Tuesday, March 23, 2010

First Balloon Launch of 2010

Today we launched a balloon.  And recovered it!

The day started off quite poorly.  For all of our launches except one, I have driven my own vehicle for all of the flights.  About a year ago, I bought a trailer so we could carry the Helium a little more safely.  I have been hauling it with our minivan, which Crab Mama was really pissed about.  Yesterday I reserved a van from the university.  They actually have vans with trailer hitches!  This morning, I went to pick up the van, and there were no seats in it!  After much hashing around and such, I actually found a Durango with a trailer hitch.  They let me rent that.  All of this took about an hour or so, which was much longer than I had anticipated.

After a slow start, we packed up and left.  We drove to the middle of BFE.  Actually, we stopped in a little itty bitty town to grab a bathroom and some food.  One of the students was talking to one of the people in the store and told her what we were doing.  When he told her we were going to another, even smaller town, she said something like "Oh, you better watch out for those people.  Don't close your eyes!"

Once we got to the launch place, we set everything up.  After a while, we launched!

We climbed back into the cars and proceeded to chase.  Everything actually went pretty well during the entire flight.  We were in constant communication with the package, so it was quite successful.  The main problem that we had was that we didn't have anyone in our car that knew how to manage the radio.  Therefore, we had to futz around with it for a long time to get it working.  It worked for the first half, and then we screwed something up, and it stopped working.

Oh, at this point, I should mention that Crab Girl and Crab Boy came with us.  So, when we couldn't get the radio to work, I got out my cell phone, hooked it up to the computer, and logged into aprs.fi, which is where we were broadcasting our position.  Crab Girl sat with the computer in her lap telling me where the balloon was, what altitude it was at and how fast it was going.  Constantly.  A stream of information.  It was the best navigation I have ever experienced!  She is a natural!
Finally, we turned down a dirt road, got behind a very slow moving truck, and someone yelled out "I see it!"  Then we all caught a glimpse of the balloon package falling out of the sky.  We pulled up to the field, just as it was touching the ground.  We all saw it splash down!  It was great!
Then, back to work.  Drop off the trailer.  Pick up the car, and go home!

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