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.

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