Rockets and a lot of Red Glares (part 1)

The last two weeks have been a flurry of foam, duct tape, soldering irons, steel wool, motherboards, electrical wire, miniature GPS devices, itsy bitsy video cameras, and big tubs of Ben & Jerry’s strewn about the kitchen counter.

The place is a tip.

It looks like a small Chinese manufacturing plant exploded inside my house.

In reality, my eighteen-year old daughter is nearing completion of her last high school project. For days, she has been walking around with welding glasses perched atop her head, a phone to ‘tech support’ glued to her ear, and a t-shirt that says Stand back. I’m about to try science, hanging from her small frame.

Empty packages from Amazon, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and litter the floor—wait … no, that last one is for my project. A massive, torpedo-shaped, blue helium tank that could pass as a NASA test rocket reject stands proudly upright on my front porch and has scared multiple package delivery men sufficiently to phone me from inside their trucks to make sure it was okay to ring the doorbell.

I tell them it’s always a gamble, tank or not.

Currently, this is Launch Day.

130714launch (800x447)

The item to be launched requires descriptive word prowess that does not fall within my wheelhouse. But I’ll give it a whirl. Imagine the balloon that the Wizard of Oz floats beneath when he ditches the whole gang at the send off party. Now picture the “people holding” basket beneath it. But our basket is not so much a basket as it is a lunchbox. But instead of lunch, it carries a tracking device, two Lilliputian-sized video cameras, battery packs that would put an electronics store to shame, allegedly a computer–but it looks to me like a small bomb, and enough compressed foam to make three king-sized mattresses.

I tried slipping in a package of honey-roasted peanuts for in flight snacking, but my hand was slapped away. Like there was room for it anyway.

On top of the basket is a “cloud chamber.” Apparently, this is not where clouds gather to dress, sleep, or make a ruling on legal issues.

130714court (800x611)


But it is, roughly speaking, where they may relieve themselves. This involves sponges, alcohol and a Plexiglas box. To me this sounds like a frat party. To others, it is considered science. Go figure.

The basket is wrapped in blinding pink and zebra-striped duct tape. There is also a flashing red light that may lead folks to believe there is a small reindeer stuffed into the basket with just enough space for a nose hole.

130714rudolf (515x800)

All of this is what’s referred to as THE PAYLOAD.

It’s so official sounding. And since I have no idea what the payload actually does, I simply say it with enough emphasis and confidence when telling folks about it that they basically respond the same way I do: with wonderment and awe. Then I rush on to some other topic to save myself from any questions.

It’s been working fairly well, unless I find I’m speaking to a self-proclaimed science geek, in which case I usually then just shout, “Look! An eagle!” and run like hell in the opposite direction. It’s harder to pull that one off in line at the grocery store, but I just don’t have time to finesse my routine.

From what I’ve been told, THE PAYLOAD will be connected to a large balloon, and by large I mean the size of a small house. This floating piece of real estate will be in charge of lift. Especially if the blue tank is truly full of helium and not antediluvian rocket fuel. All together, the project has a snappy scientific name: SkyHAB (sky high altitude balloon).

My daughter, and an extensively interviewed group of volunteers (in total: one other guy who has nothing to do today), have set up the balloon launch site about 80 miles southwest of our house.

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They intend to release the balloon, track the balloon, and finally retrieve the balloon. Well, not so much the balloon as THE PAYLOAD. The balloon will eventually, somewhere around 100,000 feet, reach it’s “combustible threshold.” Boy, am I familiar with that unit of measurement. Then a parachute will—read should—deploy, and down will come cradle, Rudolph and all.

The GPS unit is supposed to allow the launch team the ability to track its whereabouts in order to eventually locate THE PAYLOAD and retrieve the valuable data about how frequently clouds need to use the loo. Or something equally as shocking.

130714relief (680x800)

As we are on the precipice of launching, I must set aside my essays, find myself an inked-stained pocket protector, and create some sort of headgear so that I will look official in my position of Chief Head Scratcher at Mission Control.

Stay tuned, Peakers. I shall return with part two of Hopefully Not a Waste in Space. In the meantime, as I sit tracking THE PAYLOAD via GPS, watch this space … no this space … no this space …


Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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73 thoughts on “Rockets and a lot of Red Glares (part 1)

  1. Oh my, I am not even all too far removed from my high school days and even I find most the project quite another world away! What fun memories though!! Cannot wait to find out how it goes!

    • It’s an amazing realization, Sasha, to step off that platform only for there to be this massive suction sound behind you where the world you just departed sealed shut. And you are now considered “an Outsider.” As I sit and listen to my teenagers, I am forever scratching my head. People must think I have lice.
      As far as the saga … BUCKLE UP. 😛

    • I think you nailed a key word here, my friend: anxious. I have been living with buckets of it because of this project. The results will be forthcoming. They’ll likely show up about the same time as my doctor’s recommended prescription of Prozac.

  2. Wow;this is exciting. It’s like an old time serial. “Flash Gordon and the Rudolph Wars”. Rudolph? Wasn’t that the name of the Evil Emperor? So that is what the Cloud is? Now I know where my Amazon tunes go. Best of luck to your daughter and her big Launch.

    • Yes, Benson, it is exciting–and nerve-wracking, but I won’t get ahead of myself. There is something delicious about those old time serials and sitting round the radio. And maybe you’re thinking of Ming the Merciless? Flash Gordon and the Mercy Wars?
      And no, – this cloud is not “The Cloud.” I’m guessing you were cracking a joke, but I can assure you, this would have been exactly the kind of question I would have asked with complete seriousness before this adventure began. I take that back. It’s STILL the kind of question I ask on a regular basis. ugh.

      • I was trying to be flip ( read “cute”) with the Rudolph v Ming reference. I never heard of the Mercy Wars, but you intrigued me. All I could find out about it was a Comic book reference. If you could tell me more all of Mongo would knell before you. Peace Out.

        • Well, I guess all the Mongolians will have pristine knees, as that was the limit of my knowledge there. But I’ll do my level best to see if maybe part of Indiana will eventually succumb. It’s a tall order, as folks of the Midwest have high standards for that which will have them lower their heads with allegiance. 😛

      • This was me as a child. Chemistry set at age 7. Unfortunately, I grew up during a time that did not encourage talented students and only looked at grades. .. Long story.
        I can’t wait to hear results! 🚀

        • It’s never too late! Go grab that chemistry set and make something explode. It might help to alleviate the residual frustration of being a smart woman who has yet unrecognized potential in the world of science. Look out, Marie Curie!

  3. The idea of a ‘cloud chamber’ tickles my fancy, shame you couldn’t pack any snacks for the ruling clouds. Am looking forward to result. I am also looking forward to using ‘look an eagle’ in any given situation where my lack of knowledge is about to become apparent. (Will try to save it for when I am outdoors…)

    • Yes, as part of this “scientific team,” my title is fairly hollow, and my duties to contribute are menial at best. Regardless, I participate.
      And I think you’ll fair a lot better than I with the whole eagle routine. I panic and spoil the possibility for an easy escape.
      Cheers, little Cheergerm! 😛

  4. I love the phrase ‘combustible threshold’ – I must try to remember it next time the kids are in charge of stacking the dishwasher.

    What a project, you sound so proud. Bemused, but proud. 🙂

    • Oh, the list of adjectives I could throw out, Laura! And they will become apparent as the saga continues.
      And yes, I think it’s amazing how science has unwittingly come up with a term that defines a well-known “parental modus.”

    • Thanks Alys, my fingers are crossed too. But I keep reminding her that oftentimes with great success comes great failure and great big bills that need to paid off from the multiple attempts. We shall persevere!

      • Perseverance is what science is all about, but you rarely hear about the price tag at the end, do you?

        It’s all a learning experience, isn’t it. My 14 year old thinks he could live on $100 a month, and I’m sure I thought the same way when I was young. Reality is over-rated, but what’s a person to do?

        • $100 a month? Good heavesn, it sadly wouldn’t be in this country, would it? Perhaps you can show him a map of some of the countries were it would be possible though. And a few pictures of the lovely mud hut and straw floor he may call home. You never know, it might appeal! 😛

  5. Brilliant Shelley! It’s a long way from my school attempts at making rockets from empty washing up liquid bottles and ice lolly sticks – hope they have whatever success they’re hoping for!? Will eagerly await part 2…! 🙂

    • Oh, those were the days. Innocent and ignorant–and blissfully so. No need to call the local airport to file a flight plan. 😛
      Thanks for your lovely comments, Jane. It’s always so wonderful to hear from my French modus vivendi doppelganger!

  6. I’m all ears waiting for the result, but for now we’ll keep my physical infirmities out of this shall we. How often does a cloud need he loo is a question asked by mankind for…Oooh, at least the last ten minutes. We could soon be enlightened.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx
    ps. I hope your own experimentation from went well.

    • Finally! Thank you, David for recognizing the equally important “co-project” that was working silently in the background and alongside the “most relevant” venture. Obviously, my daughter’s results may be scientific journal worthy, but I cringe at those who cast aside the caliber of merit from the deep study of distillation by homo sapiens. Up close and personal is preferable. Within the human body is a total bonus.
      xox squish xox

      • Yes, he became an engineer who designs computer power supplies. The ideal job! As to the rubber mats, no– we had no idea what to do in terms of safety measures. He assured us that the Tesla coil and his other equipment were quite harmless 😉 though I think he admitted later to having shocked himself several times…

  7. The sad part is I could totally relate to this post living with Husband, aka Mr Science, and his 2 male offspring. They talked endlessly in that foreign language called Science. I busied myself elsewhere so my brain wouldn’t hurt.
    The boys have grown and moved away but they still get together with their dad and talk science stuff. They would be all over an experiment like this one. Most recently, they were talking about sending out a drone with a camera on it.

    I can’t help but be curious by the end results. I must know how your daughter’s experiment went!! 🙂

    • Oh, Joanne, we are on the same planet. And thankfully speak the same language. It’s good to find one’s kin.
      And funny enough, I missed seeing the fireworks for the Fourth of July this year, but located a brilliant video of someone who put a drone up and filmed the New York City fireworks display from within the blaze. It was amazing!
      And do come back. Much more to reveal. 🙂

  8. What an entertaining read, Shelley! Special kudos to Rob. His cartoons always add so much to your posts, but this time, the combo of your words and his art provided many laugh out loud moments.

    Fingers crossed for a successful launch, flight and intact return to earth of the PAYLOAD. 🙂

  9. Best of luck to your daughter, Shelley! Sounds like a very cool (if nerve-wracking) project. And I love, love, love the Rudolph reference! I am in envy of your writing. 🙂

    • Well one must tip one’s hat where it is necessary. I must say that with sites like yours in particular, Sue, you make writing clearly and concisely a helluva lot easier–and working on grammar has never been more entertaining. I think that’s a pretty enviable talent–and certainly one I don’t have.
      Thank you for the good wishes. The project moves forward–or upward. 😛

    • Well firstly, I have been in touch with NASA countless times, that is, up until the restraining order came through. So yes, technically, they “know” about us.
      Secondly, having been a pilot, I’m aware of just how fractious a flight can become if you come upon something floating in front of you that was not on a NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) and feel that if you’re going to be sending something up around 100,000 feet, you’ll surely catch the eye of a passing plane and a snoozing pilot. Best to let them know beforehand–for the benefit of passengers and project.
      And lastly, I love running into writer blogs and truly look forward to enjoying yours. Cheers!

  10. I’m so glad that Chloe’s fantastic project has come to fruition! Despite the foam, duct tape, and GPS devices taking over your house, I know you must be incredibly proud of her. The fanciest science project we tackled in my house was when my sister made a replica of an active volcano. (My sister is now a biochemist, and I’m going to have to buy one of those shirts for her!) As usual, your post had me in stitches, Shelley. (You missed your calling as a sitcom writer, I do believe.) I love the way your mind works, imagining the flashing red light as Rudolph’s glowing red nose. Tell Chloe I love the project’s name, and I wish I could have seen the launch! I can’t wait to read about how it went.

    • Yes! At last news about the Indiegogo project–which could not have taken place without the generous donations from you and several others. Talk about gratitude. I’m thinking that if you can’t actually physically be here for the launching and retrieving, then the least I can do is verbally take you along for the ride, although we all might have a serious case of writer/reader vertigo by the end of it.
      And I remember watching an episode of the Brady Bunch and seeing that fantastic volcano spitting out clay over all the prissy girls. Best episode ever.
      And I always do a little dance of joy when I hear of another woman in science. You must be pretty chuffed about your sister, too.
      Thanks, Miranda, for all your lovely comments. I have a special file for my favorite ones, and … your name is all over it. 🙂

  11. Oh, and the picture up there of your dog wearing the hat? Well, it made my heart melt into a puddle inside my chest.

  12. Wow, can’t wait for the next episode, sounds like anxious fun!! I hope she got permission to launch from NASA. Keeping my fingers crossed 🙂

    • We’re still waiting on all the official paperwork to come through, and since the school has some pretty strict deadline rules for graduating, I figured we might just sneak it under the radar–or around the radar. Well, let’s put it this way, I’m sure we showed up on somebody’s radar, but thus far, no one is banging down our door. Whew.
      Stay tuned!

  13. well, you don’t ned nor especially want to be told, i’m (sumwhut) sure — that you take this event, this experience, and it’s like you make a big ball of string, interesting strings, strings every which way, wrapped together, a big fun package. fun stuff !

  14. Hi Shelley,
    Loving this story! Your writing style is wonderful. Love Rob’s cartoons too!
    While reading I got that song from “Weird Science” playing in my head and now it won’t stop. Thanks for that! 😉

    When I was a kid (yes, back in the ‘stone(d)-age-days’–1960’s, I was a model rocket hobbyist. Summer of ’69 I sent three tiny frogs into space (actually probably only about a thousand feet, but it’s all relative when you’re a frog, eh?). I had named them of course: ‘Moe Armstrong’, ‘Larry Buzzed Aldrin’, and ‘Curly Conrad’.

    “That’s one small jump for a frog…”

    Oh, and don’t worry: they parachuted safely back to Earth, which in their case was my Grandparents farm in Winnsboro, Texas. They didn’t get a call from Nixon, but I did give them a parade of sorts. I ‘paraded’ them back down to the pond and set them free. Quite certain they had some tales to tell the pollywogs for the rest of their froggy lives.

    Cheers My Friend, always a pleasure to read your stories.

    • Lance, you seriously have the greatest adventures! So glad to hear those croakers didn’t croak. And I can only imagine what else has been strapped to small rockets, your bike or the roof of your car all in the name of science. Ha!
      And sorry about Oingo Boingo on repeat, but there are a ton of worse earworms. How bout I help you out for a little variety and just write the words, WHO LET THE DOGS OUT?
      You’re welcome.

  15. Waiting anxiously for the results of the awesome project. Seems like you are having quite a fun time in your kitchen and yard. Lets hope everything goes very well and the results are amazing. Good luck to your daughter. Take care and God bless.

    • Oh, yes, Samina, I’m waiting anxiously for the results too. The anxiety around here is so thick you could spread it on toast at the moment. Thanks for the well wishes and fingers crossed!

  16. Your daughter has an amazing senior project. That’s so awesome! And I loved your descriptions. I’d be like you in that case, sort of half shrugging, half pretending I belong there, saying those words. 😉 Hope the launch went well!

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