Rockets and a lot of Red Glares (part 4)

My patient Peakers, I promise the end is in sight. Episode Four is bringing us nearly to the end of Hopefully Not a Waste in Space. For those of you who are joining us for the first time, I beg you—nay I beseech you–to unite with your fellow readers in space exploration anxiety and find out what the hell I’m talking about, as only by reading Episode One, Episode Two, and Episode Three will you bask in the full-fledged experience of this tale.

Or … I can summarize:

Daughter has massive senior project (Project SkyHAB – sky high altitude balloon).

Daughter chooses to launch a balloon the size of Rhode Island into space to see if she can make science happen in something called a Cloud Chamber. Cloud Chamber actually looks like a piece of stolen Tupperware from my pantry.

Costly cameras and GPS units are accompanying THE PAYLOAD. No one at Mission Control is clear on what THE PAYLOAD contains, but it must be retrieved or the world will end as we know it.

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A well-crafted, highly skilled team is assembled on launch day for lift off on site in central Virginia and a half-assed team (including two very sane, last minute volunteers) is cobbled together at HQ.

Launch team is in charge of … launch.

Half-assed team is in charge of GPS tracking the balloon and THE PAYLOAD via the computer, the occasional bit of laundry, and creating a giant ice sculpture on the front lawn that spells out WELCOME NASA.

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Launch is a success. Balloon becomes itty bitty dot in the firmament. Tracking team is befuddled with screens across Virginia that report nothing to track.

All teams feel failure as they have never felt before. Lead scientist is catatonic with grief.

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Four hours later the balloon comes crashing down to Earth and rises from the dead on radar.

The lead scientist and HQ are unhinged with happiness.

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The lead scientist and HQ then realize that the balloon has landed in a body of water made by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries specifically to obliterate the advancement of space knowledge directed by hopeful teenage researchers.

 

And now … the rest of the story.

Recovery of any launch is probably just as harrowing as the launch itself, as we came to realize. And constructing a recovery team after having exhausted the list of folks we knew who could help in the building phase, the launch phase, and the expensive therapy phase, we were left with three and one half units of aid:

The chief scientist (daughter)

Mission Control team specialist (me)

Technical support (Google Earth)

And some scary redneck dude who might be a serial killer.

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Not as impressive as we’d hoped, but it was better than a sharp stick in the eye—although a sharp stick in the eye may be a pleasurable alternative to that serial killer fella. We did not tarry.

On the road in her tiny VW bug, my daughter drove and I navigated—again from my chair at HQ while consulting with technical support. SkyHAB had purportedly gone down somewhere in the middle of 740 acres of the Sandy River Reservoir. We were going to get her as close to it as possible, but it looked like that might require a team of lumberjacks and a VW that could transmogrify itself into a pontoon.

Once I had remotely piloted her vehicle to the end of all paved roadage, the rest of the journey was to be traversed on foot. We were connected via smart phones, but the transmissions were not unlike those of the United States’ first mission to the moon. We lost contact repeatedly and found binoculars to be insufficient paraphernalia for reading hand gestures from that distance.

“Alrighty, Google Earth says you need to move southwest with a heading of 238°. Don’t forget to lock your car. And take a bottle of water. And find a stick.” This was as high tech as we could get.

“Hold on, Mom. Some guy is coming toward me.” (Insert muffled voice and …) “Nope, I’m not lost … uh … (muffled voice) okay, sure.”  (Sound of tiny rover engine coming to life.) “Apparently, I can’t park here.”

“What?” I say, looking at the earth map. “It’s a dead end dirt road. What are you blocking?”

“Whatever.” (Rover rumbles to new spot. Car door slams. Sounds of footfalls through underbrush and forest.)

“Chloe?”

“He’s still watching me.”

“He’s what?”

“Oh brother—hold on.” (Sounds of cracking sticks, muffled forestry, and running footfalls. Silence.)

A minute ticks by. Two. (HQ’s clock ticks grow louder and morbid.) Is he speaking to her? Has he captured her and thrown her in the back of his pickup truck? Will I never see the chief scientist again? “Hey, kiddo? Chloe? CHLOE!!”

(Strangled, obscure sounds.) “Chill, Mom. I had to pee. How much farther do I have to go to get to the edge of the reservoir?”

(HQ breathes sigh of relief.) “About a mile and a half, and tech support reports it’s all uphill. Is the guy still around? Maybe you ought to come back with a team of friends. And all my kitchen knives.”

“Yeah, there is no way I can get through this underbrush. We may have to find someone with a boat.” The chief scientist muscles through the forest back to her car. “Crap! There he is.”

“What? Chloe, get in your car!”

“F**K! He’s running over here!”

“Hurry up! Get in your car! And watch your damn language!”

“I’m in it—I’m in it!”

(Sound of little rover rumbling to life and gravel spray.)

“Chloe??”

(click)

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Oh my godfathers. I panic and look on Google Earth to see if I can spot my daughter and this potential child abductor. And remember that Google Earth images are not in real time. Great. In about three hours I will know what tragedy befell my child.

And in about one week, so will you.

~Shelley

July Gotta Have a Gott winner

In January, Rob and I announced that his sketches will be available toward the end of the year in the form of a 2015 calendar! And our readers would get to be the judges and voters for which doodles they’d like to see selected for each month. We’ll reveal the winners one by one, and come November, If you’ve Gotta have a GOTT, you can place your order. Jump on over to see the cartoon winner for July!

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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Rockets and a lot of Red Glares (part 2)

I couldn’t sleep last night. In my head, all I could think about was that tomorrow was Launch Day—the culminating event of a two week, end of high school senior project my eighteen-year old daughter was tackling. The title of the adventure was Project SkyHAB (for Sky High Altitude Balloon). But I referred to it fondly as One Teenager’s Dream to Make it Rain in Space.

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In order to fully understand the impossibility of success for this operation, you must catch up. Read this. It’s part one. The rest of us will wait while you’re gone. Hurry up.

Alrighty then, now that we’re all on the same page, it will not come as a surprise to find out I was assigned to be Head of Mission Control. That meant I would need to be glued to the monitor attached to my computer with no distractions like food or water, and maybe only the occasional gulp of air for the entire four-hour flight. I would need loose fitting clothing and a slickly greased swivel chair. It’s not as glamorous as it sounds. There is a bucketload of stress attached to the job, and I’m guessing at some point, someone may consider making a film about it.

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I heard my daughter leave for the launch site just before 5 am, and like most folks in charge of the less physical aspects of a job—particularly those in management—I went back to sleep for a couple of hours. She’d call if there was a snag. I was sure of it.

After a while, those of us who considered ourselves top brass rolled out of bed. The hound, the hellcat, and I all found some grub. One of us was supposed to purchase freeze dried astronaut food as a way of setting the mood and creating a scene, but didn’t. I glared at them both. This was going in the report.

We waited anxiously for the phone call that was to signal the start of the countdown, and bounced around from room to room keeping limber. We did laundry, washed some dishes, pulled a few weeds, and penned yet another lengthy epistle to Carl Sagan, who for some rude reason started ignoring my missives around 1996. I was hoping to Skype with him while the balloon was making its way spacebound.

Apparently, my personal Houston was not going to answer, so I’d have to go it solo. I wasn’t deterred. More donuts for me at the afterglow party once we’d achieved success.

Although I was told to hang tight for the T-minus 60 notification, my anxiety about the many hour delays compelled me to phone the launch site every 30 minutes for an update.

I heard explanations about faulty equipment, excuses that laid blame at the feet of a roll of duct tape, and a lot of foul language. It was a little like attending one of my daughter’s violin gigs.

Wanting to make sure I was totally up to date, I continually refreshed the website that broadcasted the GPS coordinates. It pinged the same longitude and latitude for hours on end. I decided I should be prepared with backups in case of an unforeseen local blackout and a complete loss of power, a massive equipment failure with my desktop, or a solar flare incident that wiped out the one satellite dedicated to me and Project SkyHAB for today.

I called my dad and a friend.

I told them science depended upon their willing participation and announced they would get credit in the report write up sent to NASA.

My dad bargained for a nap mid-afternoon.

I told him this would affect his performance evaluation in the report.

He told me that either he got the nap, or I could go fly a kite.

I reminded him that this was A BALLOON.

There was some terse language about a union, and a reminder that he knew people who worked at the local Pennysaver, so I finally gave in and agreed to the nap. Bad press is not gonna happen on my watch.

At precisely 12:43 pm—or something close to it—I received the much anticipated phone call. My head was in the fridge. I was cleaning chocolate milk off the shelves.

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“WE’VE LAUNCHED!”

“Wait—what?? Where’s the countdown? There was supposed to be a countdown. And I needed to have my people on standby. How could you have already launched when I—”

“MOTHER! ARE YOU TRACKING THE COORDINATES? WHERE IS MY BALLOON?!!”

“Hold on a sec.” I raced to my super slickly greased wheelie chair and tried to get my computer to wake up from sleep mode. It was obviously over-tired from the taxing morning work of refreshing the GPS site and refused to be roused.

“MOTHER?!!”

“Yep, yep … yep, hold on a sec, I’m checking.”

“MOTHER! WHERE IS MY BALLOON!”

The computer screen flared to life. The coordinates flashed in front of me. My heart seized up and stopped beating. “Huh … how bout that.”

“WHAT?”

“It appears your balloon is still at the launch site.”

“NO IT ISN’T!!”

“Says so right here.”

I heard the phone drop and the distant voice of my daughter shouting, “Come back! Wait … come back, baby!”

You want to know what happened next? I’ll bet you do. Let me just say this: it involves a gun, a team of humiliated London policemen and Benedict Cumberbatch. No wait … that’s the contents of the next Sherlock episode I’m about to watch. Sorry.

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Come back next week for the next installment of Hopefully Not a Waste in Space.

~Shelley

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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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 CheapLiquor.com 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 …

~Shelley

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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