Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Alaska Life

My life in Alaska is turning more and more into normal routine and less into an adventure apart from my regular life. I think I am even fitting the stereotypical role of "grad student" much better while I'm here due to my odd working schedule, massive intake of coffee, not really having any friends, etc. Also, I've started referring to my hotel as 'home' without even thinking twice about it, except for right now when I write about it, of course.
Here is an outline of my standard average day:
Wake up somewhere between 11am and 2pm. Eat breakfast. This usually is actual breakfast food but sometimes it is a more nontraditional breakfast, like a cheeseburger. Also, I get a good chuckle when a waitress gives us a drinks menu for "breakfast". Sometimes if I wake up early enough I can go grocery shopping. Today I went grocery shopping AND got new ink cartridges from Office Max. Also, the man at the bank gave me a sucker. Sometimes we go to the range early to get some sledding in. The newest development is to go down the footpath on one of the little sleds which is essentially like a toboggan run which is tons of fun. Then at around 6pm we do vertical checks. This takes about an hour. Then I go up to the science center. Then we wait. And wait. And get stressed out when things almost start looking good, but are never good enough. The other day we picked up the count twice. Normally when we are waiting we sit at T-10 minutes. It only takes 10 minutes to get everything ready to launch the rocket. In vertical checks every night we run through this 10 minutes to make sure everything goes smoothly. Well we can pick up the count if things are looking really good and hold at T-2 minutes. At this point we are still powering the payload externally (not yet using the batteries so that we can save them for flight), but the transmitter is on, and starts heating up, so we can only sit there for about an hour. When we are doing this I have to be down in the telemetry building, so I am totally cut off from the science discussion among my advisor and her co-investigators. This is Incredibly nerve-wrecking because I don't know if we are stopping at T-2 or actually launching until the clock actually gets there. And we did this twice the other day.
Last night we had aurora again but we also had clouds so we could not see it. That was really too bad. We are heavily dependent on clear skies in order to use ground optics to call the launch. We are getting to the point in our launch window where people are starting to consider what happens if we don't launch and if it is possible to get another launch window in march. Some of these guys have been here since the beginning of January to support the other rocket launches in January too, so stress levels are running high.
Here are some gratuitous aurora photos taken by Mike Nicolls.

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