Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Butter BABI Putty Pumpers: Totally Gratuitous Inside Jokes

Some snippets of the trip that most people won't care about that I don't want to forget:

1. Mr. Ding-a-ling's Ice Cream Truck

2. Getting in and out of the Adventuremobile in six simple steps:
     1. I open the door and get in.
     2. I lean over and let Dan in. (Sometimes with only moderate success.)
     3. Try to start the car once.
     4. Try to start the car twice.
     5. Roll down the back windows.
     6. Noah unlocks the door and gets it.

Repeat 50 million times.

3. When the pump wasn't wired right and it was like a game of Operation to deal with it. Bzzzzz! Bzz.

4. When Putty wasn't cooperating in the middle of the night and giving us readings like, "PUFFFFFF."

5. Dan hammering while we were on speakerphone with Dan.

6. The surreal experience (from start to finish) of being at NASA and using butter packets from the cafeteria to clean the adhesive off of a peanut butter jar. The metabutterness of it all.

7. This clock:

8. Listening to Hatebreed.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Space GOAT, Coat to Coat

This week we finally went to mini-integration at Goddard Spaceflight Center. The trip flew by and even though we didn't hit all of our goals we learned a lot.

Before I get into the details of the trip, I'd like to thank Paul Mirel, Samelys, and the PIPER team for hosting us and taking time out of their schedules to show us around. I'd also like to thank them for letting us take over their workspace. It was marvelous to feel so at home.

Thanks also to everyone who donated to our GoFundMe to make this trip possible. We could not have done this without your support and you made a few dreams come true for these students. I wish I could bottle their excitement and send it to you!

We left Durham bright and midday on Sunday and piled all of the gear into the Adventuremobile. The Adventuremobile, though convenient for transporting large amounts of people and gear, does not possess what one would call, "ice cold" AC. It's also a bit cumbersome to drive. It does not coast. You are either accelerating or decelerating. Sooo seven hours in the car doesn't just fly by. We were happy when we arrived and were able to check into our swanky hotel and turn the air conditioning down to 293 Kelvin.

Monday morning the whole crew was buzzing with excitement as we ate breakfast and drove to Goddard to pick up visitor badges. 

When we arrived, Paul gave us a safety briefing and we unloaded the gear into our home away from home.

We were so happy to finally be at Mini!

Jimmy showed us all of the cool toys that the lab had to offer and we did a little bit of work.

Paul gave us an overview of PIPER and the students later told me that they were surprised and pleased to have understood so much. Experiences like this visit are so important for developing a sense of how the knowledge they gain from text books and classrooms can apply to the real world. We spent some time reflecting about "imposter syndrome" and how intimidating it can be to work at a place like NASA. Paul did a great job of letting them see how accessible NASA is as a career.

After a delicious lunch in the cafeteria we had a chance to tour Building Seven. Building Seven houses a lot of the incredibly cool testing equipment. After months of testing in our makeshift lab it was impressive to see the resources available to the professionals. 

Do you see all of these big smiles?

These team shirts make me all kinds of happy. 

After we left Building Seven, it was time for the Space Tourism to be over and to get to work. We made a list of all of the tasks we hoped to accomplish over the week. It was an ambitious list.

Jimmy and Ryan were excited to get a look at the GOAT and see how much it had changed over the past month while they had been gone. 

After we finished up for the day, part of the crew left Goddard to go to visit Ryan at NASA Headquarters in a different part of DC. They visited museums and stole a lot of books. (It'd be cool if one of them would write a post about that.)

Tuesday we got to work starting all of the tasks that would...just take an hour...to get everything ready for testing. They did not take just an hour. They never do. If I had a dollar for every time someone said, "This should just take twenty minutes," I still wouldn't have that much money but I'd probably feel a lot better about things. Paul says the best advice that he's heard is to take the amount of time you think something we'll take and multiply it by pi. 

We had a few issues on Tuesday. Tuesday was not one of our better days.

At one point Paul and Jimmy asked me if I thought the trip was a success. This is hard to qualify. It was a great trip! We had so much fun and it was a fantastic opportunity. We enjoyed every second to the fullest. However, and it's difficult to describe, but Dan, Noah and I were also very disappointed with how everything turned out. We've been working so hard for months to make sure that everything was perfectly ready to go for this trip and then it wasn't. We did the best we could. I wouldn't/couldn't change a thing about anyone's performance. That said, things didn't turn out the way we planned and we weren't able to have the marathon battery of tests we'd hoped for.

Wednesday we came in even earlier and got to work because it was SCIENCE JAMBOREE DAY. Science Jamboree is like when the NASA people have a science fair but instead of lame projects like, "What happens when you grow lima beans in a closet?" they had displays from the James Webb Space Telescope and SMAP, balloon program projects, experiments on the ISS...and you could speak with the actual scientists who were working on the projects! They were so friendly! It was incredible. It was overwhelming. It was amazing. It was exhausting. It was incrawhelmazuasting. 


Someone also had the clever idea to throw remotely sensed digital elevation models into the 3D printer. Holy cow. 

All too soon we had to leave to go do work on our own and I was so gobsmacked with joy and ideas that I was alternating between grinning with excitement and sobbing from the realization that I'll never sleep again.

Wednesday we had a very, very late night of work. 

We tried to get everything ready to finally be able to do the tests we'd hoped to do on Monday but some Bluetooth errors and button mix-ups derailed that plan. 

Finally it was late enough that I kicked everyone out and we agreed to start fresh in the morning...and start even earlier. Every day last week we had an earlier start time and a later night. 

This team knows how to work. We all get a little slap-happy at times but everyone manages to keep tempers modulated and support one another. We share snacks. We talk in funny voices. We make up songs and sing them. We make bad jokes. (We laugh indulgently at bad jokes.) It's the best.

Finally, we were ready to do a cryo test in Baby Bear.

Jimmy will post graphs later perhaps...but our cryo/vac test turned out well! Which is to say...everything stayed on and wrote data the entire time. YAY. We had some challenges along the way but overall it was a successful test.

Then we moved it to a bake/vac test and everything worked for that too. So after a week of futzing and soldering and way too much subpar coffee we did a test and we passed.

We were gutted to leave Goddard. It was so much fun to work there every day. One night in the car Noah, Dan and I were tuckered out and the drive was silent and I said, "The weirdest thing about this trip is how natural it all feels." The car erupted with agreement because we had all been having the exact same thought. It would be glorious to be doing this work with each other full time, at NASA, every day. Maybe one day!

When we left town it was the height of rush hour so we went to IKEA to kill time. We liked it so much that we decided to live there. We had a delicious dinner of various meat and non-meat balls.

Then kicked back and watched some TV.

Dan got caught up on some of his SolidWorks modeling.

I got caught up on some much needed sleep. (I can't sleep on these trips. Please add any folk wisdom you might have for me in the comments.)

And I finally found a place I could hang my hat.

On the Subject of Organizing

Our Google Drive needs periodic organizing passes, lest it succumb completely to the vaporous, inescapable arms of entropy; this is a natural part of the project management life cycle. I'm always of two minds about it, much in the same way that I'm conflicted about tidying the lab. Having organized workbenches and tools where you expect them to be is wonderful and, ultimately, the only way to work. However, there is something inspiring and home-y about a heaped clutter of scientific paraphernalia, scraps of metal and plastic, and partially-disemboweled electronics. From the barrow-mounds of projects long abandoned and the birthing-debris of successful tinkering rise new and exciting things. Life only rose from the primordial ooze, which I presume was quite a mess. 

Anyway, things like the image below engender both of those feelings in me: the spastic urge to FIX IT and the nostalgic delight of seeing months of collaborative work sprawled out in a semistochastic jumble.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

On the Subject of Plugs and Photographs

Y'all should keep an eye on Luke Lowe's photo blog which documents the exploits of PIPER. How, exactly, does one get some incredibly delicate detectors incredibly high in the sky, cool them to incredibly low temperatures, and take some incredibly interesting pictures? He will attempt to explain parts of it to you, but it is incredibly complex.

Also, the Durham Tech Insider ran a nice bit about us.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Heart Eyes Emoji

BABI holds pressure in vac and high heat.
Pump doesn't die.
Electronics don't die.
I'm happy!

On the Subject of Signs and Obedience

The internet imploded over our current administration's visit to KSC, which, really, wasn't as bad as it seemed. Even so, there are any number of reasons which make the picture fun to whicker about, not the least of which were debates about the residue-leaving properties of beloved Kapton tape.

Anyway, we made the following attempt to lure one of our electrical engineers to join some of the team at Goddard:

Mini-integration is our dress-rehearsal-dress-rehearsal, so we're understandably excited about it. As part of the prep, my mentor Paul Mirel (who does cool things) has been helping me prepare a vacuum oven so that we can put GOAT in extreme low pressure and bake it for a while to see how she behaves. The team in Durham has been doing this for a while with our inexpensive gear, but we're going to try with some better equipment.
This has involved modifying some hermetic connectors so that we can poke wires into a thing that's in high vacuum and getting a better way to measure temperature inside. (This vacuum oven, while frighteningly unprepossessing about and proficient at both keeping air out of itself and staying quite warm, doesn't have an integrated thermometer; you have to shine a flashlight through the 0.5" thick glass window and peer inside to read the analog thermometer, which looks like something I'd stick in a Cornish hen to determine how likely it was to kill me with salmonella. But I digress.)
The red arrow shows the clashingly low-tech temperature device that comes with the oven.
The orange (copper?) arrow points to an AD590, which is a nifty little integrated circuit that helps us tell temperature in a manner more in keeping with the 21st century, which is to say that it uses magic. Some of this magic involves gluing it to a bit of thermally conductive metal (copper) with some magic glue that does a really good job of taking heat in the exact same way as the metal it's glued to, so it doesn't pop off it if gets super hot or super cold. The AD590 needs to be wired up to some other bits to give you this information (it's dreadfully coy), which I'll get to shortly.
The blue arrow points to the temperature knob, which, in another baffling combination of incredibly-high-tech and incredibly-low-tech tools rubbing shoulders with one another1, is surrounded by a hand-drawn paper ring Scotch-taped to the back of the dial so they could try and write down what temperature the oven would reach if they pointed the dial to that bit of it.
The Green Arrow is, as far as I can tell, a somewhat silly superhero who fights crime with archery. Sorry, DC.

Anyway, I rigged this up in a bit of a rush on Friday. The AD590 is connected to some wires, which go through the hermetic connector sticking out the back, which snakes through a cable, which I've alligator-clipped to my breadboard and thence to an ammeter, and gets power through the box-with-many-round-holes-in-it that is sitting on top of the larger grey oven bake-y suck-y box. The team gets here tomorrow. We'll see if my bait tantalizes Kieran enough:

Also, I made a 1 kΩ resistor out of ten 10 kΩ resistors (most of PIPER's gear is in the field and we're having to improvise a fair bit) and I was right pleased with myself. I did this by using PHYSICS, which is another kind of magic.

Please come, Kieran. There are so many things you oughtn't touch.

1 (maybe later I'll tell you about the rocket fairing deployment test where they were dropping multi-million-dollar spaceflight hardware onto literal piles of old mattresses and foam)

DSBF Locked and Loaded

The second round of the PSIP was due this week so in addition to our normal testing tasks we were challenged to try and get some important bits out for the report. 

It's been a rough two weeks of testing, not because our tests have been going poorly...just because our tests haven't been going. We had a hard time getting last week's test to run, and, after a day of debugging, shoved the whole thing in thermal overnight only to find out the SD card failed the second we got in the car and the Bluetooth disengaged only a few hours in.

Undaunted, we set up another round for this week once the 4th festivities concluded. 

(I turned off all of my NASA related alerts and spent the weekend in the sunshine.)

Wednesday we were ill prepared for testing because our Terrible Testing Toshiba (T3) was in Raleigh with the SD card case...and we were not in Raleigh. 

Noah spent some time crying...

While he tested onions for sulfur outgassing. Turns out, after a quick Google, and after a few hours of the lab smelling like subway in August* that oh, yeah, onions outgas sulfides but not Sulfur Dioxide. So...yeah. Way to go sulfur dioxide sensor. Way to only sense sulfur dioxide and not let us trick you.

Can we take a second here to talk about the things we've learned on this project that have nothing to do with our scientific mission? Or even technology?

Like, for example, peanut butter jars. They are all different. Some of them are proprietary. It is hard to buy them sans nut butter unless you want a pallet load. Not every lid matches every jar. I've spent time in the peanut bar aisle counting the number of threads. At first we thought Great Value was, as the name implies, a good choice for the money. However, further thermal and vac testing indicate that for your non-Space-Grant-funded-$$$ you're better off with a Food Lion jar because it will hold shape and not diminish a pressure delta due to flex and warping in high heat. These are things that the average consumer needs to know.

Grapes. Grapes are often shipped with pads that off gas sulfur dioxide to keep them fresh during transit. These are mostly sold overseas and you can buy them but only if you have special handling certs. You can also sweet talk a produce manager into giving you some if:
1. They haven't chucked them.
2. You're not too desperate about it. They smell fear. It smells a lot like sulfur. Oh wait. That's brimstone.

(Huh. We talked about using magic but we haven't tried summoning a demon. A BABI shoved into a GOAT wrapped in a pyre seems like a good start. Maybe more chanting is needed.)

Dried fruit ALSO typically has sulfur dioxide in it, unless it's organic, to keep it fresh. It doesn't seem to be effective for bump testing.

Burning coal is not as easy as you want it to be.

You know what IS effective? Matches. They smell like sulfur on accounta all the sulfur. And speaking of grapes again, there's a whole sort of sulfur obsessed wine making rabbit hole you can go down. From extra long sulfur wicks to dissolving sulfur tablets. 

Wednesday night I spent some time in the car driving to Raleigh to get the worst laptop in the world and the $1 SD card case that has the very specific, very unreliable 2GB SD card that we love the most. It's like when your baby has a stuffed binky that it WILL NOT sleep without. You'll go to ridiculous lengths to get that thing. I knew we'd lose valuable testing time if we didn't get the T3 and the magical white SD card so it was worth it.

We set up the T3 so that it would never, ever, ever turn off and set to testing GOAT for 24 hours at 55 degrees C. (About 131 degrees in normal person units.)

I won't say that it went smoothly...but I will say that it was finally a real endurance test for all parties involved.

Our Bluetooth connection had some challenges at first but then DanK Memes said, "Have you tried turning it off and back on?"

No. Argh. No.



It works.

The SD card spectacularly and unsurprisingly failed like, AS SOON AS POSSIBLE...but whatever...we left Thursday night with a happy test set up that we would check first thing Friday morning...as soon as the teleconference was over.

The teleconference went well, which is to say that it did not go poorly for a change. It seemed sad to do it in the conference room with just the two of us at DSBF so we sat in my office. I am pleased to say that I got to listen to all of the beeps when everyone hung up. Finally.

Then we went over to the microbio and HUZZAH the T3 was still chugging, data still data-ing, and it seems like the pump still works. 

Yay.  Final temps around 63 degrees C in the GOAT. (145 degrees F! Toasty.)

After that we packed up all of our tools, supplies, accessories, paraphernalia, dribs, drabs, tchotchkes, bric-a-brac, and byssus into our HUGE, ORANGE, ROLLING suitcases and prepared for Mini-integration which is finally upon us.

I would be sad to see the lab so diminished after all of the bustle we've had this Spring but I pretty much didn't have time between discovering our luggage doesn't fit in my car and trying to fling the PSIP out the door. You've heard about herding cats? These reports are like bathing a cat. If you concentrate hard enough you can wrestle it into success but you're not going to make it through the process unscathed. 

Sunday we're taking a large crew to Goddard to join Abandoned and Space Viking to test some more for Minintegration. Finally! I can't believe it!

*And a Subway in August.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Kieran gets a medal for his mettle

Kieran has been working hard to get the payload up and running and is buttoning up the GOAT.

Erick is here assisting and got the memo about the shirts.

I hope Dan wears his shirt, and brings a pillow, cause it gonna be a long night.

Durham, we have a problem

A BME miswire has shut us down.

Endurance Test Part 1

We got up and to DSBF early this morning for what we hope will be a 10 hour endurance test in vacuum.

The GOAT is ready for a close up and the wiring looks a lot neater now.  We're still having issues with paint chipping on the outside and Dan is not thrilled about that.

We set up the GOAT, got the thing down to vac, got the pump to cycle, put it in the incubator and.....something isn't working...so we just undid everything and now Kieran and Moh are troubleshooting. I have the sinking feeling that I'm in for a long night.