Blogger still won't let me upload photos, so I'm putting the photos on my site and just linking to them. Unfortunately I didn't rotate the photos before uploading them and doing so with html code is not trivial. You can, if it is any consolation, click on the image to view a larger size.
I have gotten way behind on blogging! I keep meaning to write all these things, but I just never got to it, so here I go, with a potentially huge post.
As of today I have been in Alaska for three weeks. It doesn't seem like it has been this long, because I haven't really seen three weeks worth of this place. I can find my way around town easily enough, which I guess is indicative of three weeks, but it could just be because I'm "like a duck". There are still a few things I'd like to do in town though before I leave. At the University of Fairbanks there is a Museum of the North which is apparently quite good. There is also a museum with a lot of native history of Alaska in Pioneer Park, which I've been to, but haven't fully explored. More on that later. Also, there are the Chena Hot Springs, which are apparently the thing to do. Also they have an ice museum at the hot springs which has an ice bar and martini glasses carved out of ice. We are switching to a night schedule now, so I can check out museums in the morning before we leave, but the hot springs won't happen unless we are required to take a day off. And by we I mean NASA, because they are not allowed to work 14 or more consecutive days without special permission.
A view from the TM building at sunset.
The rocket progress and plans for future progress are always very fluid. The tasks are listed by day, but the days always change. Some (most) things take way longer than expected, and some go much more quickly than expected. The beginning of this week showed remarkable progress. On Monday we got the entire payload all built up. This is a huge step. On Tuesday morning all of the pyros got installed and in the afternoon we did the roll out test. This involves wrapping the payload in blankets to keep it warm in the -18 degree F temps so that we can make sure telemetry sees the rocket. Currently we are waiting on the v-band that connects the experiment payload to the rocket motors. This piece is very important and somehow never made its way to Alaska. Oh and now I just found out that the trailer used to transport one of the motors has an expired certification. Who knows what that means.
Erik with the subpayloads.
The front end of the payload with the main payload experiment section and also the two PFFs stowed.
Lifting the nosecone and forward subpayload to mate with the main payload.
Lifting the entire payload to made with the aft subpayload.
Full payload experiment (mtv angle style).
Lowering the payload to be put on the tractor for transport to the launch pad.
The launch rail with the first two stages of our four stage motor, the Talos and Taurus.
The BUTTON! That is right, in the middle of the photo. Two keys (which are kept in a lock box), and then push the button and away we go!
The payload all wrapped up in blankets to keep it warm outside.
Technically our launch window was supposed to start tonight, but that is not going to happen because of these various issues. We were hoping to be ready on thursday but friday is probably a more realistic start. And the space weather is not too interesting until friday, so I guess that is alright. For those of you interested I'll list a few of the webpages I check regularly for space weather predictions.
Which is a very dense page, but also very informative.
Space Weather Now
This page is a little more specific, so it is a little easier to quickly get good info. Basically it tells us about the solar wind, which is the cause of all the interesting aurora we are looking for. So if the solar wind increases in speed and density that is good. If there are any geomagnetic storms that is really good. If the auroral oval expands down to Alaska that is really really good.
Poker Flat MSP
This is a meridian scanning photometer plot. Basically this shows an image of the aurora overhead. Good nights look like this. Dull nights look like this (that red dot is the moon I think). And cloudy nights (also bad) look like this.
AK Magnetometer Chain
This shows magnetometers in Alaska from north to south. Lots of wiggles mean lots of current and activity and good aurora. We like lots of wiggles.
This plot is really good actually. The sun makes a complete rotation in about 28 days, so if we see good activity, it is quite likely that 28 days later we will see it again. So on this plot each row is 28 days, so you can see that the peaks in the plotted value (kp index) are mostly lined up in columns. For example, I look at this plot and might suggest our best days will be February 15, 22, 27, and March 3.
Enough of that now. Time for non rocket things.
On friday night I got to go to a contra dance! It was pretty amazing. The AK contra experience is very different from the NH/VT contra. The caller was not quite as experienced, so some of the dances just fell apart and we had to start new ones. No one really minded though, so at least the contra communities are equally laid back about things. Also, the very last contra of the night was a really good one, and I think it is the favorite among the locals because they all knew it, which was tons of fun.
After I got back from contra, I took Hanna to pick up a large box of her camera equipment that was being shipped. I don't really know why we were picking up this huge box at midnight. It seemed a little shady, but hey, we needed these cameras. So we went to this place. Got this huge box, which just barely fit in the trunk of our Rav4. Also, they loaded it in the car with a forklift. Then we were on our own to unload it. We had to drop it off at the university. On the drive over I asked Hanna if she was going to try to drive a forklift if we could find one, and she replied deviously, "Maaybe." Well we ended up finding a cart that was only a few inches shorter than the trunk, so we just shoved the thing out onto this cart. It was quite the operation.
Then on sunday we had a range day off. Saturday was a very very long and stressful day. I don't even remember what happened, but it was bad. We have been eating all of our meals at the Chatanika Lodge which basically makes any variety of fried food you could ask for. So we thought on our day off it would be good to cook a delicious meal. And I said "I can make lasagna!" And Steve said "oooo well I ALSO have a very good lasagna." And that was when the PFRR Lasagna Bakeoff of 2009 was born. Mind you, Steve has been making lasagna for longer than I have been alive, so this was a pretty big challenge. So the challenge started with a trip to the thrift stores of Fairbanks to find baking pans and possibly another big pot, since our kitchens are not fully stocked. Also, Steve needed a blender. Well only one of the three thrift stores was open, and it had no baking pans. So we had to go with the disposable aluminum foil pan things. Kristina and I hosted the event, since we have the biggest apartment with a living room and a kitchen table. All of the cooking happened there as well, which was pretty intense. The competition was HIGH. At one point we realized we were missing a few things, so Erik had to quickly run to the grocery store for supplies. We ended up inviting maybe 50 people because we didn't want to leave anyone out. I think about half of them showed up. It was a very fun time. And best of all, you can now say you are the proud friend/family member of an award winning lasagna maker!
In other exciting news, Erik bought Settlers of Catan which is probably my most favorite game of all time. It is meant to be played with 3 or 4 people, but it is possible to play with just two also. We played two games before the bakeoff started and I won them both, which is not typical for me. Also, the second game was beautifully symmetric so I took a picture.
I think the final thing I want to post is a few pictures from the lodge (where we eat every day). These are just some fascinating things that I've seen there. The place has a lot of fascinating things, but these really stood out and I couldn't help but taking pictures.