Tuesday, June 13, 2006

ULDB Launch!

After showing at 9:00 p.m. for what we thought was going to be a marginal weather chance, we launched the balloon at 3:23 a.m. local time.

The launch and climb out were very good. The balloon ascended pretty much like our preflight computer models told us it would for that time of day. We reached float altitude and pressurized as predicted. Unfortunately, the balloon's shape was not right so we could not go out over the ocean with it. We did a shortened version of our test plan. Even though the shape was not perfect, the balloon performed VERY well. If we did not have cameras looking up at the balloon, we would not have had any indication that it was not a perfect balloon. It went through all pressurization steps very well and even exceeded the maximum design pressure with no problem. After termination, we watched the parachute come down and surveyed the landscape below with the onboard cameras.

After working since 8:30, the previous night, we found out that the helicopter to the payload was not going to be available the next day so we had to go out that afternoon. Eventhough I was bone tired, I still enjoyed my first helicopter ride. We saw several moose and a couple of very large herds of reindeer. The landscape is so beautiful and sparcely populated. I imagine it is very much like Alaska.

The payload was in pretty good shape.

After removing and securing the loose items such as solar panels and antennas, the helicopter took it away to the waiting truck 10 miles away.

We had about a half hour to relax and look around. We were out in the higher elevations, so the trees were smaller and the vegetation was more tundra-like on the ground. All the rocks wer covered with moss and lichens. Since it is early spring here, small flowers are starting to pop up.

The ground is 100% covered with some sort of vegetation. It looks like there must be 50 different types of plants in a square yard of ground. I've never seen anything like it.

After our little break, we climbed back into the helicopter. During the twenty minute ride (my second ever in a helicopter) over this beautiful landscape . . . I fell asleep.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Norway Day Trip

The Fjords of Norway are one of those sights that no photo or video can prepare you for. No matter how majestic a photograph is, it cannot convey the feeling of actually being there. Imagine being in the green hilly parts of western Pennsylvania.

Now add rocky, snow covered mountains . . .

With LOTS of waterfalls . . .

It is early spring here and the massive amount of snow on the mountains is melting and pouring down the sides of the mountains. Any one of these waterfalls would have a state park built around it in the States and there was one around every corner here.

Take all this beauty and put it in a sea side setting . . .

. . . and you have the Fjords of Norway.

We drove to the town of Lodingen and took a one hour ferry down to Bognes and had a nice lunch on the ferry. We then took a 25 minute ferry across to Skarberget. After dinner in Narvik, we headed back to Esrange.

Here I am on the Ferry.

The weather was a little gloomy, but if the weather is nice, we should be out launching, so we just have to take what we get. On the way to Narvik, we came across this really beautiful view.

I'd love to come back here and do some hiking when the weather is better. I'm guessing I'll never get a chance to come here on a vacation. I've never been anywhere that is so expensive - even New York City. Our dinner at a pizza place in Narvik for four people was about $80. The same meal at home would have been $25 at the most. This was in a small city in rural Norway. I can't imagine what it costs to eat out in a city like Stockholm.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Midnight Sun Again

We are still out here on the hang test. Right about midnight, the sun peeked below the clouds and I got my midnight sun photo. In this photo, the sun is due north of me and at its lowest point in the sky during the day. Instead of rising in the east and setting in the west, the sun makes a big tilted circle in the sky. The sun is highest in the sky at noon and is directly south of us and at about 45° above the horizon.

Launch Preparations

We are in the process of making the final preparations for launching our balloon. We are running the "Hang Test" in which the integrated payload is hung from the launch vehicle and tested out under its own power. We are running the test at 11:00 at night and, yes it is daylight outside.

That takes some getting used to. Another strange thing is how cold it is. When we were launching the Aesop balloon on Friday morning, I thought I was going to freeze to death! It was in the 30's. I don't think I will complain about the heat this summer when I get home.

We ate at a Chinese restauraunt in Kiruna last night. We could have had the exact same meal in Sulphur Springs except no fortune cookies. I'd love to know what Chinese food in China is like.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Aesop Launch!

This group was ahead of us in the flight cue. Now we are next. I was assigned video duty for this flight. We arrived at the launch site at 10:00 p.m. and the launch was at 4:08 the next moring. The sun never got below the horizon so we never had to work in the dark. That was nice. Inflation started at about 3:00 a.m. It wasn't broad daylight, but it wasn't dark either.

Here is a photo of the inflated balloon just before launch. The Esrange telemetry station is up on the hill in the background.You can track the progress of the flight on the Sweden Campaign web site in the links area.

Doing Laundry

When you go on the long campaigns to different countries, you get more of a feel for living there than when you are on a regular business trip or a vacation. You get to do things like drive cars, go to the the grocery store, and do laundry. Those seemingly simple tasks are suddenly more difficult when you're functionally illiterate like you are here. Doing laundry is a challenge when you can't read the instructions. This washer looked more like programming a VCR than doing laundry.

The washing machine was a sleek modern thing with a lot of buttons on the front. It used very little water and tumbled the clothes to wash them. I think I have seen this type in appliance stores. The way cool thing was the spin cycle. It literally got up to 1200 rpm! It sounded like a jet engine spooling up! If one of those things came apart during the spin cycle, it could kill someone . . . in the next building! Look at this thing go!

Mind you, this washer was full of clothes. They are all about 1 mm thick in this picture.

Drying was also another adventure. Take a look at this control panel.

I'm guessing the word "slut" means something different in Swedish. After the dryer had stopped, I could not figure out how to open the stupid door! There was no handle and no latch. Finally, I just started pushing buttons. See my choices below.
The "lucka" button turned out to be "lucky" for me since the door unlocked to reveal . . . dry clothes. I pushed the right button to start the thing. I was really afraid I had pushed the pantyhose button or something and all my clothes would be drip dry. So after the adventures in guessing at the meanings of Swedish words, I carried my load of laundry up to the room and tucked in away in my Ikea wardrobe. Just another chapter in the exciting adventures of Stratodude!

Monday, May 29, 2006

Midnight Sun

Do I look a little tired in this photo. It was taken at midnight on the 29th of May. I was also pretty cold. The temperature was in the 40's and the wind was blowing about 20 mph up on the top of the hill. If the clouds had not been in the way, the sun would have been visible off my left shoulder. Maybe we will have another clear night and get a real midnight sun photo.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Scandinavian Design

Fans of Ikea would love our dorm. It is all very clean and modern looking with very functional designs for everything. Our rooms are just the right size for one person and their "stuff". The beds are just a little larger than a twin and very comfortable. The windows have blinds, a really thick shade, and drapes. This is important since there is no more sunset. They have about 50 days of constant sunlight now. We are about 95 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Not a lot of activity today since it was Sunday, but I got to go for a run. Several of the guys brought DVD's so we have movie night about every night.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Reindeer for Supper

Kids, don't read this!

We had Reindeer stroganoff for supper tonight. It was pretty tasty. There was a lot of "I wonder who it is, Dasher, Dancer . . .?"

The clouds seem to be breaking, and we are going to try for a launch in the morning. This is the science group that is ahead of us. We will be next when we are flight ready. The pace getting the electronics installed has been pretty relaxed since we have one group ahead of us. I hope we will be flight ready soon. I'm including a photo of the building where we are working and of a sounding balloon launch this morning. Not much else to report. I have been working on check lists and doing what I can to be as ready as possible when the electronics guys are ready for me.

Thursday, May 25, 2006


This is a strange business I'm in. I've gone from cold winter in Texas down to hot summer in Australia in one day. Now I've gone from hot in Texas up to Cold summer in Sweden in one day. It's the end of May and it snowed for about three hours this morning. The temperature was in the upper thirties, so it did not accumulate. We have better weather for the weekend forecast so maybe I'll get to see the sun as it travels in a big low circle around the horizon. That will be interesting.

The balloon preparations are going well and we will begin installing the electronics in the balloon tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Settling In

My first full day at Esrange. The balloon setup is going very quickly. We've done this enough times that we know what to do next. There is no standing around thinking about it. Since we are about twenty miles from town, we have an on-site cafeteria. The food is good and they serve local food with some accommodations for us Americans. We had hamburgers for lunch today. We went into the town of Kiruna for dinner tonight. We ate an American style sports bar. It was complete with Boston Red Sox banners and other sports stuff. The food was pretty good.

It is strange seeing the sky the same brightness 24 hours a day. It has been overcast since I got here, so I have not seen the sun yet. I woke up about 3 a.m. and saw the sun shining from behind the blinds - strange. In the walk to the building we are working in, I saw that there is hardly any grass growing in the area, just moss and lichens. The pine trees resemble the ones you see in the mountains, but they are all small - no more than 8" in diameter.

The dorm is brand new. We each have a privat room and bath. The rooms are pretty small, but it's all I need. We have high speed internet also. Just what you would expect from some place that houses scientists.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Trip to Esrange

The trip to Stockholm was bearable – barely. The flight from DFW to O’Hare featured a very talented young lady a couple of rows ahead of me. She could produce a scream that sounded remarkably like a police whistle. She must have thought it was entertaining to her fellow passengers because she demonstrated it for us on very short intervals almost the entire way in to O’Hare. Ahh the joys of air travel. I also have noticed lately that the airlines have optimized their schedules so that there is no such thing as an unoccupied seat. Since my tickets required a day-of-travel seat assignment, I had the added pleasure of sitting in a middle seat the entire way.

Check in for the flight to Stockholm was not a problem. O’hare had a nice train to travel between terminals. It is always a million miles from the domestic terminal to the international terminal. The flight to Stockholm was about eight hours. Once again a middle seat on a totally full flight. This one featured another crying baby and a guy in my row who sneezed loudly every ten seconds for what I know was a half hour during the flight. The food was fine. We had a ham and cheese sandwich with breakfast. Must be a Swedish thing. Immigration in Stockholm was a breeze and customs was nonexistent. As usual, it was a major hike to the domestic terminal.

The flight to Kiruna was less than 1 ½ hours. It is jacket weather here: about 50° F. The remnants of the 6” snowfall from last week are still in the shady areas. The landscape is a combination of tundra and mountain forest. I have not taken any photos yet, but I’ll post them when I do.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Headed to Kiruna

We have approval from NASA for the next test flight from ESRANGE in Kiruna, Sweden. Stay tuned for posts on the adventures above the Arctic Circle. Remember to hit the refresh button to load the page with the latest posts!