Monday, April 30, 2018

Durham Programmabulls- 2018 Swarmathon National Champs

We have been participating in the University of New Mexico NASA Swarmathon for the last three years. This year is the last year of their grant so we really wanted to win! We even updated our logo to say, "One last job." (For the uninitiated this is a Fast and the Furious reference.)

Thanks to so many generous donations to our GoFundMe page we were able to afford to take part of the team to Kennedy Space Center for the competition in April.

Thanks to the fact that Southwest Airlines has cheap flights, we were able to bring a big group to Orlando. Thanks to the GoFundMe we were able to shop for deals on Priceline and saved enough money on the rental car and hotel to tack on some extra students. We got into Orlando pretty late on Monday and had a delicious dinner at Waffle House around midnight. 

 We had to be at Kennedy at 7 am on Tuesday. (Yikes!) But we were excited to see what the competition would be like this year. We were pretty sure that we would at least make it out of the first round.

My job as a faculty sponsor is to lift up the students and elevate their thinking and sometimes I take things literally. 

Our first round was late in the day so after all of the welcome speeches we had some time to go explore KSC. Mostly we ran around like idiots while Murrr took photos of us.

We did a great job in the first round and advanced to the next day! We were very excited!

A priority that we had for this year was to take the bus to "Real Kennedy" to see all the cool non-Disney NASA stuff. Unfortunately, KSC seems to be pretty serious about keeping the real NASA stuff far away from the tourists. 

The second day of competition was a bit grueling for a few reasons. 

1. We realized we had a shot to win.
2. A Space X launch was scheduled for the evening so the park was slammed with people.
3. Our round was late in the day and we had no food and were slowly starving to death.

Repping the Durham Tech teams.

Waiting patiently for the round to start. 

For some reason we were all reallllllly interested in vegetables that day.

NC Space Grant tried VERY VERY hard to send pizza to the KSC parking lot for us. Finally our round started and it quickly became clear that we were going to collect a TON of cubes. We got 15 cubes in the prelims.

But we were still stressed because some of the rovers weren't working properly. A strange thing about Swarmathon is that you submit your code a month before the competition...and then you can't touch it. It's loaded on UNM's rovers. You can't fix them if they break. All you can do is watch in agony to see if your code works...or not.

Our code WORKED.

It was very exciting and stressful!!

At the end of the quarterfinals Dan thought that we had captured 22 cubes.

But he was wrong...the judges counted 42 cubes!!!!!!!!!!!1!

We left, elated, and drove to a Publix and loaded up on snacks and salads. After a quick pitstop at the hotel we were back at KSC for the Atlas 5 launch.

Dan couldn't eat on the last day of the competition. 

Our friends and family back home were glued to Facebook live to see how we would do in the semifinals. 

The semifinals had more rovers and obstacles!!


So then it was time for the finals and we were up against last year's winners, SIPI.

UNM had set up what they called The Bug Trap and they were utterly stunned to see how our rovers continued to scoop up cubes and exit the trap.

We were definitely feeling the love from all the Swarmamoms and friends at home.

 At the end of the round the results were so close that they not only wouldn't announce them, but they ran in to try to shield us from counting ourselves!

This meant that we wouldn't hear the results until we were at the banquet. It was gonna be a long afternoon.

We were all pretty nervous at dinner.

But then!!!


And Sanchez WON 2nd for the TECHNICAL REPORT!! 


As excited as we were we didn't get to celebrate very much because we had to be up at 4 AM to make it to the airport.


Saturday, April 28, 2018

Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto (Arm)

The sun is shining and the birds are chirping on this fine April afternoon. Inside the walls of the Durham Scientific  Ballooning Facility, the team works with renewed dedication for this week has brought a great victory - a working prototype of the robotic arm!

Though it is not without its fits and starts...

the Unacceptable Risks are thrilled to see RAM3 taking shape.

Behold our crowning acheivement!

So smooth- smooth like buttah.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Glamour Shots

Here's some photo of stuff ! Mostly photos of Spencer looking at stuff, really....and our new favorite Jimmy Meme.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Becky with the Good Launch

The 2018 HAB team, Disco Becky 44, has logged a successful launch and recovery!

Thursday night we spent a late night in the DSBF putting the finishing touches on the payload with the goal that we'd be able to roll up in Hickory, hit a switch, and be ready to go.

Alas, the best laid plans. We weighed out payload to get a quick final mass and submit our CDR and we were gloriously and inexplicably overweight! We couldn't figure out what we'd done wrong and doublechecked our previous mass budget. All was accounted for except....tape.

Somehow we'd put 270 g of tape on the payload.

Somehow we managed to pack up everything in the DSBF and get on the road by 12:30. We had a two color tote packing system:
Pink for all the things we knew we'd need.
Clear for weird stuff we might want to grab in a hurry.
Blue for if things went horribly wrong.

After getting into the hotel to freshen up we went to CVCC for the banquet and our FULL ENGINEERING CHECK-IN that this time we were ready for. The judges, some familiar faces, didn't go easy on us but every Becky did her best!

Man, the judges look extra smug this year. Where do they find these guys?

Wake Tech had some technical difficulties so we stepped in to go early. We ALSO had some technical difficulties but Memes is a champ and just kept the witty banter going until it was resolved.

I know I'm a total pageant mom but they nailed their presentation. They also asked GREAT questions when the other teams presented. 

After the presentations we were free to go with only a tiny bit of work between us and sleep! We stopped in to buy the essentials: snacks, hotdogs and a tarp.

Then we all got back to work. It seeeeemed like our GPSs weren't working. Now, this is a big deal because even if you successfully send something to space you kinda wanna be able to get it back. Dan and Shakeia worked on the Big Red Bees while Seth waited for the go ahead to mount them. Destiny and Ruthie went over the balloon fill checklist one last time. Kevin and Oliver got sent out into the rain for a few hours to walk around with the GPS units and try to get signal. Citllali stayed up to offer moral support because all of her work was done.

We could read the GPS on the Kenwood but it wasn't on APRS. We were connecting with the SPOT but it wasn't staying connected to track. At one point everyone was googling.

At about 1:30 AM, with bellies full of miraculous hashbrowns from Ollie, we all went to bed.

Meanwhile....SOME people were having a better night. 

We were told to be at CVCC at 7 AM OR ELSE so every Becky had to be checked out and in the lobby by 6:40 AM or else they were going to live at the Sleep Inn forever. Everyone was in the minivan by 6:45 and we got to the Tarleton center and it was a GHOST TOWN. The lights were on but no one was home. 7:00 AM comes and goes...then finally people start trickling in!

We took a group photo and then it was time to get down to business.

Our payload this year has some great features. First of all one easy access switch turns on the whole thing and one green LED tells us if it's all working. The Canon was hacked to record photos and video. The TTL camera was terrible so I don't care about it. Our SPOT GPS dangles from the payload in a smaller box called Space Cat. In it is a 3D printed gyroscope that Seth designed to hold the SPOT in the perfect position. No matter how we land Space Cat always lands on her feet. Our secondary science was the BABI from GOAT with some power upgrades to make her into the BECKI. We were all a little curious to see if it would work. It worked in testing!

We were super excited when we realized our lane for filling was under a DISCO BALL! 

After one last check in we were ready to fill the balloon. Ruthieruthieruthieruthie rockin' everywhere read off the Balloon Fill Checklist and we checked our supplies.

Then it was time for the rubber (latex) to hit the  road (payload.)

Two exciting things happened while we were filling.

1. The balloon popped off the nozzle because it was WEIRDLY floppy compared to our regular balloons and Dan straight up caught it like he was a ninja Batman.

2. Our balloon was filling v-e-r-y-s-l-o-w-l-y.

Which resulted in us chilling out and telling campfire stories until we realized it was because our tank was running out of helium! 

But then finally the balloon was up and the payload was slathered in balloon tape and we were ready to rock.

The Tarleton Center is a relaxing place to fill a balloon when the weather isn't ideal but it's always stressful making that last crawl out the door with all of the pointy bits.

The rest of the launch was smooth like butter. Everyone teared up a little when we saw our little payload zipping off into the clouds!!

Luckily (?) for us our GPS issue was that our hotel was in a dead zone and all of our telemetry performed perfectly on launch day. It seems like all of the balloons popped pretty low this year. Our payload decided to conveniently land on our route home. The Womeninstemmobile followed the SPOT to the site and rejoined the Despacitowagon for the recovery. I saw the chute in the trees immediately so we knocked on a few doors until we got permission to check out the back yard and then LO AND BEHOLD THE PAYLOAD WAS JUST SITTING THERE.

Something had cut out during flight or landing so we weren't able to get all of the data we wanted. We're going through the rest.

 Another interesting science fact? We hid a hotdog in our payload by our pump. It got so hot that it COOKED and it was STILL BLAZING HOT when we got to DSBF. We cut it into sections and ate it. SPACE HOT DOG.

Another interesting thing that wasn't really all that surprising? Our pump sucked moisture into the BECKI.

And we're still really pleased with our cooler. Everything came out intact with not even a dent in the thing.

I am super duper proud of my Beckies. They were sweet to each other and patient with one another all weekend. They worked hard, followed instructions, exceeded all expectations, and kept a great attitude even during the most stressful bits.