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.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Hang Test (and preparing for it): November 28 and 29, 2012

Wednesday morning we got to work on the final preparations for our Hang Test. I spent most of the day making and modifying our map of the locations of all of the temperature sensors located throughout the instrument. Kenichi updated our internal monitoring website with the maps that I had made and also made it possible to click on a sensor's location on the map and see the history of the readings it put out. This lets us track how hot and cold various parts of the detector are getting, and make sure that things aren't getting too cold or overheating. Makoto continued working with his monitoring and initial analysis software, while Dana and Frank sealed up the last parts of the insulation layer. After lunch, JohnE and I got to work looking at in-flight calibration of the instrument and where to set certain parameters. 

Thursday morning, we were told that the weather forecast called for some wind early in the morning that was expected to die down after a few hours, at which point we would do our Hang Test. The Hang Test is an important milestone, since a successful one means that a balloon payload is basically ready for launch. The tricky thing with the Super-TIGER Hang Test was balancing what we needed with what had to happen with BLAST. Right now, Super-TIGER occupies the back half of our payload building, while BLAST is in the front, closer to the door. Since BLAST uses liquid helium to cool down various parts of their instrument, and the Super-TIGER PMTs can be damaged if exposed to helium, BLAST has to do the filling of its helium tanks outside, so they need to be in front.

Luckily, BLAST has a number of tests that they need to carry out outside, so they are able to do those while our payload needs to be outside, minimizing the amount of re-arranging that needs to happen. The downside is that BLAST has very large shields to keep the sun out of their telescope, and these shields act as a giant sail if the wind picks up. Once the wind started dying down, BLAST got picked up by the CSBF launch vehicle, The Boss, and driven out to their "dance floor" deck a few hundred feet away from the building for their tests.

Once BLAST was out of the building, we got to work getting Super-TIGER ready to be lifted out onto our deck. We had to set ourselves down on the deck in order to be picked up by The Boss, and then moved about five feet off of the deck and set down on jack stands. This allowed the CSBF crew easy access underneath the instrument to install the Ballast Hopper, which will control the ballast that we will carry with us during flight, and drop if we need to maintain altitude. This was also when we deployed all of the solar panels that are used to power both our instrument and all of the CSBF equipment that is flying with us.

The Boss then drove us out a bit and arranged itself so that the Super-TIGER instrument solar panels were pointed directly at the sun, which was then almost above Mount Erebus. In the direct Antarctic sunlight, we were able to get more than twice as much power as we actually needed out of the panels. We then took some quick group photos and went inside to run through out test.

Essentially, the Hang Test was where we did everything we would need to do to launch the payload without actually attaching a balloon to it. We also pretended that we were in flight while hanging on The Boss, and sent commands via the fast Line-Of-Sight (LOS) antennas, as well as the TDRSS (fast) and Iridium (super slow) satellite links. We were able to verify that everything we needed worked fine, but when we got into the part of the checklist where we were doing some higher-level commands (that worked on Tuesday, during our pre-hang test test), we were told that the winds looked like they were picking up and we had to come inside.

We quickly sent several commands to the instrument to try to get as much testing as possible done, and then The Boss brought us back to the payload building and went to get BLAST. At this point, the wind was gusting up to 14 knots, so getting BLAST and their giant sun-shields inside was important. They got inside without any problems, so everything worked out ok.

We then went over the data we took during the Hang Test and made sure that everything was working. Everything looked good, so the plan for the next couple of days is to finalize our calibration, decide on priority thresholds and make sure our monitoring software is good to go. We'll also get to work training everyone on how to use the command software and making a personnel schedule for the flight monitoring.

It sounds like the vortex over Antarctica in the upper atmosphere that needs to set up before we launch is basically set up. The plan we heard yesterday was for the CSBF folks to launch a "Pathfinder" balloon on December 1 to verify that the vortex is indeed working properly. Otherwise, there is some paperwork and an approval process from higher-ups at NASA that CSBF needs to go through before launching, which is expected to finish up on December 4th. Otherwise, things look good for us going for the first launch opportunity that presents itself after the 5th. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Pre-Hang-Test-Test: November 27, 2012

On Tuesday morning, we basically did the same thing as Monday morning. BLAST got picked up and taken out onto the deck of the payload building and then transferred on to the launch vehicle. Once that was done, we hooked up Super-TIGER to the crane and brought it out onto the deck. Once it was out there, we deployed the solar panels and ran entirely independent of the lab power supply we use inside.

This test was primarily a communications and compatibility test, so we went through a variety of exercises to make sure things were working properly. We were able to power things up and take more muon calibration data, and also get a good feel for the solar panel outputs. We also got a good test of the temperature sensors we have in various places around the instrument and how warm the foam insulation layer keeps things when the system is running inside and it's cold on the outside. The environment sitting on the deck is very different than during flight, but so far it looks like things will be warm enough when we go outside for the Hang Test and also when we're sitting on the launch vehicle waiting for launch.

From here, we have a day to make sure that everything is ready for our planned Hang Test on Thursday. If the weather cooperates then (which we don't have a good idea of yet), and things go well, we'll be in a position to declare ourselves flight ready on schedule and hopefully take the first launch opportunity that comes up. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Attempt 1 at a Pre-Hang Test Test and Hodoscope Mockup: November 26, 2012

The plan for Monday was to get to work on our pre-hang test compatibility test. Essentially, the hang test is the last thing we have to do before we can declare ourselves ready for flight, and this pre-test was to double check that everything was going to go fine during the actual test. To do it, we were going to go out onto the deck of our payload building and run through our setup and commanding procedures, and verify that everything was working properly.

There is an area near the payload building where BLAST can be set down and do some of their calibration runs. To get there, BLAST had to be lifted out onto the deck, and then picked up by the launch vehicle (The Boss) and driven out to the "dance floor", where they would be set down. Super-TIGER would then be picked up by the crane in the building and brought out onto the deck. 

Monday BLAST made it on to the launch vehicle while Super-TIGER was rigged up to the crane and ready to lift when it was determined that the weather forecast had the winds too high to allow BLAST to stay outside safely. BLAST has some large aluminized mylar sun shields that do a great job keeping the sun out of their telescope, but these shields can also act as giant sails if a wind were to come up. Once we got everything set back up again, we set everything up and took some more calibration data.

One thing that we had been worried about on the Super-TIGER recovery was whether or not the scintillating fiber hodoscopes would fit inside the recovery plane (I'll have a post or posts up about the hodoscope, and the other detectors, and how the instrument works in the next few days). Essentially, we want to be able to get the entire hodoscope plane back in one piece, since making a new plane of fibers takes many months. Monday, Dana and Frank made a full-sized mockup of one layer out of blue foam. The two of them, along with JohnE, then headed over to the airfield to see if the mockup would be able to fit inside the plane. They returned with the good news that it seemed like things could fit. 

Monday night, most of the team went to a talk and screening of a documentary presented by Anne Del Vera, who works out at LDB and basically makes the entire LDB station run. In 1992-3, she was a member of the first all-woman team to ski all the way to the South Pole. The documentary went over that journey, and she was around to answer any questions that people had. It was a really amazing story and put the easy life we have in modern-day McMurdo in perspective. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Day Off and Fire House Visit: November 25, 2012

Sunday was our first day off since arriving in McMurdo. Saturday night, though, I took a time-lapse video of our ride from LDB to McMurdo in a Delta and have finally gotten it up on youtube:
The video starts out at Willy Field, and we drive away and start heading towards Ross Island. Unfortunately, the impressive view of Mt. Erebus that we get is out of the frame. The second vehicle that passes us is a Delta with the EBEX crew in it (we were assured that our Delta was the faster one. Oh well.). Once we turn and run alongside the island, you can see the green buildings of Scott Base in the distance. There's a point where we go into shadow for a little bit, and right there is the transition from the Ice Shelf to Ross Island. We swing through Scott Base and head up the hill. The hill off to the left as we're driving around is Observation Hill. At the base of Observation Hill is the McMurdo fueling station, where vans and other vehicles fill up with gas. We then go down into town and take a left in front of the dorms. The two brown buildings on the right are the dorms that our team is staying in, and then we take another left and the video stops in front of Building 155, home of the shop and cafeteria.

Sunday I took advantage of not having to work and slept in. After lunch, Sean, Richard, and I went over to the Fire House to take a tour of the station. We got to see both of the fire trucks and heard about all of the equipment that they use down here, including the various hoses and ladders. We also got to climb into the driver's seat and turn on the flashing lights and floodlights. Eventually, we got to go to the truck that was outside and they turned on the pumps and our tour guide, Matt, talked us through what was happening. Then we went back inside and got a chance to try on all of the firefighting gear that they had. It was a pretty cool tour and certainly much more exciting than hanging around in the dorm all day.

Otherwise, I spent the rest of the day watching a movie in the dorm and going to Crary Lab to use the internet (the internet in our dorms was down for some reason). I had planned to go to the Sunday science lecture, but it was apparently cancelled. It was a pretty relaxing day, and nice to have a day without too much work, especially with a busy week ahead of us.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thanksgiving Day (Observed): November 24, 2012

Saturday was the official Thanksgiving holiday in McMurdo, which meant that out at LDB we basically treated it as a Sunday. We rode the Deltas out, and Frank, Sean and Dana helped grill up lunch. We got another satellite test in, where we were able to double-check that we were getting data back from the instrument over all of our satellite links. Otherwise, we continued much as we have been doing the last couple of days.

Since we're basically on schedule, we decided that Sunday would be a day off for everyone in our group. This meant that Saturday was the last day out at LDB for Sean and Thomas, who will be leaving on Monday (but returning in early January for the recovery of the instrument).

We left Willy Field a bit earlier than normal so that people would have a chance to get ready before dinner. Thanksgiving Dinner in McMurdo had three seatings, and people had to make reservations in advance (the CSBF crew handled all of that for us). Since the cafeteria was closed until the time things started, there was a long line of people waiting to get in. I was pretty far back with Kenichi and Makoto, but behind us the line stretched out the door.

Once we got in, the Thanksgiving feast was waiting for us. There was plenty of traditional Thanksgiving food, as well as crab legs and tons of dessert (including both Pumpkin Pie AND Pumpkin Cheesecake). We had a very nice meal at a table for all ten Super-TIGER team members.

Friday, November 23, 2012

November 23, 2012

Friday marked the return of our old friend Ivan the Terra Bus, which had been in for maintenance most of the week. When we arrived at our payload building, we met members of the BLAST team who had been up most of the night working on a test they were doing out on the deck. Apparently things went well, but I'm glad that (so far) our work down here hasn't kept me up for 30+ hours. Taking advantage of the fact that BLAST was out of the way, we also took a group photo with the instrument first thing in the morning.

Dana, Frank, and Sean got to work "buttoning up" the instrument, sealing up the insulation so that everything will be ready for the pre-Hang Test on Monday. Drew installed the High Gain Antenna (HGA), which will be our primary way of communicating with the instrument during most of the flight. I worked with JohnE and Makoto on another round of calibration for the voltages of our Photomultiplier Tubes that we'll try out on Saturday. I also got to work on editing our quick-look software so that it will read out the GPS and pressure gauge data from the NASA SIP underneath the instrument. Thomas and Bob went over to a planning meeting for instrument recovery and presented our preliminary plans.

Eventually, it was time to head back to McMurdo for dinner (really good steak. It's a harsh continent.) and "Black Friday" shopping at the store. The store also has a few shelves of DVDs that you can check out for a few days for free, so a few of us got some things to watch in the next couple of days. JohnE, Richard, Sean, and I also went to Gallagher's, where there was live Bluegrass and then 80s music performed by local bands. Since most of McMurdo is off on Saturday, it ended up getting really packed.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Day: November 22, 2012

The official Thanksgiving holiday for most of McMurdo will be on Saturday, and we will have an "official" Thanksgiving dinner then, but for lunch on Thursday the LDB Galley staff went all out. We arrived to find the tables re-arranged into two long tables for everyone to sit at, as well as an impressive Thanksgiving feast.

I also found out that Sweet Potato Pie is an acceptable substitute for Pumpkin Pie.

Back in the payload building, the BLAST folks were getting ready for a test that would take them outside to the deck of our building. They got things out the door in the afternoon and got to work. We opened up the insulation of the bottom of one of the modules so that Richard could get at an electronics box. One of the electronics boards needed a resistor replaced, but once that was done Richard got the box back together and ready to go.

Throughout the day, I talked with JohnE and Makoto about adjusting the voltages on individual photomultiplier tubes for the next step in our calibration process. We keep making smaller changes to try and get things working the way we want them. We'll try out these values on a Muon test on Friday. Thursday afternoon, Kenichi showed the monitoring website he had been working on. This site essentially uses the data sent down from the instrument and converts it into graphs that will (eventually) be available for our monitoring team to monitor from anywhere. The plan is to have one shift of people monitoring the instrument during flight here on the ice, with shifts in the US picking up the rest of the day, but that will get finalized later.

Super-TIGER in on schedule and everything seems to be working properly, so we certainly have a lot to be thankful for.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Planning Ahead: November 21, 2012

Wednesday, we took off the insulation box from the instrument--for what will hopefully be the last time --in order to get in and double check a couple of wires. While it was open, JohnE and I went through the painstaking process of double-checking the wiring of the instrument signal cables. Each of the 552 Photomultiplier Tubes (PMTs) on Super-TIGER has a wire going in that provides power and a wire coming out that gives us the signal. If everything is plugged in properly, then turning down the power on one tube causes a change in the signal on that same channel. In other words, if I reduce the voltage on tube 7, and tube 7 suddenly has a lower signal, things are going well. If this doesn't happen, we may have gotten the cables swapped. We went through each and every channel and made sure that everything was connected properly before the insulation layer went back on. I also took that opportunity to take a bunch of pictures of the instrument just in case we need them later.

We also had a planning meeting about the scheduling for the next week or so. Before Super-TIGER is flight-ready, we need to pass a "Hang Test", where they take the payload and hang it from the launch vehicle (essentially a large crane, for these purposes) outside and we essentially pretend that it is in flight, and can only talk to it using our various antenna links. Before that happens, we want everything working, so we'll shoot to have a pre-Hang-Test-test out on the deck of our building early next week, with the Hang Test coming a couple of days later.

Other than that, we kept things running the way we have been for the last week or so, taking as much muon data as we can. Since this is the only opportunity we have to run everything in a controlled environment, we want to make sure we're familiar with how everything works.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Satellite Test: November 20, 2012

The main priority for Super-TIGER on Tuesday was a test where we communicated with the instrument via a satellite link. During flight, we will have Line-of-Sight (LOS) communications with the instrument for about the first 24 hours after launch. After that, we'll rely on NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS) for our communications, with the Iridium satellite system as a backup. Tuesday morning, Richard and Drew got everything ready for the test, and then waited for the TDRSS satellite we had time reserved on to get into view.

Once the link was established, Richard got to work commanding the instrument. We were able to turn everything on and verify that the data coming down looked good. Otherwise, we continued on as we've  been doing, with work on analysis software and PMT calibration going on and on. The foam insulation is done, but will probably come off on Wednesday so we can get in there and double-check some cables.

Otherwise, there isn't too much new and exciting here. Things are plugging along, and we're on schedule, so there isn't too much drama. We've been riding Deltas in to work and the Kress vehicle back this week, since Ivan the Terra Bus is still in for repairs. That's about all that's changed recently.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Bob Arrives and Pressure Ridge Tour

Monday morning, we piled back onto two Deltas for the ride out to LDB. We spent the day working on the same types of things we've been doing--I fixed a few glitches in some of the software I'd written the other day and wrote a new script to let us read out the number of events that have triggered various parts of the instrument. JohnE kept working on fine-tuning the voltage settings for our Photomultiplier Tubes (PMTs) while work on the insulation continued and Richard and Makoto played around with some other settings on the instrument. 

In the afternoon, the C-17 carrying the Super-TIGER Principle Investigator, Bob Binns, was due in at the sea ice runway. Since I hadn't seen one of these planes land yet (we got to see one taking off during Happy Camper School), I went out with Dana, Richard, Sean, and JohnE to watch this one land. We knew to within about 5 minutes when it was going to happen, and eventually were able to see a speck in the distance. I watched it land through the zoom lens on my camera because it was pretty far away, but it was still a pretty cool sight to see.

The highlight of the day was a trip over to the pressure ridges near Scott Base. These are formations of ice that result from the combination of glacial ice coming off the island, the ice shelf slowly drifting, and the seasonal Sea Ice pushing back. Essentially, a small ridge of ice is formed by the different forces and slowly gets bigger. Eventually, it will break open and leave what's left to be subjected to the wind and blowing snow. There are some pretty awesome structures that come out of this.

Scott Base maintains a trail through the pressure ridge area, and checks it for safety every three days or so. Because things shift relatively quickly out there, the trail has to be moved often. We saw a lot of areas where there were footsteps leading right up to a giant crack.

One really cool thing was the meltwater lakes that form. These small, shallow pools of water form when the snow melts and pools up or when saltwater comes up through a crack in the ice. They also look a lot like still mountain streams. If it weren't for the fact that the water wasn't flowing and that the top was frozen, it would have been hard to pinpoint exactly where these pools were. 

We also saw two seals out on the ice taking a nap and lounging in the sun. The coolest part was when we were walking on some ice and our guide, Kish, stopped us and told us to be quiet. We then heard a seal or two underneath the ice calling up to the surface. It was a really cool noise to hear, and kind of weird knowing there were seals and other creatures living right underneath our feet.

There are many, many more photos of our trip to the pressure ridge tour here. It was one of the most amazing things I've done since I got here.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Garry's Last Day: November 18, 2012

Sunday marked the 21st day that the Super-TIGER team has been down on the ice. It also was our last day with Garry, our electronics technician. He's leaving sometime on Monday to return to St. Louis and work on other projects. Monday is also the scheduled arrival date of our PI (Principal Investigator), Bob Binns, and it sounds like Bob will get off the plane and Garry will get right on it and head back. It's a little weird to be at the point where people are already going home, but Sean and Thomas will head back in a week or so, and Frank will head home at the end of the month.

We rode on Deltas out to the LDB site like every Sunday.  For lunch, we had the leftover meat from Friday's lunch, which Frank made into kebabs on Saturday. It was good.

Otherwise, work continued on much the same as it has. Garry finished up a few more spare electronics boards, we kept tweaking the calibration settings on the instrument during our muon runs, and the insulation on the bottom is almost finished. I went to the science talk Sunday night, which was about ice cores that this team has extracted from the sea ice. They were able to drill around 3700 meters deep, and extract the ice. This is a big difference from last week's talk, which involved hot water drilling (which definitely does not leave the ice intact). It was pretty interesting.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Naturally, the day with the worst Antarctic weather we've experienced was followed by a day with great weather--no wind, just a couple of clouds in the sky, and a balmy 24 F (-4.4 C). Ivan the Terra Bus was in for repairs, so we hopped on a Delta out to the LDB site. I spent most of the day finishing up the quick-look software for "replies" from the instrument during flight--essentially, every time we send a command, it sends us a reply telling us it got the command and did it. Work on the insulation underneath the instrument continued, and we took more calibration data. In preparation for

The EBEX team in the next building over spent most of the day doing tests on their instrument which involved it being out on the deck in front of their building. It's cool to see both EBEX and BLAST coming together--both experiments are significantly taller than Super-TIGER, and, since they require precision pointing for observations, look very scientific. Super-TIGER at this point, by contrast, with all the insulation layers on, looks like a giant shiny box.

On the way back into town we rode on Kress, the giant passenger transport vehicle that we first rode from the Sea Ice Runway to McMurdo after we arrived. Kress is relatively new, having only been in operation here one or two years, and is very spacious. For flat surfaces, it drives about as fast as the Terra Bus, if a little slower than a van or a Delta. The big issue is hills--right when the road we take to LDB passes by Scott Base, there's a pretty significant hill that needs to be climbed. The Terra Bus seems slow while going up, but Kress' top speed on the hill is 3 miles per hour. Surprisingly, slowly inching up the hill didn't slow us down too much, and we got back to McMurdo about ten minutes later than normal.

I'll try to add some photos later--the internet here is particularly slow today and keeps timing out every time I try to add a picture.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Condition 2: November 15, 2012

On Friday afternoon, we experienced our first weather that was bad enough to be classified as "Condition 2". In McMurdo parlance, "Condition 3" means pretty much normal weather, if not particularly nice. Officially, Condition 3 is defined as visibility greater than 1/4 of a mile, wind less than 48 knots (55 miles per hour) and a windchill of more than -75 F (-59 C). So, while we've had some less-than-great weather while we've been here, it hasn't been bad enough to be anything but Condition 3.

When we went outside at lunch time (beef tenderloin steaks. It's a harsh continent) Friday, though, the wind had really picked up. I don't think it was quite as high as 48 knots, but it was certainly something to deal with. In the afternoon, the LDB site and road leading to it were classified as being in Condition 2, along with the roads leading to the Sea Ice runway and Pegasus Field Airport. It actually didn't seem too bad on site, but the road didn't look good. We talked to Dan the lineman (who had come out to LDB a few other times) at dinner and he said that they had set out in our direction but had to turn back. By the time it was time to leave, though, things had calmed down considerably.

The big thing we were worried about when the Condition 2 was declared was the weather deteriorating into Condition 1. Condition 1 is bad. It means that we're getting sustained winds over 55 knots (63 mph), visibility of less than 100 feet (basically a whiteout) and/or a windchill of -100 F (-73 C). In a Condition 1, we're pretty much stuck where we are until things get better. Getting stranded out at LDB wouldn't be too bad--there are ropes to string between buildings and food in the galley--but nobody wanted to risk having to spend the night out here.

Other than the weather, Friday was pretty uneventful. I kept working on improving our quick-look software, Garry got to work on spare electronics, the insulation kept being installed on the bottom and we took more calibration data. There was movie trivia at Gallagher's that a few of us went to and did very poorly.  Things are going pretty well, so hopefully we'll keep being basically on schedule.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Solar Panel Testing and more about life in McMurdo: November 15, 2012

After being away for two days, returning to the payload building at LDB was a bit of a change. Several more of the BLAST crew had arrived, including a professor I took a few classes with as an undergrad. The BLAST Gondola was set up and the instrument seemed to be taking shape.

On the Super-TIGER side of things, the blue foam insulation, black plastic, and mylar layering looked complete for both of our instrument modules. Frank, Dana, Sean, and Thomas spent the day working on the blue foam insulation for the bottom of the instrument, which until now had stayed exposed. I spent most of the day working on some software I had come up with back in August. Then, the focus was on getting something useable; now, I'm making sure it still works (which it eventually did) and making sure that the information that it extracts out of the data looks good. This isn't data analysis software or anything exciting, but it does tell us what various settings have been set to on our instrument and helps us monitor things.

Garry, Dana, and Richard also went out to test the solar panels. Both banks of three panels each were outputting about 290 Watts, a pretty sizable increase from the amount they were outputting when we had tested them in Texas in July. Since the entire instrument should only need around 250 Watts, we should have more than enough power during flight.

I've gotten some questions from a couple of people about more general things about Antarctica and McMurdo, so I figured I'd go through some of that now. McMurdo station itself is located on Ross Island, which, while not part of the Antarctic mainland, is connected by the permanent ice of the Ross Ice Shelf. Right now, there is the permanent ice of the ice shelf, which is mostly glacial ice, and seasonal sea ice, that will melt at some point in the next couple of months. The seasonal ice extends just past Scott Base, so McMurdo will have a harbor at some point while I'm here. The station currently has around 950 people--I forgot to check the bulletin board this morning for the exact figure.

McMurdo acts as the jumping off point for people headed all around the continent. People flying to the South Pole station normally spend a day or two (or more, if there are weather/mechanical problems) in McMurdo, and there are a variety of field camps that people will head out to. I've talked to people headed to field camps on Mount Erebus, which has a camp at 7000ft and at 11000ft and further out on the ice shelf, where they'll set up some seismic monitoring stations. There seem to be a lot of people that do seismic monitoring here--there are people looking to study the formation of the Antarctic mountains by evaluating seismic activity here, people working on monitoring stations that try to detect unauthorized nuclear testing around the world, and a few people looking at icequakes and the ice shelf itself.

McMurdo itself is relatively compact--the main buildings in the center of town aren't more than a few hundred feet away from each other. There are over 100 buildings in town, but most of the activity happens in a smaller fraction of them. Towards the outskirts of town there are storage areas and parking lots, where there are some pretty big fuel tanks, heavy equipment and other necessary stuff that isn't being used. There is a waste sorting facility, a water treatment plant, and a set of fuel generators. On the hill above town are three wind turbines, but they are used to power Scott Base.

Scott Base is run by Antarctica New Zealand, and has probably around a hundred people living in it. It's about two miles away on the road out to the LDB site, so we go by it every day. Thursday night a few of us went over again, since their store and bar have a different selection than the bars and store in McMurdo.

There are roads and hiking trails around McMurdo, and, for the most part, these are open to whoever wants to use them. Some of the longer trails or trails on sea ice require checking out with the Fire House and filing a hiking plan with them, so that if people get lost or miss their scheduled check in time, the search and rescue team can be mobilized to go get them. Beyond the marked trails and roads, though, we're not really allowed to wander. On some of the trails on land there are specially protected areas designated and experiments that can easily be disturbed by people wandering through them; otherwise, like near Scott Base, there may be buried or concealed power or fuel lines that they don't want people climbing over or stepping on. On the ice shelf and the sea ice, there is always the danger of Crevasses. These are holes in the ice that can be very deep, and can be covered by only a thin layer of ice and snow at the top, making them look just like any other part of the ice shelf. In the past, people have wandered off the marked trails and fallen into crevasses and been seriously injured, and in a couple cases ended up dying. Staying on the marked paths is all we're really allowed to do for now.

The population in McMurdo is a mix between scientists and support staff. I'm not sure what the percentages of each are, since dorms are assigned based on what kind of work you do, and just about everyone in my dorm works out at LDB or does some other type of science around the station. I would guess that the vast majority of the people down here are not scientists, or "grantees", but I don't know exactly how many there are. There was a "social" for scientists on Monday night that seemed to have around a hundred to a hundred and fifty people at it, but I'm not sure how many of them just showed up once they heard that there was free ice cream.

The LDB site is smaller, with probably no more than ten buildings (there are a few buildings built out of old shipping containers, but also a ton of old empty shipping containers, so I'm not sure which is which for some of them. Also, I don't know whether to count outhouses or not.). Super-TIGER is in the payload building on one end, with the other buildings (going in order of distance from us) being the other payload building (home to the EBEX experiment), the rigging shop (where the balloon riggers have all their equipment), the electronics building, the mechanical building/heated bathrooms, the generator building, the galley, and then an administrative building.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Happy Camper School! November 13 and 14, 2012

On Tuesday morning, John E, Sean, and I met at 8:15am in McMurdo's Science Support Center (SSC), a building that has some offices, meeting rooms, and a whole bunch of equipment in storage, including a garage full of snowmobiles. There, we signed in on a sheet and gathered with a bunch of other people for the beginning of our two day Field Safety Training Program Snow School ("Happy Camper School") course.

Our Happy Camper group consisted of twenty people from across McMurdo. There were the three of us from Super-TIGER, three scientists from the ARIANNA neutrino detection experiment further out on the Ross Ice Shelf, three seismologists, one of the station's doctors and the McMurdo physical therapist, a couple of Stewards, who handle galley and other cleaning work on station, a cook from the galley, a guy from Science Cargo, a work scheduler in the main contractors office and a few other people with various jobs around McMurdo. For some, Happy Camper school is required for work in the field; for others, it was a welcome diversion and a chance to get out of town and see the area.

We were greeted by our two instructors, Ben and Loomy. While not on the Ice, Ben works as a tour guide on Denali in Alaska, while Loomy works as a park ranger/mountain ranger. They had us all go around the room and tell everyone our names, where we were from, what we did in McMurdo, and what cold weather camping experience we'd had before.

Then we started the first lecture segment, which was about an hour on Risk Management. We went over a lot of the basics, including assessing hazards and finding plans to mitigate them, went through the official McMurdo station procedures for Risk Management, and evaluated a scenario that occurred around ten years ago and what could have been different.

We then got a talk on frostbite and hypothermia detection and prevention. Along with all of the warnings, there were some very graphic pictures of frostbite victims, including some taken of a Happy Camper participant just a few weeks ago. We also went over ways to stay warm out in the field, since this is an important part of surviving Antarctica.

Once we had finished up these talks, we loaded ourselves into a Delta (the instructors got a van to themselves) and were driven out to the main Happy Camper site. The ride out there took the same road as the one we use to get out to the LDB site every day for work, so while the scenery was now familiar to me, most of the group was amazed and tried their best to see out the windows and take it in. Once there, we organized our bags into a "cargo line" so they wouldn't be blown away in a strong wind, and headed in to the Instruction Hut, or I-Hut.

Inside, we ate a prepared lunch from the McMurdo galley--sandwiches, chips, cookies and candy bars--and settled in for a few more instructional points. Loomy showed us all how to use the stoves that we would be using and gave us all the relevant safety tips. Then we broke into groups of four and went outside to play with the stoves and get some practice lighting them up.

Back inside, Ben talked us through everything that was included in our "Sleep Kits" that we would all get for the night. There were two insulating sleep mats, a sleeping bag, and a fleece liner for the bag, with optional large "bear claw" mittens. We then headed to the "drying module" about 20 feet away.

The drying module is essentially a building that is kept what felt like 150 degrees F, and is used to dry out equipment that has gotten wet from the snow. There, we had to organize ourselves and get everyone a sleep kit with the appropriately sized sleeping bag (regular, large or extra large). While some people stuffed bags with sleep pads, "bear claw" mitens, and fleece liners, I grabbed a sleeping bag for each person in the group based on the size they requested. We were able to get everyone a sleep kit (although one kit did not have the mittens. Naturally, this is the one I ended up with) and loaded them onto a sled to be towed out to our actual happy camper location.

Once the sleep kits were secure aboard the sled, which also had our stoves and two boxes of food, Ben and Loomy drove out about a quarter of a mile to a cluster of three small buildings. Everyone grabbed their bags of ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear and followed.

The three buildings were two outhouses and a storage locker that contained more equipment for our stay. Ben told us what we needed to bring, and then went with Loomy another hundred meters or so off into the ice shelf with the snowmobile and sled.

We piled everything we needed--two "Scott Tents", seven "Mountaineering Tents", poles for marking things in camp, pots and pans, tent stakes, saws, ice axes, shovels, and boards to keep our stoves level--onto four small sleds that were provided and dragged it all out to Ben and Loomy. Where they were was where we would make our camp.

Once everything was brought out and arranged so that it wouldn't blow away in a strong wind (not really an issue that day, which had almost perfect weather, but a good practice to get into), Loomy talked us through putting up the Scott Tents. The design of these tents hasn't changed in over a hundred years, when they were used by Scott and other early Antarctic explorers, but we were using modern versions with metal poles and modern fabric. Since Scott Tents are relatively easy to set up, and also very sturdy (Ben told a story about Scott Tents surviving a storm that sent snowmobiles flying through the air), they are the first thing to be set up and last to be taken down, so they can be used as an emergency shelter if needed.

Loomy also showed us how to anchor the tent in the snow, since stakes are not necessarily the most useful. This involves digging a hole, putting a stick of bamboo down at the bottom to tie a rope tied to the tent around, looping the rope around the bamboo, and filling the hole back in again. This allows the bamboo to pull on the packed ice, and uses the strength of the ice pack to hold the tent down. We got a chance to practice setting up and securing both Scott Tents before we got called over to the area where Ben had been working.

Ben had started digging what would become our Snow Quarry, and showed us how the ice was packed tight enough that you could cut a large brick out of snow with a saw, then pry it out with a shovel and move it over to the side or load it on the sled. Then he talked to us about building a snow wall to protect the camp from storms and showed us with flags where it should go, between the two Scott Tents.

Then, he told us to get to work building the wall and left us on our own for about an hour or so. I spent most of that time either sawing bricks out of snow, moving pre-sawed bricks onto sleds, or dragging the sled from the snow quarry over to the wall. We rotated jobs in and out pretty well, and got a good portion of the wall up, before Ben stopped us and started showing us how to set up the mountaineering tents.

These tents are pretty standard two-person tents, with the only difference between use here and anywhere else being that they, like the Scott Tents, need to be secured in the snow. Since there needed to be a spot in a tent for everyone in our group, all seven mountaineering tents needed to be set up. We split up into groups and started setting them up. Once they were up, but before all of them were fully secured, we got called over to where Loomy had been at work.

Loomy had dug a trench in the snow, our third option (after both types of tents) for sleeping that night. He showed us the technique of using the saw to extract large chunks of snow at a time, similar to the brick we had been cutting, and then how he had hollowed out a larger area in the snow on the bottom. He also showed us how to make a roof and the best way to orient things with respect to the wind.

We then went back to our snow quarry, which Ben had started quickly converting into a kitchen. Since we'd dug a pretty significant area out of the snow, it was a lower sheltered area that we could use for cooking. Ben and Loomy then gave us a list of what needed to be done before camp was complete--water boiled for dinner, snow wall completed, all tents secured, and everyone fed. Once stoves were started and water was heating up, they left our group and retreated to the I-hut for the night, leaving us on our own.

We broke down into smaller groups pretty quickly, with some people cooking with the stoves, some working on the snow wall, some securing the tents, and some, including me, cutting and transporting snow bricks. I spent the next couple of hours either sawing or moving snow bricks. It wasn't particularly hard work, but after a while it got pretty tiring.

Around 7:30pm, we had everything we needed for our camp to be complete. The snow wall was up, there was plenty of boiling water for dinner, and all the tents were secure. I staked out an area for my snow trench and then went to get something to eat.

 Dinner was packets of dehydrated food that we just poured boiling water into and waited for it to heat up. I had "Sierra Chicken", which was basically chicken and noodles. It wasn't particularly exciting, but it tasted good. There was also plenty of granola bars, hot drinks, chocolate bars, including special "Energy" bars.

After dinner, I got to work digging my trench. I initially dug it more than waist deep, but that was mostly so that I could use the snow that I took out while hollowing out the bottom to fill things back up to a constant level.

I dug a straight trench initially, then hollowed out an area at the end for my feet and started to widen things down below. I kept the top relatively narrow, in order to make it easier to build a roof, and left about a foot of packed snow at that width before narrowing things out down below. It took around three hours to dig the trench and get it narrowed out to the point where I felt like I could sleep in it. By then, I was exhausted, but still needed a roof. After playing around with a snow block roof like Loomy had shown us, I decided to just use a sled. I lay a bamboo flag pole across things and rested the sled on that, and then buried the sled in snow blocks to seal all the heat in.

In the meantime, John E and Sean had retired to a Scott Tent and were already asleep by the time I went in to retrieve my camera, dry socks, and other cold weather gear I needed for the night. 

Once my trench was more or less complete, I unpacked my sleep kit inside it. Things fit pretty well, so I filled my water bottle up with hot water, sealed it tightly, and threw it in the sleeping bag while I finished the "door" to my trench. Here, I just used a combination of the bag my sleep kit came in and my red USAP issued windbreaker to seal off what was left of the hole, secured down with blocks of snow. 

Sadly, no pictures exist from inside my trench. In the evening, I was focused on getting into my warm sleeping bag, and by the morning, my camera battery was unhappy about being cold and didn't work. I did get a series of photos of the view from my trench just before retreating inside it. 

I climbed into the trench and took off my "Big Red" parka and snow pants and changed into dry socks. This was by far the coldest part, and since my trench still wasn't very big, it was very cramped. Getting everything off and socks changed took a while, and this was the only point where I seriously questioned the life choices I had made up to that point. Once I got inside the sleeping bag and liner,  things warmed up considerably. I got myself situated, using my parka as a pillow, and was able to stay very warm, with the exception of the bits of my face that were out of the sleeping bag.

Throughout the night, I drifted in and out of sleep. I know I definitely fell asleep at some point, since I dreamed that it was time to wake up twice before it was actually true. I used my neckwarmer as a sleep mask, because it stayed bright. The "door" to my trench fell down at one point, and it snowed a little, but other than that, it was uneventful. I had enough space to roll over onto my side, but that was about it.

In the morning, I reluctantly got out of my warm sleeping bag and found my wind pants frozen solid. I slowly uncrumpled them and put them on over my thermals and fleece layer, hoping they'd thaw out quickly. My parka was also pretty well frozen, but I got that uncrumpled, fluffed out (the air in the down is what makes it insulating, we were reminded several times the day before) and, eventually, got my hand through both of the arms. I then had an oatmeal breakfast and we got to work taking down the camp.

In addition to taking down all the tents, all the trenches had to be filled back in. We piled snow back into all of the trenches (I think at least nine of us opted for the trench), filled in part of the kitchen and snow quarry, tore down the wall, and packed everything back into the storage container. Ben and Loomy stopped by at 8:30am to bring us back to the I-hut for more instruction.

In the morning, Loomy gave us a lecture on how to use both the local VHF (Very High Frequency) and long-range HF (high-frequency) radios. We then went outside, strung up the HF radio antennae, and attempted to contact the outside world. Our group got everything hooked up, but didn't get a response from McMurdo Operations. After about five minutes, Ben figured that they must just be busy and brought us back inside. Ben went through the contents of "survival bags", designed to keep two people alive for three days, and gave us some helpful tips if we ever needed to use them. 

At this point, we were split into two groups for scenarios. Sean and I were with Ben, while John E was out in Loomy's group. Inside, Ben explained the first scenario--a whiteout and a missing team member. This was when we got to try to walk outside with buckets on our heads, simulating whiteout conditions. Since basically you can't see anything but white, it's easy to get disoriented, and our team, which was trying to walk straight with a rope between us, ended up making a circle about 20 feet in diameter. We didn't even make it to the first flag, a mere 10 feet from the door, before we got off track. It was not our finest moment.

Then, we switched places with Loomy's group for the second scenario. This involved a "burning vehicle", where ten of us suddenly found ourselves out on the ice shelf with nothing but a survival bag and HF radio in under 20 minutes. We had to set up a shelter, boil water, build a snow wall to shelter the camp, and set up the HF radio and call for help. Sean and I got to work on the radio, and we were able to radio in for "help" from Ben. We then got to work helping the rest of the camp, including one member of our party showing (fake) signs of hypothermia and radioed back with an update on our condition as a group. This scenario we did very well on, and got everything but the snow wall done quickly.

We finished things out at the I-hut early, so we cleaned up and sat around for a while waiting for our ride back to town. Once the van for the instructors and the Delta for us got there, we piled in and headed back to town.

At this point, the weather was getting worse, with snow coming down and the wind blowing reducing visibility. The van Ben and Loomy went on an unmaintained portion of the road to get around some heavy equipment, and got stuck in the snow. Our Delta was a few minutes behind them, so we sat around (laughing a little bit at them, since everyone was fine) while their van broke two 5000-pound tow cables before finally getting dragged out of the snow. Ben hopped in the Delta with us and we took off back to town.
Back in the Science Support Center, we filled the food boxes up for the next Happy Camper School and watched a short video on helicopter safety (spoiler: stay away from the rotors). Once that was done, Happy Camper school was complete, and we were free to go take a hot shower.

After showering, I met up with the rest of the Super-TIGER crew for dinner, but then basically went straight to bed. I was exhausted from a fun but tiring two days of Happy Camper School and slept very well.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Monday, November 12, 2012

Just a quick update today, and then no update tomorrow, before a likely very long one on Wednesday when I return from snow school.

Monday morning, shortly after arriving at work, I got an email informing Kenichi and I that we would have a new third roommate waiting for us when we got back to town, but that he was only expected to stay a week. We returned to find another set of stuff in the room, but I haven't actually met him yet.

Today the blue foam insulation box for the second module got taken off and Frank, Sean and Dana started putting black plastic and mylar on it. We did more calibration runs, this time trying to see how much sources of electronic noise screwed things up. Richard moved the antennas around, ran the instrument on batteries and tried a few other things so we can see how much effect it all had. Tonight in McMurdo there's an event just for the scientists in town that I'll head over to in a little bit.

I also got an email telling me what I need to bring to snow school tomorrow--basically, every piece of warm clothing they issued me. Apparently we'll be inside for a couple of hours and then outside for the rest of the day/night. It's going to be cold, but hopefully it'll be interesting. I'll post a long post detailing what all we went through when I get back.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

After an early start Sunday morning*, we rode in a Delta out to LDB, just like last Sunday. This time it didn't seem nearly as cold--maybe it was actually warmer or maybe I'm just getting used to the cold. It feels kind of repetitive, but we continued on with our work of calibrating the instrument (JohnE and I worked on where to set our high voltages most of the day) and preparing the thermal insulation layer.

The outermost layer of our thermal insulation is, as I mentioned yesterday, a layer of thin aluminized mylar.  Dana, Sean and Frank spent most of the day working on this, and got things finished for one module. This will reflect a large amount of the heat and light from the sun, making sure that we keep the instrument at the temperatures we want during flight.

It also makes the payload shiny.

We very much appreciate the flexibility of our BLAST colleagues for letting us use some of their precious payload building space to finish the mylar layer.

In the afternoon, we had our first bit of interesting weather. The sky got overcast and the wind picked up and the visibility got pretty bad, but we still did not get an official change from "Condition 3", which means that it was still considered safe to go outside. It certainly looked ominous, but ended up clearing up again before it was time to go back to McMurdo.

Every Sunday night in the cafeteria in McMurdo there is a talk by a scientist on station on the work that they are doing down here. This week, we heard from a member of the WISSARD project. They will be drilling down into a sub-glacial lake below the Antarctic Ice Sheet to study the water and area deep underneath the ice sheet. They have to drill down through over 3 kilometers of ice, and will be testing their drilling equipment out near the LDB site in the next several weeks. While there is a team of Russian scientists attempting similar science out at Lake Vostok (which is the size of Lake Ontario, but under ~3700 meters of ice), and they've gotten a lot of attention, but this project is going to be happening on another lake, which is closer to McMurdo and near the route taken by the South Pole Traverse team, which drives fuel and other supplies down to the South Pole station.

*I got up early to watch my alma mater, Northwestern, find another new and exciting way to lose a football game despite being ahead in the final seconds. I probably should have just stayed asleep.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Saturday morning we started another calibration run with our instrument. This time, we used slightly different settings (that I'd been working on on Friday) for calibration to try to make our data analysis and other work easier. We collected data for most of the day, and kept working on our analysis software.

Meanwhile, Dana, Frank, and Sean continued working on our thermal insulation layer. In addition to the blue foam layer and black plastic, there is an extra layer of thin reflective mylar. They got started on the mylar layer Saturday. We also were able to get ahold of some glue from town for the insulating layers, which was nice because the stuff we had shipped down got frozen solid and didn't work too well after that.

Garry and Richard got out our solar PV (photovoltaic) panels that will power Super-TIGER during flight. They took a close look to make sure that they hadn't been damaged during shipping, and then put them back in the box so they wouldn't get broken.

Saturday morning I also found out my schedule for Happy Camper School. Happy Camper School is the snow survival school that people going to outlying field camps are required to complete. Since I'm the backup for the Super-TIGER recovery, I get to go. Years ago, even working out at Willy Field required snow school, but this changed a few years ago. John E, Sean, and I will go Tuesday and Wednesday, spending Tuesday night out on the ice shelf. Thomas will also go for a quick refresher course on Tuesday. I'll have a lot more about snow school once it actually happens.

We got another taste of what life used to be like at LDB when the new, heated, bathrooms broke down and we all had to use the "long drops", outhouses that go to a hole drilled down into the ice. Luckily, a plumber came out from McMurdo basically right away and got things fixed.

In the afternoon, there was a weird optical illusion where the Royal Society Range, a range of mountains we can see from LDB, seemed to almost double in height. It was pretty impressive.

Otherwise, Saturday was pretty unexciting. I finally reached the point where it was time to do laundry, so I took advantage of the fact that my room is across the hall from the laundry room Saturday night.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Installing the antenna boom and the people of McMurdo

Friday, work at Willy Field proceeded as usual. I kept working on the settings we would need to match up our detector outputs (so the same input=same output). Frank, Dana, and Sean continued working on the foam insulation. After the insulation, there will be a layer of black plastic wrapped around everything (also part of the thermal protection), so they started working on that. This also meant that the blue foam box had to be taken off temporarily.

After lunch (Cornish Game Hen. It's a harsh continent.), we had a visit from Dan the lineman, who works on the power lines in and around McMurdo. He had ended up talking with Thomas and Frank at breakfast, and was out at LDB anyways, so he came to check out our instrument. I gave the typical talk and we talked for a long while. Apparently there are several poles near McMurdo that are tall enough that the bucket truck they have wouldn't be able to reach them, so Dan got fitted for gear to climb them (like they used to do back in the day) manually. 

Another major part of the Super-TIGER payload, the antenna boom, was added Friday as well. In the picture above, you can see a white beam going across the back of the instrument. This is the support system for the various antennae that we will use during flight to send data down and commands up to the instrument.

At the end of the day, Ivan the Terra Bus was a mere 5 minutes early, rather than the usual 10, so most of the Willy Field crew waited out for the bus to arrive (nobody wants to miss the bus, so it's always better to be early!). 

At dinner in McMurdo (Prime Rib. It's a harsh continent.) most of the team ended up sitting with Tom, who works in Preventative Maintenance. He's been coming down to McMurdo since 2000, and now is at the point where he spends 6 months here and is "semi-retired" the rest of the time in Wyoming. He had a lot of interesting things to say, including stories of when the windchill reached -102 F in October a few years ago. He works primarily on the boilers and furnaces around town, which apparently are run on Jet Fuel nowadays. Apparently this is efficient, but doesn't quite get as much heat as they would like, so some fine-tuning is required.

Friday night Richard, Sean, John E, Thomas and I went to Antarctic Trivia at Gallagher's in McMurdo. There, we met a British guy called Suna who ended up joining our team. He knew a lot about the early Antarctic explorers, which helped us start out well.  He had been to Antarctica just once before, but had spent a year and a half working with the British down here to set up various field camps, and was about to depart for Mount Erebus, where he'll be the Camp Manager this year. Apparently, there are two camps on Mount Erebus--one at 7000ft, where people go to spend a few days getting acclimated to the altitude, and another at 11000ft, near the summit. Apparently they take a helicopter up to the first camp, and he told us about how he'd gotten to take a helicopter over the active lava lake on the top of the mountain just the other day. We see Erebus every time we go outside at LDB, and the amount of steam coming out of it seams to vary, but the output is constant--it's only the atmospheric interactions that we're seeing down on the ice shelf. 

In the end, our team ended up a respectable-but-disappointing 4th place out of around 12 teams (we did, however, beat the team from EBEX, another balloon-borne experiment in the building next to ours at LDB, with 26 points to their 11). We also learned a lot about Antarctica (the first mass-produced consumer vehicle driven on the continent was a VW Beetle), the local wildlife (the largest entirely terrestrial animal on the continent is a wingless fly), and McMurdo (Jello Wrestling is not allowed. It doesn't matter why, it just isn't). 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Thursday, when we arrived at Willy Field, Mount Erebus had a particularly striking amount of steam coming out of it. This is what I always assumed that volcanoes looked like:

 Inside, we continued more or less as we have been doing the last couple of days. I was working on the bookkeeping of our master spreadsheet of detector information and also organizing a whole bunch of gain curves. Our Photomultiplier Tubes (PMTs) operate at high voltages. Essentially, these are small detectors that see light and output an electrical signal that tells us how much light they saw. If you increase the high voltage, you get a higher signal out of the tube. Since each tube is slightly different, way back in 2010 we did some tests to see how much the output changes with a change in voltage. This information is what I was organizing. Eventually, we will try to match all of our hodoscope (and other) tubes so that they all output roughly the same amount of signal when hit with the same amount of light.

Data analysis of our muon runs continued, as did the work on our insulation layer. At one point we took off the blue foam insulation from half the instrument so we could get some work done on it:

We also met another couple of BLAST scientists that have started working in our building. Things are a little cramped, but so far so good on that.  A few of us also went over to Scott Base for American Night again, but it wasn't too exciting. Next time I'll have to remember to bring my passport to get it stamped from an official NZ Antarctica stamp.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Election Night! And SIP Installation!

Unlike most normal people, I get really excited whenever election season comes around. In preparation for the results coming in, I drew a couple of maps of the United States that I could use to fill in as the results came in.
For most of the morning, Dana, Frank, Sean, Garry and Drew worked at installing the SIP (Support Instrument Package) on the Super-TIGER gondola underneath the modules. This system interfaces with the antenna system and flight computers so that data gets sent down (via multiple different data links) and commands can get sent up to the instrument during flight. Since we already had the SIP underneath the gondola from the other day, installing it was a matter of climbing into very cramped quarters underneath the instrument, lifting the SIP up with lifting jacks and screwing it to the mounts that were prepared.
Richard and Drew spent most of the afternoon testing the various commands that can be sent from the ground here at LDB to the SIP, making sure that the links all worked. Frank, Sean and Dana also continued to work on the blue foam insulation layer.
Meanwhile, results were starting to pour in. As each state was called, I marked it off on my handmade map. NBC and ABC were nice enough to call the presidential race just as I was walking out of the door to the bus. After dinner, I was able to catch the end of Governor Romney's speech and then all of President Obama's. It was especially nice to be on McMurdo time, where the speeches ended around 8pm, as opposed to St. Louis time, where things would have ended around 1am.

We moved!

Hey everyone,

We moved our blogs over here! It's the same awesome news from down on the Ice, but in a different spot! Enjoy!