Sunday, December 30, 2012

Another Windy Day and Crary Offices: December 30,2012

Sunday was another windy day. I wandered out to Hut Point, didn't see any penguins, and then had the wind in my face on the way back, which was unpleasant. 

With all three balloon payloads up in the air, each team has a room for monitoring in Crary Lab. Our Super-TIGER room is in "Phase 1", which is conveniently located near the entrance.

Inside, there are three desks. JohnE and I each have one, and the third is shared with the other balloon groups (EBEX had a computer workstation there until recently, and now BLAST uses it as an overflow space). We have two laptops and JohnE's desktop from St. Louis, which serves as a local analysis machine and local web server. The extra monitors we have are just decorative. 

JohnE in our office.

Next door to us, the BLAST crew has a similar-sized office with many more screens crammed in. They have people in McMurdo monitoring around the clock, while we have only one shift here. They also have candy. 

Tristan, Steve, and Barth from BLAST.

BLAST also has a 4-screen data display in the corner that has an awesome background of their balloon during inflation.

EBEX is using a larger space downstairs, which is next to the Crary Lab aquarium. BLAST used that office for a day or so, and when we went to visit we got to see some of the fish and other sea creatures that people in Crary are studying, including some pretty massive toothfish.

Otherwise, Sunday was another quiet day. Monday will probably be pretty busy, so I'll probably have a big update then. 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

EBEX Launch and Slightly Less Pixellated Penguins

Late Friday night, the EBEX and CSBF folks headed out to the LDB facility for a launch attempt sometime Saturday morning. I had initially thought about setting an alarm to get up and watch the launch, but I decided not to at the last minute. That worked out ok, since when I woke up just before a 10:30am conference call, EBEX was out on the launch pad but the balloon was not yet laid out. After our conference call, we got the word that CSBF was going to go ahead and lay out the balloon, in preparation for an early afternoon lunch.


I then went over to grab lunch (Duck Quesadillas. Yesterday we had Duck Grilled cheese. I guess there's a lot of leftover duck from something. It's a harsh continent.) with JohnE and some of the BLAST crew. By the time we finished lunch, we got word that inflation had started, so I headed out to the west side of Observation Hill, and walked a little bit of the loop around the hill until I got to a spot with a nice view of the LDB site.


I then sat around for about 40 minutes, but in that time I got to see a helicopter fly by and land at Scott Base, and also a skua flying around.

EBEX Away!
Eventually, the CSBF folks released the balloon and EBEX started slowly drifting up towards the sky. As it made its way up, I hiked the rest of the Observation Hill loop. It was cool being on the parts of the trail where literally the only sign of humanity was the hiking trail I was on and the balloon above.

After hiking the loop, I went over to Hut Point to see if there were any penguins. There weren't, at that point, so I went back to my room and showered.

A little bit later, JohnE let me know that he had indeed seen a group of penguins out at Hut Point,  about 20 or 30 meters away from shore. He got to see them hop over a crevasse and walk by the seals that are still lying around out on the ice near McMurdo.

Penguins on the left near the top.

Penguins in the center/center-right.

I went out and could see them off in the distance, but wasn't able to take a really clear picture. Still, this time I actually knew I was taking pictures of penguins and tried to make them a little less pixellated. It didn't work. I'll keep heading out to Hut Point every day to see if more penguins show up, which they hopefully will.

Zoomed in on the Penguins

Friday, December 28, 2012

Pixellated Penguins and the Observation Hill Loop: December 28, 2012

After complaining yesterday about missing out on the penguin that came into McMurdo, I was going through my photos from Thursday and found one with some weird black spots off in the distance, so I zoomed in. From what I can tell, these are penguins, but it's so pixellated it's hard to be entirely sure (we have not ruled out Bigfoot). In any case, it looks like my first penguin sighting went almost unnoticed. 
There are penguins in this picture. Seriously.

Look how cute and pixellated they are!

Friday morning I woke up to find my roommate of the last week gone, out to a field camp in the Dry Valleys nearby. I was excited until I checked my email and found out that I had a new roommate arriving this afternoon.

I went for a hike in the afternoon out to Hut Point to see if the penguins I apparently saw yesterday were around (they weren't), and then went up to do the Observation Hill loop. This hike starts around the fuel sheds and goes around the perimeter of Observation Hill, making it longer but less strenuous compared to the hike up the hill itself.

There were seals and lots of cracks in the ice out towards the edge of the water. Otherwise, it was a nice clear warm day.

Back in town, preparations are underway for New Years, including the stage for Ice-Stock, the December 31st music festival that's held each year.

Otherwise, there isn't too much else new here. EBEX and CSBF folks left about an hour and a half ago for a launch attempt early tomorrow morning. As usual, CSBF launch operations can be viewed here:

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Lazy Seals and the Winds of Hut Point: December 27, 2012

Thursday I finally went over to the official "McMurdo Station, Antarctica" sign behind the dorms. I'm sure we'll be back to take photos with the sign at some point before we leave. There's a decent view of Mt. Discovery and the Royal Society Range, but there are also power lines in the way.

After that, I walked out to Hut Point. On the ice just off the tip of Hut Point, around the entrance to Winter Quarters Bay, there were a whole bunch of seals (probably Weddell Seals) lying around in the sun warming themselves up.  

Otherwise, the sea ice around Hut Point is pretty noticeably breaking up. 

I was reading a book about Scott's Terra Nova expedition of 1910-13 the other day, and kept stumbling across references to the "winds of Hut Point". Since I hadn't been out at Hut Point during any particularly windy periods, I wasn't quite sure what they were talking about, but after today I have a very good idea. It wasn't particularly windy in town, but out on Hut Point the winds picked up pretty considerably. Luckily, it was relatively warm, so the wind-chill didn't get down very cold, but it was significantly warmer in sheltered areas than the wind.

We still haven't seen any penguins, but JohnE's roommate Dennis apparently saw one just walking down the streets of McMurdo when he went to the Post Office today. We also got word that people had seen a group of several penguins off of Hut Point in the last day or so, but there obviously weren't any when I was out there this afternoon. Hopefully we'll get to see some soon, and we definitely expect more once the icebreaker comes in a few weeks.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

All The Way Around and BLAST Launch: December 26, 2012

Tuesday afternoon we got word that BLAST was going to have a launch attempt early Wednesday morning. At dinner, it sounded like launch would be around 6 or 7am, and since I didn't finish monitoring until 2am and was pretty tired, I decided to not wake up for the launch. They had a successful launch a little before 8am, and were up at 130,000ft before I woke up. Asad from EBEX got the launch on video:

Super-TIGER stayed within Line-Of-Sight antenna range from Willy Field all day Wednesday, and we got lots of good data down. Today we also officially passed our launch longitude, so we've gone one full trip around Antarctica.

Otherwise, there isn't too much new here. We've got another trip around the continent ahead of us, BLAST will be moving into the office next to us in Crary, and EBEX will hopefully be launched the next time the weather is suitable.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas in McMurdo: December 24 and 25, 2012

Monday the 24th we started off with a conference call with Super-TIGER collaborators back in the US. Since our first trip around Antarctica is almost complete, Super-TIGER will pass within our Line-Of-Sight (LOS) range, meaning we can have a much faster and higher quality data link with the instrument than relying on the TDRSS satellite network. JohnE then went out to the LDB site at Willy Field to set up our LOS equipment and computer that had been packed away.

On the evening of Monday the 24th, we had our official Christmas Dinner in McMurdo. Just like at Thanksgiving, there were set seating times and we ate with the rest of the LDB people at 7:00pm. The dinner was very good (Beef Wellington, Prime Rib, and for those that like seafood, Lobster. It's a harsh continent.). After dinner we went back to our monitoring shift, and JohnE left early so he could get up and head out to LDB Tuesday morning.

According to NORAD, Santa showed up in McMurdo at one point, but I was inside our office and missed him.

Christmas Day JohnE went out to LDB and worked with the CSBF folks to get our LOS system up and running. By the end of the day, we were within range and getting good data down.

Back in McMurdo, I called home and then went on a hike up Observation Hill and then down to Hut Point. It was a beautiful day, and there were lots of people taking advantage of the holiday and nice weather to do some hiking.

On Sunday I got a new roommate (I'd had the room to myself since Kenichi left), but he's only staying around until sometime at the end of this week before heading out to the Dry Valleys to do surface geology.

I also finally figured out how to stitch together photos I've taken into panoramas, but for the most part the images are too big to share anywhere. Here are 3 I took today (all are ~6 MB jpg):

360 degree view from Observation Hill

Mt. Discovery and the Royal Society Range

Panorama from Hut Point

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Freezer Tour: December 23, 2012

Sunday, December 23, was a windy and snowy day in McMurdo. After lunch, I went over to the building between my dorm and Building 155, where the shop and dining hall are. This building is the freezer building, and is kept at a crisp -8 F (-22 C). Today was the freezer Open House, and I walked in just as a tour was starting. After some quick facts (they have 750 crates of food stored in there right now), we got a walk-through of the freezer.

Our first stop on the tour was "Bagel Mountain", a pile of boxes full of bagels. Apparently McMurdo goes through about 1 or 2 boxes of Bagels a week, so there are several months worth of bagels in the mountain right now.

In the middle of the freezer is "The Cube", a huge pile of crates of food about 20 feet high, with only the crates on the edges and on the top accessible. On one side of the Cube is "The Crevasse", a small passageway barely big enough for a person to walk through.

Our tour guide encouraged us to climb up the crevasse if we felt like it, so I did. The crates on either side provided plenty of footholds and handholds and I was able to climb to the top of "The Cube" pretty easily, even wearing my "Big Red" parka and having mittens on my hands.

On top, there were more crates, and I could see a lot more of the frozen food.

When I got back outside, the weather didn't look too nice, so I basically spent the rest of the day inside until it was time to work. Tomorrow (December 24th) is the McMurdo holiday dinner, and the 24th and 25th are holidays in town. There's a Christmas Party tonight, but it's right in the middle of our monitoring shift, so we won't be going.

Friday, December 21, 2012

(Almost) Everybody Leaves: December 18-22, 2012

Originally, Richard was supposed to leave McMurdo on December 18. He was scheduled to fly on an Airbus A319 owned by the Australian Antarctic program, rather than the New York Air National Guard LC-130s that currently provide most of the flights on and off continent. In order to preserve the ice runway out at Pegasus, though, the Airbus flights are scheduled for the middle of the night, when the ice is most frozen. While the LC-130s have skis and take off and land at Pegasus all the time, the Airbus has to have conditions exactly right for it to work. The A319 ended up getting delayed twice, for a total of 48 extra hours on the ice for Richard. This also meant that when Bob's scheduled departure on an LC-130 on the 19th left before Richard, and Richard only narrowly beat Kenichi's regularly scheduled departure on an LC-130 on the 20th. Makoto was also initially scheduled to fly out on the Airbus, but the flight was delayed and he ended up on an LC-130 on the 21st.

Unlike the C-17 we flew in on, the Airbus is a normal passenger plane and actually has windows you can see out of and look at the scenery. Richard got a pretty awesome picture of Mt. Erebus from the air:

This means that the only Super-TIGER people left in McMurdo are JohnE and I. We've been working the McMurdo monitoring shift as usual. Otherwise, life hasn't been too exciting. I walked out to Hut Point on Thursday and Friday because I had heard that someone had seen penguins out there the other day, but didn't have any luck. Saturday I hiked up Observation Hill again because the weather was nice. EBEX had a launch attempt on Friday, but they ended up having to come back in because the weather turned for the worse. It sounds like EBEX and BLAST are both at the point of waiting for an opportunity to launch. Since the two science lectures this week were from the other balloon projects, with Barth Netterfield from BLAST giving the Sunday lecture and Asad Aboobaker from EBEX giving the Wednesday Crary Lab science lecture, I signed up to give the Crary Lab Science Lecture on January 9, just after Sean and Thomas arrive back for recovery.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Sunny Trip Up Observation Hill: December 17, 2012

Monday afternoon I finally got a chance to hike up Observation Hill while the weather was nice. The view from the top is pretty spectacular when there aren't clouds in every direction. 

As we keep monitoring, we've settled into a routine. After finishing work around 2am, it's time for sleep for most of the rest of the morning. The afternoon is spent either supporting other shifts, or, on quiet days, relaxing in town. This is when I've been able to hike up Observation Hill (and will probably do other hikes in the future). Then it's time for dinner, and monitoring the payload from 7pm to 2am. We're almost halfway around the continent now.

Tuesday morning EBEX is going to attempt a balloon launch. I plan on waking up early to check the webcam/live feed on the CSBF website, and once balloon inflation starts (this takes about an hour) start climbing up Observation Hill to watch the actual launch. I think Richard plans on doing roughly the same thing (his flight was delayed, so he now leaves sometime early Wednesday morning).

If you missed the Super-TIGER launch, or just really like watching balloon launches, the link with webcam and live video is:

Saturday, December 15, 2012

One Week in: December 14-16, 2012

A little over 7 days in, Super-TIGER is on the other side of Antarctica from McMurdo. We've been keeping track of it around the clock, with our McMurdo shift remaining in the evening. The last couple of nights have been relatively uneventful--mostly just dealing with changing satellite links as we move in and out of view.

Friday I climbed Observation Hill again and there was a slightly better view, but nothing too exciting. EBEX and BLAST both passed their hang tests and could be launching soon.

We're also almost to the point where we start losing people--this next week, Richard leaves McMurdo on Tuesday, followed by Bob on Wednesday, Kenichi on Thursday and Makoto on Friday. That will leave just JohnE and I left until early January, when Thomas and Sean return.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Another Day of Monitoring and Other LDB Experiment Blogs: December 12, 2012

Thursday wasn't a particularly exciting day. I went in to work a bit earlier than Wednesday to deal with a few emails and then stayed for our monitoring shift. Most of that was spent troubleshooting one issue, followed by a long conference call at the end of the shift to try to figure out another. Nothing particularly exciting--just fine-tuning the instrument and making sure the data is all coming down ok.

Sometime Thursday we went within 140 miles of Vostok Station, the Russian station that holds the record for coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth. We're around a quarter of the way around, and so far our flight path looks good.

The two other experiments out at LDB have a web presence as well. Steve from BLAST is blogging at and Asad from EBEX at .

If you want to see their Super-TIGER Launch entries/Photos, they're at for Steve's and for Asad's.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Dana's Last Day and a Hike Up Observation Hill: December 12, 2012

With Super-TIGER launched and flying, the team down on the ice is going to start slowly leaving one by one, until about a little over a week from now when it will only be JohnE and myself. Wednesday marked Dana's last day on the continent,  and, having been here four times before this trip, he was happy to get to go back home.

Since our shift went to 2am and we ended up on a conference call that didn't end until closer to 2:40, I managed to sleep through the magical 12:12:12 on 12/12/12 time. After having lunch (about 15 minutes after I woke up), I went back to my room and eventually decided to take a hike up Observation Hill.

Observation Hill towers over McMurdo and, I'm assured, provides great views of the surrounding area.  During Robert F. Scott's Discovery expedition of 1902-04, the hill was used as an observation point, hence the name. Wednesday was a little overcast when I started climbing, but by the time I was halfway up the summit was covered in clouds. I kept going hoping that it would clear up, but when I got to the top views were very restricted.  It was a pretty reasonable hike--I went slow on the way up and still made it to the top in about 40 minutes.

At the top is a wooden cross that was put up in 1913 to honor the members of Scott's party that died on the return trip from the South Pole in March 1912.

On the way down, I got a really nice view of all of McMurdo:

I took a longer but less steep way back down the mountain for the bottom half. This road took me by the fuel station, and I saw people at work on a new fuel storage tank that's currently being built.

Back in town, we worked our typical 7pm-2am monitoring shift in Crary Lab. While Super-TIGER stayed pretty close to McMurdo during the first day or two of flight, we've definitely started into out "orbit" around Antarctica.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Monitoring Begins: December 10 and 11, 2012

After we finished the first night of monitoring, we rode Ivan the Terra Bus back into town. I then spent most of Monday morning and early afternoon asleep, catching up from the lack of sleep surrounding launch day.

After dinner on Monday, we got a walk-around tour of Crary Lab. This tour is required of anyone that has 24-hour access to the building, and since we will be monitoring from there every night, that includes us. Basically, it went over safety procedures and everything that needs to be done in the event of an emergency.

Then, we went down to our monitoring office for the first time. It's nothing too exciting--an office that can fit 4 or 5 people with desks along the walls and a few chairs. At 7pm, the McMurdo monitoring shift started. Kenichi stayed with us for a little bit, but since he had relieved us at Willy Field in the morning he left shortly after monitoring started. Richard also left early, planning to head out to Willy Field Tuesday morning, so Bob, JohnE, and I completed the rest of the monitoring shift. We're nominally done at 2am McMurdo time, but Monday night/Tuesday morning we had a "quick" conference call with our Goddard collaborators that meant that we didn't leave until around 2:30am, by which point it was time for bed.

Tuesday was much the same--I slept in, had lunch, and then relaxed in the afternoon before dinner and going on shift at 7pm. When we're monitoring, we go through a series of graphs and other charts on a website Kenichi developed that give us information about how the instrument is working. If needed, we can make adjustments and send commands to the instrument, but we try to avoid that whenever possible. Tuesday night/Wednesday morning we had another after-shift conference call with our collaborators in the US and then I got to bed around 3am.

So far, though, our flight path looks great!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Launch Day: December 9, 2012

My alarm went off at 1:30am the morning of Sunday, December 9. I stumbled around the room and got ready in the dark, making sure to pack an extra change of clothes with my ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear and the tripod I had checked out from McMurdo Gear Issue the night before. Then it was off to our usual meeting place to catch a Delta out to Willy Field.

Two Deltas were waiting, so I got into the first one I got to. Apparently, everybody else made the opposite choice, so I sat alone in that Delta for about 10 minutes before hopping in the other one and riding out to LDB.

It was weird riding out at 2am--the Sun was up, but it was casting long shadows that you don't normally see during the Antarctic summer daytime. By the time we got to Willy Field, BLAST was already out on the deck to the payload building (the BLAST team had the foresight to get into a van that was driving out from McMurdo). BLAST then got picked up by the CSBF Launch Vehicle, The Boss and driven out to the "dance floor", where the could be secured down while Super-TIGER was being driven around by The Boss (and, sneakily, appear in the foreground of any launch photos).

Richard ran through his pre-flight checklist inside while Dana got Super-TIGER hooked up to the crane of the payload building. Once that was done, we moved out to the deck and set down to be picked up by The Boss. Since the Hang Test, the straps on The Boss were modified so that we could be picked up and set on jack stands right on the deck, instead of on the ice in front of it. We then deployed the solar panels and the CSBF folks installed the ballast and secured the line-of-sight antennas.

We then sat out on The Boss while Richard ran through a quick version of his checklist and Drew ran through a series of tests on the commanding and data links. Once both of these were completed successfully  it was time to roll out to the launch pad.

Dana, JohnE, and I went out to watch the parade of vehicles on their way out to the launch pad. First came The Boss, with Super-TIGER hanging from it. After that went a pickup truck with CSBF personell, followed by a cart with the parachute system. Then, two tractors pulled trailers full of helium out to the pad.

While CSBF folks were setting up, we ran through Richard's short checklist again to make sure that everything was functioning on the flight line. Because the prevailing winds were coming from the south, the flight line was arranged so that the instrument would be launched with the wind, towards Mount Erebus. This meant that we would be unable to re-create the iconic panoramic photograph from TIGER showing an inflating balloon and Mount Erebus, but Dana got a panorama showing Observation Hill in the background and I tried to take some from our observation area.

Around 8am, I attempted to walk out closer to the launch pad to try to take some more photos. At first, it looked like The Boss was almost in fog, and by the time I got out to where BLAST was secured (no more than 3-400 feet away from the payload building) I could no longer see The Boss, or, turning around, the payload building.

While I was concerned that this fog would affect our launch chances, CSBF assured us that since it was very clear when looking straight up, the fog shouldn't delay us. Soon after, inflation started, and we got to see a slowly inflating balloon as the fog melted away.

By the time inflation started, we had attracted a crowd of EBEX and BLAST people outside behind the payload buildings in the designated spectator area. We all watched as the CSBF folks slowly filled the balloon with helium.

Eventually, inflation was finished. CSBF then got their folks out of the way and got ready to release the balloon.

When the balloon released, it slowly drifted up until it was directly above The Boss. Then, The Boss drove forward for a little bit, released the balloon and went in reverse. Super-TIGER then began slowly drifting towards the sky to scattered applause (those with cameras were still furiously taking photographs).

As the balloon slowly floated up, members of EBEX and BLAST congratulated our team. We stopped to admire the balloon as it drifted up, and then went inside to get to work.

With the launch over, our work was just beginning. We went inside and verified things were working and kept track of the instrument as it climbed up, noting the altitude, pressure, and lowest temperature every few minutes. The temperatures were especially interesting, since the sensors inside our thermal insulation cooled off slowly, while the solar panels were hot while they were under the sun on the ground, got very cold as we went through the troposphere, and then got very hot (up to almost 95C!) after being exposed to direct sunlight.

Just after lunch, we reached 85,000 ft, where we turned on the High Voltage system. The HV system was a bit of a concern, as maintaining high voltages at high altitudes is tricky, and has the potential to end badly. So far, nothing has failed, which we're obviously very happy about.

Once the HV was on, we got to work basically re-doing a lot of the calibration work we'd been working on the last couple of weeks. We adjusted some of the coincidence thresholds so that our event rate was as expected and we weren't getting events we didn't care about. We changed some high voltages to make sure that everything was matched.

While Dana caught a ride into town in the early afternoon, the rest of us continued monitoring the instrument and making sure everything was calibrated correctly. Makoto and Kenichi stayed until 11pm, then headed back to town to get some sleep in order to be rested to take over Monday morning. Bob, JohnE, Richard, and I spent the night out at Willy Field, alternating between trying to take naps and monitoring the instrument. I'll have more up about the monitoring, etc. later, but for now it's time to sleep.

The balloon can be tracked here:

Video of the launch and a timelapse I took are available on the Super-TIGER facebook page,

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Launch Operations Underway!

We're outside on the launch vehicle, solar panels are deployed, ballast is added, and CSBF has the parachute system over by the vehicle ready to install. So far, so good on our launch attempt.

Follow along at:

Twitter updates at @supertigerldb

Facebook updates at

Friday, December 7, 2012

FINAL Preparations and Time Lapses: November 8, 2012

Saturday morning, Richard ran through his pre-flight checklist in record time and made sure everything was still functioning as it was the day before. The usual 11am weather briefing got postponed until after lunch (Lobster Tail and Steak. It's a harsh continent.), but it was the same plan as the last two days: leave McMurdo at 2am, with an eye towards launching around 10am. Just like the past two days, there was a second meeting at the end of the day to either confirm these plans or call them off.

Unlike the last two days, this second meeting ended in a confirmation of our plans to "Show" in the morning. Two Deltas will leave McMurdo at 2am local time (7am Saturday in St. Louis, 8am on the East Coast) and head out to Willy Field. BLAST will then get moved out to the "dance floor" for more testing and we'll proceed with launch operations.

I'm posting this early so that I can get some sleep, but launch operations should be viewable via webcam, and, eventually, streaming video at:

We will also be updating our Facebook ( and Twitter (@supertigerldb) feeds throughout the proceedings.

I took a time-lapse of the view out the window of Ivan the Terra Bus Saturday morning on the way out to LDB:

This video starts out in front of Building 155, home to the McMurdo cafeteria. Then we drive out of town, first past the Hospital and Fire Station, and then past a variety of other buildings. We then drive over the hill to Scott Base, stop briefly by the transition on to the ice shelf, and proceed out to LDB.

I also took a time lapse outside this afternoon, mostly in an attempt to make sure I could keep my camera warm with a hand warmer and a mitten and it would take video and not freeze. This will hopefully be useful on launch day. 

In this video you can see clouds moving over Mount Erebus and EBEX doing some calibration tests on the deck to their payload building. The cherry picker crane is part of the EBEX test. 

Hopefully things will work out tomorrow. Now, it's time to get some sleep while I can.

Waiting: December 7, 2012

Friday we arrived out at the LDB site to news that made us glad we weren't working out of McMurdo. Apparently, a clog had developed at the sewage treatment plant that meant that all of McMurdo's bathrooms were essentially shut down for several hours. Out at LDB, life continued unchanged.

For the second day in a row, we came out of our 11am weather briefing hopeful for a launch the next day and began to prepare for a 2am pickup from the dorm with a launch sometime in the morning. For the second straight day, later in the afternoon our hopes were dashed. This time, we spent most of the afternoon operating under the assumption that we'd be launching the next day, so we got everything basically prepared and ready to go.

Now we're back where we were yesterday. We'll have another weather/status briefing from CSBF at 11am Saturday morning, but even if the outlook is good you never know.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Warm Weather and Waiting: December 6, 2012

Thursday, we rode out to LDB in some of the first above-freezing (~35F/2C) weather we've had since arriving.

At 11am, we had our weather briefing and status update from CSBF. At that point, it sounded like there was a good chance that we'd be launching Friday morning, and we made plans to be picked up at the dorm around 2am, with the optimal flight time being about 10am McMurdo time. This lasted about two hours. After lunch, we found out that that time wouldn't be suitable for CSBF to launch us, so we would come in at our regular time on Friday.

In the afternoon, I ran through the pre-flight checklist with Richard. Someone has run through this checklist at least once a day since we declared flight-ready, and it's helped us practice and make sure that we'll be able to do everything we need to get done on launch day. This checkout involves sending commands to the computer over our line-of-sight (LOS) antennas, and looking at the data that gets set down. We verify that we're able to turn on and control the high voltages on the instrument, that LEDs inside each detector flash (and therefore tell us that our photomultiplier tubes (PMTs) are still functioning), and that the computer is able to go back to its previous state in the event of an unexpected reboot.

EBEX outside for testing

In the afternoon, EBEX was outside and doing some tests that involved a cherry picker. I'm glad that Super-TIGER just has to turn on and wait for particles to fall in in order to calibrate, so we can stay inside where it's warm.

It was still warm after dinner, so JohnE, Richard, and I walked over to Scott Base. It's a nice 40-minute walk over the hill with some great scenery. We ride over the hill on the bus each day, so it's familiar, but it was nice to slow down and get a good look. I also finally figured out where Pegasus Field, the airport on the permanent ice shelf is. I'd known vaguely, but hadn't taken the time to actually try and see it across the frozen ice.

It doesn't look like Friday will be launch day, but if there's one thing that's constant here it's that you never know.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Monitoring Training: December 5, 2012

Wednesday morning, Ivan the Terra Bus pulled up at the bus stop in McMurdo right on time. As we were getting on the bus, though, we were informed that we'd be leaving a bit late, in order to let a crew from Fleet Ops (who maintain the roads) check out the conditions and make things safe. Once we finally got the OK and got going, it took us around an hour to get all the way out to LDB, basically twice as long as normal.

This put us in a bit of a time crunch, since we had about five minutes to prepare for a training session that we had been planning for our collaborators back in the US. During flight, Super-TIGER will be monitored by teams around the country around the clock, so it was important that everyone understand how this monitoring and commanding of the instrument will work.

It took Richard a little bit to set up, but eventually, everyone was tied in and able to see what Richard was doing on his computer screen. He then essentially went through the pre-flight checklist, explaining each command as he went and fielding questions from the audience. Eventually, he got through everything and was able to turn the phone over to Kenichi and Makoto for an explanation of the internal monitoring website.

Makoto and Kenichi have developed a system that takes the raw data from the instrument, processes it, and puts it up on a webpage for the monitoring team to see. This includes "housekeeping" data, like what voltages parts of the instrument is reading and what we've set our setting so, and real particle events, which are displayed in a variety of different ways. Talking everyone through the entire website took another hour or so, by which point we were long overdue for lunch.

The CSBF Weather Briefing

After lunch, I went along to the CSBF weather briefing, where we got an update on the situation for the next few days. Thursday and maybe part of Friday look like they have the potential for a launch window, but after that it's not looking good for a few days. We'll see how things work out in the next few days, and there will be updates on twitter and Facebook as soon as we get word that there will be a launch attempt.

Wednesday night in McMurdo there wasn't much going on, so I went to check out the Wednesday soccer games they have. We ended up playing 3-on-4 in a small basketball court in the "Big Gym" in town. It was fun, but exhausting. The slippery floors didn't help very much, either.

We'll keep everyone updated if we move towards a launch attempt in the next day or so. Right now, if looks like if there is an attempt on Thursday it won't be until the late afternoon McMurdo time (after 10pm CT Wednesday or so).

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Flight Readiness Review and Bad Weather: December 3, 2012

As forecasted, Tuesday morning was windy out at the LDB site at Willy Field. We spent the morning doing the same types of things as Monday--updating our internal website with all the relevant reference information, making sure everything was in place, and verifying that everything was ready for lunch. JohnE and Richard ran through the pre-flight checkout checklist again in the early afternoon and made sure that things would work out on launch day.

Not Launch Conditions

At 11am, we had our first weather briefing from Ross, the CSBF meteorologist down here. The forecast called for deteriorating conditions Tuesday, with more snow on Wednesday. That would put the earliest possibility of a launch at around Thursday. Of course, that depends on how conditions change between now and then, particularly on how the weak high pressure system that is nearby rolls in. Once we get good enough weather for a launch opportunity, we should hopefully be good to go.

In the afternoon, visibility was greatly reduced when we headed over to the LDB conference room for our Flight Readiness Review. In this meeting, we went through a number of checklists that CSBF and NASA require before launch and reviewed who would be doing what on launch day.

After the review, we had a launch safety training for the entire Super-TIGER ice team. This went over basic safety for launch day--how far we have to stay from the launch vehicle, various danger zones around the launch pad, and what to do in the case of an emergency.

In the middle of this safety training, we found out that, due to the bad weather, Ivan the Terra Bus would come pick us up an hour early. This didn't leave much time (or so we thought) after the safety training, so once that was done, we hurried back and packed everything up. We ended up waiting around in the wind and blowing snow for around 15 minutes before the bus showed up.

Antarctica is cold

When we got back to town, we had dinner with Dan the lineman, who told us he had gotten stuck in the snow on his way out to help set up the power lines at Pegasus, the airfield out on the permanent sea ice beyond LDB. With the Sea Ice Runway we arrived at being abandoned (and probably melting away into the sea at some point soon), Pegasus is now the only airport planes are flying out of near McMurdo. 

The Terra Bus Arrives!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Pathfinder Launch and Declaration of "Launch Ready": December 3, 2012

Monday morning, the weather out at the LDB facility on the ice shelf was almost perfect. NASA CSBF (Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility) planned on launching a Pathfinder balloon around 9am to get first-hand data about the vortex over Antarctica. When I went outside to get a look, I could see a smaller "pie ball" balloon up to test the winds a few hundred feet above the ground. Since there was some time left before launch, I went back inside and got to work.

A "Pie Ball" above the LDB site

A little before 9am the BLAST crew all came down at the same time to go see the launch, so I grabbed my camera and followed them out. By the time we got outside, though, the pathfinder balloon was off the ground and slowly going up into the sky.

The Pathfinder balloon drifts away

The Pathfinder's flight can be tracked here:

We spent the day finalizing our initial settings for our software during the flight and getting things ready to go for launch. I spent most of the afternoon modifying our quick-look software so it displayed some more information coming down from the payload. Richard ran through a complete pre-flight checkout and will keep doing that every day until launch.

In the afternoon, we officially declared ourselves Launch Ready. Sometime Monday (US time) we're expecting to get the all-clear from NASA to launch, so now it's just a waiting game until the weather is nice enough to launch. Tuesday morning there will be a weather briefing but right now it's looking like Tuesday will be windy and Wednesday will be snowy, so it will be later in the week before we're able to launch.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Preparing for Flight, BLAST and EBEX Outside and also Bob's roommate is an astronaut: December 2, 2012

Sunday we continued our preparation for flight, deciding on more initial settings for our flight software. One big focus that JohnE spent a lot of time working on was our high priority threshold, which is a balancing act between getting all the good science we want (so more things being high priority=better science) and the antenna bandwidth we may have in flight (more things being high priority=trying to send more data down than is possible).  This is a bigger issue for our slower satellite links, since our High Gain Antenna (HGA) should be able to get almost all of the data down right away. Everything will end up being saved on the instrument hard drives anyway, but we'll be adjusting our calibrations with in-flight data.

BLAST and EBEX both had testing to do outside, so at one point they were both outside at the same time. We joked that we should move Super-TIGER outside as well just so that we could get a group photo, but we kept our instrument inside all day. The weather was too windy for a pathfinder launch, so they'll try again Monday.

BLAST (left) and EBEX (right) 

Sunday night there was the usual weekly science lecture. This week, it was by Dr. Stan Love, an astronaut who flew to the International Space Station (ISS) on STS-122 and performed two spacewalks. He also is Bob's new roommate, having arrived on Friday. He gave us a very interesting talk about his spaceflight and what they accomplished, and then answered questions from the audience. One theme he kept coming back to was the parallels to Antarctica a century ago and space today. Apparently one of his interests now is finding good analogues to spaceflight on Earth, and Antarctica, with its potentially life-threatening environment and the need to take everything you need with you, is a very good approximation. He also made the argument that the first permanent base on the moon will likely function a lot like McMurdo does today.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

More Pre-Flight Preparation and Stuff I Forgot From Friday

There were two other things from Friday that I neglected to mention yesterday. First, we got a quick visit from three members of the National Science Board, which is appointed by the President to oversee the National Science Foundation. Bob gave them a quick tour and we all introduced ourselves before they had to hurry out to see the other payloads and catch a flight.

Also on that flight from the ice to Christchurch was Frank, whose time on the ice finished up with the Hang Test. This leaves the Super-TIGER ice team at 7 people. Frank's plane out was also the last of the Air Force C-17s that will come in and out of McMurdo until late January. In the meantime, the station will be serviced by a modified Airbus (run by the Australians, I believe) and military C-130s. This means that less cargo will be getting through to the ice, which means that during the "C-17 Gap" fresh fruits and vegetables become a bit more precious. It also means that the people that leave the ice between now and around January 20th have an extra three hours or so on their flight back to Christchurch, making the trip home that much longer.

Saturday, wind conditions were bad enough that the Pathfinder balloon launch CSBF had planned had to be postponed. This balloon will verify that the vortex has indeed set up around Antarctica, clearing the way for actual payloads (i.e. Super-TIGER) to launch. This vortex essentially allows for a balloon launched from Antarctica to float around the entire continent and come back roughly to the same spot in roughly two weeks. Ideally, Super-TIGER will get two revolutions around, for a total of around 30 days of flight, but that depends on the path the balloon takes as well as the smooth functioning of all the equipment involved.

We also got to work deciding on initial voltages for all the Photomultiplier Tubes (PMTs). We also got initial values for how much output from our detectors causes a coincidence in the software, and started working on how to sort high-priority events from low priority ones.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Flight Calibration and Weighing the Instrument: November 30, 2012

With the Hang Test completed, Friday we got to work on our to-do lists before flight. JohnE, Bob, and I worked on where we wanted to set high voltages during flight. I had our Scintillator Detectors (again, I'll try and have an about-the-instrument post up soon since our official website is down) and had to figure out exactly how we wanted to calibrate the instrument. Particles will create a different signal based on how heavy they are (heavy=higher signal), what angle they come in at (straight down=lower signal, 45 degrees=much higher signal), how much energy they have, and how far away from our Photomultiplier Tubes (PMTs) they are. The way I ended up setting things up, a heavy (Neodymium, atomic number Z = 60) particle near a tube at 45 degrees theoretically gives us a signal of 52,050 channels, while the lightest particle we're looking at, a Neon ion coming in vertically far away from the tube gives us a signal of just 99. This gives us enough range that we should hopefully be able to see everything we want to see with our detectors. Bob and JohnE did similar work with the Hodoscope and Cherenkov detectors, respectively.

From this, we'll get an idea of where we'll set our high voltages, which we plan to do on Saturday. There are a few other things we want to get up and running, but in general it looks good for a flight at the first opportunity sometime next week.

BLAST spent most of the day outside doing more testing, so we had some space inside. In the afternoon, some CSBF people came over with a scale that hooks up to the crane and weighed the payload. The entire thing, including the instrument, gondola, SIP and antenna boom, but not counting our flight straps, came in at 4465 lbs. This is around where we expected to be, since our goal was to weigh around 4000 lbs for our science weight with a few hundred pounds of weight from CSBF's equipment. It should put us in a good position for the balloon we want to be on for launch day.