunday everything will be closed except for Walmart but we'll be double checking the payload and making sure everything is ready to go for Monday...."Full Engineering Check-in" style.

It will be about....100 degrees (Fahrenheit) and sunny every day.  It looks like it will be panic punctuated with boredom. (If we're lucky. If we're not lucky it'll be mostly panic.)

We're going to have a great time!!

Dr. Guzik says, "Monday, July 31:  First-come, first-served student payload integration starting at 9:00 am. 
Tuesday, August 1:  First-come, first-served student payload integration continues.  Cut-off time is 6:00 pm
Wednesday, August 2:  First thermal / vacuum test starting at 8:00 am
Thursday, August 3:  Payload issue resolution.  Cut-off time is 6:00 pm
Friday, August 4: Second thermal / vacuum test starting at 8:00 am."

We're going to try to get out to CSBF as early as we can because Dr. Guzik ALSO says, "Don’t be left holding your payload, stuttering while we close the door in your face Tuesday 8/1 at 6:00 pm. Come early to integration and be ready early."

Monday or Tuesday, whenever we can get scheduled, we'll be plugging GOAT into HASP and showing the HASP personnel that everything works and that it isn't using too much power, shorting, or doing anything that might endanger other payloads.

Wednesday will be a full T/V test where the entire system is rolled into a giant vacuum that will get us to flight pressure. First they will chill the payloads to about - 40 degrees C (conveniently -40 F) for two hours and then they will bring it up to about 50 degrees C (122 F) for longer. Our payload needs to survive this test with all systems running. If it doesn't work, or if it breaks, we have Thursday to fix it, fix it, fix it. On Friday we retest. If everything checks out then we box it up and we mail our payload to Fort Sumner for flight. If something small goes kaput we can take it home. If everything is terrible, we don't fly. Game over.

We'll leave Palestine on Saturday June 5th at about 11 am.
RDU folks fly out at 3:30 PM.
Koris at 3:00 PM.
Jimmy at 3:05 PM.

Generally at this stage in a project I'm pretty stressed and I feel like I have an idea of what to expect. I don't know if it's the RAVS talking or what but I'm not feeling any which-a-way about this right now. Ask me again on Sunday at 4 AM!

ETA: My personal carry on item will be a bench power supply.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Space Goat Coast to Coast

Sometimes the right man for the job is in California when you're in Carolina. In that case, you have to do some endurance testing on your payload by seeing how it survives UPS.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Butter BABI Putty Pumpers: Totally Gratuitous Inside Jokes

Some snippets of the trip that most people won't care about that I don't want to forget:

1. Mr. Ding-a-ling's Ice Cream Truck

2. Getting in and out of the Adventuremobile in six simple steps:
     1. I open the door and get in.
     2. I lean over and let Dan in. (Sometimes with only moderate success.)
     3. Try to start the car once.
     4. Try to start the car twice.
     5. Roll down the back windows.
     6. Noah unlocks the door and gets it.

Repeat 50 million times.

3. When the pump wasn't wired right and it was like a game of Operation to deal with it. Bzzzzz! Bzz.

4. When Putty wasn't cooperating in the middle of the night and giving us readings like, "PUFFFFFF."

5. Dan hammering while we were on speakerphone with Dan.

6. The surreal experience (from start to finish) of being at NASA and using butter packets from the cafeteria to clean the adhesive off of a peanut butter jar. The metabutterness of it all.

7. This clock:

8. Listening to Hatebreed.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Space GOAT, Coat to Coat

This week we finally went to mini-integration at Goddard Spaceflight Center. The trip flew by and even though we didn't hit all of our goals we learned a lot.

Before I get into the details of the trip, I'd like to thank Paul Mirel, Samelys, and the PIPER team for hosting us and taking time out of their schedules to show us around. I'd also like to thank them for letting us take over their workspace. It was marvelous to feel so at home.

Thanks also to everyone who donated to our GoFundMe to make this trip possible. We could not have done this without your support and you made a few dreams come true for these students. I wish I could bottle their excitement and send it to you!

We left Durham bright and midday on Sunday and piled all of the gear into the Adventuremobile. The Adventuremobile, though convenient for transporting large amounts of people and gear, does not possess what one would call, "ice cold" AC. It's also a bit cumbersome to drive. It does not coast. You are either accelerating or decelerating. Sooo seven hours in the car doesn't just fly by. We were happy when we arrived and were able to check into our swanky hotel and turn the air conditioning down to 293 Kelvin.

Monday morning the whole crew was buzzing with excitement as we ate breakfast and drove to Goddard to pick up visitor badges. 

When we arrived, Paul gave us a safety briefing and we unloaded the gear into our home away from home.

We were so happy to finally be at Mini!

Jimmy showed us all of the cool toys that the lab had to offer and we did a little bit of work.

Paul gave us an overview of PIPER and the students later told me that they were surprised and pleased to have understood so much. Experiences like this visit are so important for developing a sense of how the knowledge they gain from text books and classrooms can apply to the real world. We spent some time reflecting about "imposter syndrome" and how intimidating it can be to work at a place like NASA. Paul did a great job of letting them see how accessible NASA is as a career.

After a delicious lunch in the cafeteria we had a chance to tour Building Seven. Building Seven houses a lot of the incredibly cool testing equipment. After months of testing in our makeshift lab it was impressive to see the resources available to the professionals. 

Do you see all of these big smiles?

These team shirts make me all kinds of happy. 

After we left Building Seven, it was time for the Space Tourism to be over and to get to work. We made a list of all of the tasks we hoped to accomplish over the week. It was an ambitious list.

Jimmy and Ryan were excited to get a look at the GOAT and see how much it had changed over the past month while they had been gone. 

After we finished up for the day, part of the crew left Goddard to go to visit Ryan at NASA Headquarters in a different part of DC. They visited museums and stole a lot of books. (It'd be cool if one of them would write a post about that.)

Tuesday we got to work starting all of the tasks that would...just take an get everything ready for testing. They did not take just an hour. They never do. If I had a dollar for every time someone said, "This should just take twenty minutes," I still wouldn't have that much money but I'd probably feel a lot better about things. Paul says the best advice that he's heard is to take the amount of time you think something we'll take and multiply it by pi. 

We had a few issues on Tuesday. Tuesday was not one of our better days.

At one point Paul and Jimmy asked me if I thought the trip was a success. This is hard to qualify. It was a great trip! We had so much fun and it was a fantastic opportunity. We enjoyed every second to the fullest. However, and it's difficult to describe, but Dan, Noah and I were also very disappointed with how everything turned out. We've been working so hard for months to make sure that everything was perfectly ready to go for this trip and then it wasn't. We did the best we could. I wouldn't/couldn't change a thing about anyone's performance. That said, things didn't turn out the way we planned and we weren't able to have the marathon battery of tests we'd hoped for.

Wednesday we came in even earlier and got to work because it was SCIENCE JAMBOREE DAY. Science Jamboree is like when the NASA people have a science fair but instead of lame projects like, "What happens when you grow lima beans in a closet?" they had displays from the James Webb Space Telescope and SMAP, balloon program projects, experiments on the ISS...and you could speak with the actual scientists who were working on the projects! They were so friendly! It was incredible. It was overwhelming. It was amazing. It was exhausting. It was incrawhelmazuasting. 


Someone also had the clever idea to throw remotely sensed digital elevation models into the 3D printer. Holy cow. 

All too soon we had to leave to go do work on our own and I was so gobsmacked with joy and ideas that I was alternating between grinning with excitement and sobbing from the realization that I'll never sleep again.

Wednesday we had a very, very late night of work. 

We tried to get everything ready to finally be able to do the tests we'd hoped to do on Monday but some Bluetooth errors and button mix-ups derailed that plan. 

Finally it was late enough that I kicked everyone out and we agreed to start fresh in the morning...and start even earlier. Every day last week we had an earlier start time and a later night. 

This team knows how to work. We all get a little slap-happy at times but everyone manages to keep tempers modulated and support one another. We share snacks. We talk in funny voices. We make up songs and sing them. We make bad jokes. (We laugh indulgently at bad jokes.) It's the best.

Finally, we were ready to do a cryo test in Baby Bear.

Jimmy will post graphs later perhaps...but our cryo/vac test turned out well! Which is to say...everything stayed on and wrote data the entire time. YAY. We had some challenges along the way but overall it was a successful test.

Then we moved it to a bake/vac test and everything worked for that too. So after a week of futzing and soldering and way too much subpar coffee we did a test and we passed.

We were gutted to leave Goddard. It was so much fun to work there every day. One night in the car Noah, Dan and I were tuckered out and the drive was silent and I said, "The weirdest thing about this trip is how natural it all feels." The car erupted with agreement because we had all been having the exact same thought. It would be glorious to be doing this work with each other full time, at NASA, every day. Maybe one day!

When we left town it was the height of rush hour so we went to IKEA to kill time. We liked it so much that we decided to live there. We had a delicious dinner of various meat and non-meat balls.

Then kicked back and watched some TV.

Dan got caught up on some of his SolidWorks modeling.

I got caught up on some much needed sleep. (I can't sleep on these trips. Please add any folk wisdom you might have for me in the comments.)

And I finally found a place I could hang my hat.