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NIGHTGLOW launched from Alice Springs, Australia on March 17, 2003 at 8:38 a.m. local time (March 16 at 6:08 p.m. EST). The flight was terminated on March 17, 2003 at 8:07 p.m. local time (March 17 at 5:37 a.m. EST) due to pressure loss in the balloon.

Louis Barbier's Field Journal

from 2003 Campaign

2003 Campaign

Louis Barbier is a cosmic ray astrophysicist at NASA GSFC and the Principal Investigator for NIGHTGLOW. He is also the NASA Deputy Project Scientist for Balloons, and has been involved in many other NASA missions, including Wind, ISOMAX, Swift, and TIGER.

More of Louis' pictures are on the field pictures page

March 27, 2003:

9 a.m. EST - The NIGHTGLOW instrument arrived back in Alice Springs about 10:00 p.m. last night. The recovery crew had 15 flat tires along the way! Stephen said there was some damage to the instrument, but he did not elaborate (I think it was too late at night). He will hopefully send more details tonight after he has had a chance to start disassembly.

3 p.m. EST - I have just heard some more from Stephen in Alice Springs. On landing, 3 of the 4 legs were broken (not surprising), the lidar secondary mirror is just gone, the cover on the fixed telescope was broken, and the main motor/gearbox is broken (can't tell what exactly because its "sealed" up). All the telescopes apparently survived, along with their mirrors, and the main lidar mirror. The main deck looked good, according to Stephen, and was not wet. He is packing NIGHTGLOW up now in the shipping container.

In other news, the parachute and balloon have not been recovered; they will make another trip for them later this week.

March 19, 2003: Louis left Alice Springs early in the morning for home. He arrived in the U.S. on March 20.

March 18, 2003:

10:44 a.m. local time - As you all know, the NIGHTGLOW flight was terminated yesterday after traveling about 225 nautical miles from Alice Springs. The termination was at night, so little is known about the payload condition or recovery site at this time. It appears to be in an area of large sand dunes covered with spinifex according to Dave Sullivan. It will be a difficult recovery. It's likely they will have to camp out for a few nights at least, as the nearest town is 120 nautical miles away.

Their first priority is to recover the balloon. They didn't say this, but I infer it from the conversations heard, and because of the importance of knowing what happened to the balloon. Eric Klein thought it likely they would have to take the payload out in pieces as they won't be able to get large trucks there. NSBF is sending a crew out today to view the area and make recommendations.

11:35 p.m. local time - The crew that went out by plane to survey the landing site returned about 1 hour ago. I know no one will believe this. I find it hard to believe too - but NIGHTGLOW landed in a lake! A small lake formed by heavy rains in the middle of the blooming outback! Probably the only water around for 500 miles!

The lake is a good 3-4 miles from the nearest road, and NIGHTGLOW is partially submerged about a hundred meters from the shore. If I hadn't seen the pictures, I wouldn't have believed it either. But I swear this is true. The balloon is about 10 miles or so from the same road. It should be an interesting recovery!

March 17, 2003:

6:34 a.m. local time - The balloon is on the ground and connected to the parachute. No inflation yet, but I've heard rumors of an 8:30 a.m. launch.

9:03 a.m. local time - NIGHTGLOW LAUNCHES!! on 3/17/03 at 08:38 local time (my watch). It took off into a calm, blue sky. Balloon was at 6500 m a few minutes ago. Stay tuned...and thanks to everyone.

11:17 am local time - Balloon has reached and leveled off at float altitude of 110,000 feet. It seems to be at full pressure or near it. Of course, tomorrow is the full moon, and we won't see any science data for 3 - 4 days, and then only an hour or so the first few days. We need a 12 or more day flight to make our minimums for science data.

8:43 p.m. local time - The ULDB / NIGHTGLOW flight was terminated at 10:37 UT. The balloon was leaking and losing pressure, and its performance was compromised. The payload is not quite on the ground yet, but is coming down about 140 nautical miles west of Ayers Rock. It's in an area south of the Petermann Ranges of Western Australia. It seems to be large sand dunes on the map. It's night now, so there will be no video or pictures of the payload until late tomorrow I'd guess. Stay tuned for the recovery saga...

March 16, 2003: Current outlook remains promising. Plan is to pick up payload with crane at midnight. More updates later...

March 15, 2003: Weather forecast for Monday morning (March 17th) continues to be very promising for a launch. We will forgo the normal weather briefing on Sunday morning and show at 11:30 pm Sunday night.

Anticipated launch time is approximately 7:00 - 7:30 a.m. local time. Stephen and I are ready!

March 13, 2003: Well, it's been a long time since we've had any kind of opportunity. Tonight there's a marginal one - forecast for upper level winds is in the 17 - 20 knot range. That's too high, but if it were to come down by about 5 knots, we might just get lucky.

A really good opportunity seems to be looming for next Monday or Tuesday morning, according to the models.

March 10, 2003: No news.

Here are a few pictures I've taken while here and never downloaded from the camera before. There's the Australian Flag - a Union Jack, the stars of the Southern Cross, and a 7 pointed Star of the Federation, with a point for each state or territory; the Northern Territory Flag - with a stylized Sturt's Desert Rose encircling the 7 pointed Star of the Federation, and the stars of the Southern Cross again. I took these flag pictures on top of Anzac Hill near downtown.

Australian flag Northern Territory flag

Also I took this picture of the old jail (gaol) downtown next to the modern courthouse. It's practically 100 years old and was used up until 1938.

Town jail (gaol)

March 9, 2003: Very windy this morning and the same predicted for tomorrow (we have had gusts well over 20 knots this morning). A tight pressure gradient is keeping our winds high. There is a tropical storm forming off the norhtern coast. Depending on how low the pressure gets and where that storm moves to, we may or may not get some relief from these high winds. We may be looking at Wednesday or later before that happens.

Meanwhile float winds continue to decrease toward turnaround. Turnaround is when the upper altitude winds actually stop and then reverse direction. There is a brief period during which they are unstable and unpredictable...but they really do actually reverse direction (i.e. turn around). Today's wind speed was 46 knots and most of the winds at this latitude are in the 34 - 60 knot range. Turnaround has already come to Tasmania and the southern coast. Things look bleak.

March 7, 2003: Just past the new moon and a predicion for a clear night (cloud free), so I requested help from NSBF to push NIGHTGLOW outside for the night.

I ran the instrument from just after sunset (around 8:15 p.m.) until about 3:00 a.m. This may be the longest continuous period that the instrument has been run...

March 4, 2003: Given the sparcity of flight opportunities, we are going to show up tonight and look at the weather. John thinks its iffy, but not impossible, that the winds will die down enough, depending on heating of an inversion layer to the west. We haven't had any opportunities for awhile, so I think everyone is hopeful.

Yesterday morning I got a call from Avis Rental Cars that they needed their car back. So I had to go out to the airport and exchange cars. That took at least 45 minutes.

Oh yes, and Happy Mardi Gras to everyone! If I weren't here, I'd be in New Orleans...

March 2, 2003: Bob Hull and I went to the reptile center today. The big draw there is a 3.5 meter long saltwater croc (see photos of its head -- I can't get it all in one shot!) and lots of poisonous snakes. They have the most poisonous snake in the world there, the inland taipan.


If you take the tour, you get to hold a python (like in these pictures), which Bob and I both did. And you get to pet some of the tamer lizards. Its quite a neat place in an unassuming house in Alice Springs.

Guide holding python Bob holding python Louis holding python
Thorny devil Small lizards Blue-tongued skink

March 1, 2003: Well, I'm a bit surprised we're still here in March. We've been ready since January 17th (that's six weeks now with no launch opportunities). Eric has left for home, Roy Park has left, and soon Bob Hull will leave too. Everyone has other projects to take care of. Stephen and I will hold down the fort, so to speak.

The weather today is cloudy, windy, and colder. The prediction is that Monday or Tuesday morning here there will be a lull in the winds caused by the movement of Tropical Cyclone Graham, which is now off the coast of Western Australia. We are hoping that works out.

There was a brush fire south of here today. I don't know how far away, but you could see the black smoke clearly from the hangar.

There is also a film crew in town from the BBC. They are filming for some British game show. I don't know what its called, but it sounds like a geography quiz.

February 26, 2003: This morning I spoke to a group of about 2 dozen school kids from Anzac High (8th year students). They came out to the hangar, and I explained about NIGHTGLOW and ultraviolet light.

Later I took a drive out to Simpson's Gap, which is about 20 km outside town.

Simpson's Gap Simpson's

The mountian views are wonderful, and I managed to snap a photo of an interesting lizard guardian there...

Lizard guardian at
Simpson's Gap

I also snapped the photo of this sign. I don't think I'd swim in a Scorpion Pool - makes you wonder how it got its name!

directing viewer to Scorpion Pool on the Larapinta Trail

Speaking of swimming, do you think you could swim in this pool - even if you wanted too?

Swimming sign next to a tiny pool of water under a large rock

Bob Hull and some of the other guys drove out to Rainbow Valley, about 80 km away. They also got some great photos of the scenery.

February 25, 2003: Another disappointing weather day. We are in a high wind situation due to a low pressure system off the west coat of WA (Western Australia) and another off the east coast of QLD (Queensland), and a high pressure system in the south.

This afternoon we had a great barbie, thrown by our balloon-base friends. Great lamb and steaks, watermelon, potato salad, cole slaw, and, of course, beer and soda. All wonderful.

There is a saltwater pool nearby, and several of the guys went swimming.

February 23, 2003: Almost made it last night. It looked good for a launch up until early in the morning. We took NIGHTGLOW out to the flightline around 1:00 a.m., then everything else was set up. Around 5:30 a.m. the balloon was taken out to the flight line for the first time in this campaign. The winds were looking good most of the night, with readings around 11 knots at the max. But then rain showers started to appear in the area and winds began to rise. We waited and waited and hoped, but to no avail. At 8:10 a.m. the attempt was scrubbed.

February 22, 2003: Possible launch opportunity tonight. We are near a saddle point between two weather systems and it may give us a break in the winds. Possibility of rain in the area also - which would increase wind gusts.

February 20, 2003: Well, the skies finally opened up here. It started raining last night, and it's still raining (now it's 10:00 a.m.). It doesn't show any signs of letting up. I think that low pressure system has brought us monsoon rains. Just driving to and from the hangar could get tricky, as the last little bit is just a dirt road. Worse than that, the area for launching will be soaked and muddy, and will certainly take a few days to dry out.

February 19, 2003: Still caught in the grip of a low pressure system to the northwest which is bringing tropical weather into our region (meaning unstable, cloudy, and rainy). Hopefully it will clear up by the weekend.

I drove about 4km off the airport road along the Stuart Hwy and then about 5 more kms along that road until I got just outside the US spy base at Pine Gap (see picture). They clearly don't want any visitors, I'd say !

Sign outside Pine
Gap spy base

I also took a photo of the Alice Springs airport radar tower. Every morning at 8:30 a.m. they send up a radiosond to check the temperatures, pressures, and wind speeds in the atmosphere. The radar is used to measure the wind speed. These balloons go up to about 28 km in altitude.

Alice Springs airport radar

February 18, 2003: Well, it rained last night, so hard that it woke me up. But it didn't rain that long, apparently. There is no water in the Todd River, which is good. I don't even think it rained hard enough to affect the launch operations, but I'll confirm that with Mark later on. If it rains too much, the crane and helium truck can get bogged down in mud. Not good.

The newest Star Trek movie opened here last week, and Bob Hull and I are planning on going this afternoon, after the weather briefing. Engage !

February 16, 2003: Eric left today for home. He is traveling to Sydney and then on to LA, Denver, and finally Baltimore.

There are large anti-war demonstrations going on in all the large Australian cities today, including Sydney. I presume Eric will get caught up in the traffic jams, etc.

So now our team is down to four people: Stephen Holder, Roy Park, Bob Hull, and myself.

February 13, 2003: Had a go at a launch last night. We showed up at the usual 11:00 p.m. and were ready for pickup by the crane at midnight. The winds seemed to be cooperating for a while, with the upper level winds dropping to levels below 20 knots. But then they started to increase again, instead of continuing down. It just became frustrating. We waited around until about 3:30 a.m. then called it quits.

Today a low pressure trough is expected to bring clouds and possibly showers.

February 12, 2003: Today we had some visitors out at the hangar. Mr. Peter Gordon dropped by with another teacher from Anzac high and about 9 of their students. We gave them all a tour of the base, the instrument, and the balloon equipment, and explained the whole process to them. They were a very bright bunch of students and asked us a lot of good questions.

Forklift February 11, 2003: Got skunked last night! It was looking good for a launch early on. The high pressure system to the south of the continent had moved further away, and we had a low pressure system controling our weather. The wind direction was good, and models were predicting a decrease in speed. We waited until almost 4:00 am, but the winds never died down. It seems a small low developed to our west and increased the wind gradient. I think everyone was disappointed.

Tonight they say it looks better. Let's hope !

The other day Bob Hull and I drove out to the Ewaninga Rock Carvings - about 25 km south of Alice Aprings. The trip is on a gravel, rutted road for the whole trip. We arrived just before sunset, so it was fairly cool. I photographed the rock carvings - which are sacred. The meaning of the carvings cannot be revealed to the uninitiated people, like us. The view was inspiring. The carvings are located near a flat lake - a place where the aboriginals could come for water during very dry periods. I photogaphed Bob as he looked for new birds and also got a photo of some "bush food" - a little plant with tomato-like pods.

Ewaninga Rock Carvings Conservation Reserve sign Ewaninga
sign, Secret Language, describing rock carvings View of
sunset behind an interesting rock
Rock carvings Rock carvings Rock carvings
Bob at rock carvings Bob birdwatching Bush food

February 9, 2003: Sunday - Slept in late today, then drove out to the hangar to check out conditions. This afternoon we had a bar-b-que at Dave Sullivan's house. It was great. Good food and everyone was in an upbeat mood... Dave has a wonderful dog named Bandit. (Just like in Johnny Quest.) Its a big dog, and I enjoyed petting him.)

After the bar-b-que I went for a short drive out to Flynn's Grave and then back to the motel for a nap. Flynn was a Presbyterian minister who founded the Royal Flying Doctor Service. He is buried just a short way outside town, and his grave is marked with a huge round boulder.

I am hopeful for a launch opportunity tonight or tomorrow.

February 8, 2003: Another day of waiting. No weather briefing today - models are predicting lower winds, so Eric says we will just show up tonight and tomorrow night and take a look at it.

Email continues to be a trouble! It is very hard to communicate with people back at GSFC about NIGHTGLOW or other projects.

Right now it is very windy outside. Good kite flying weather (!).

February 7, 2003: A couple of days of down time. Nothing but email and network trouble, too. I have lots of pictures to send to Goddard for this web site but can't get them over there. That's terribly frustrating.

On top of the windy weather.

Its been pretty pleasant for everything except launching a balloon.

February 5, 2003: No possibility of a launch today I think. I took some time to drive around town and take some photos of local houses. Alice Springs is not a large town, but it is a diverse town, with many different types of architecture.

Big house House House
House House

The neighborhoods are much more interesting than most in the US. In these 5 photos of houses I tried to show some of the differences and also how beautiful some of the houses are. These few are located near the golf course. There are several other major housing areaa which I've driven by but not photographed yet.

Fence Fences around the houses are typically of the type seen here - plain painted sheets of aluminum (either green or brown). They are solid and about 5 feet tall usually. They ensure lots of privacy. You don't see very many chain link fences at all. Many of the houses are made of cinder block - as is my motel.

The largest house I've seen, and certainly the one with the best view, is this big house on the hill. It has a commanding view of the golf course, the neighborhoood, and the mountains. Quite spectacular.

February 4, 2003: Last night Bob Hull and I went to the Alice Springs Ham Radio Club and gave a little talk / demo about the ULDB project, NIGHTGLOW, and our student demonstration package.

It went great. The club members all seemed quite interested in the project. One of them had worked at the airport before and knows Ravi Sood as well. Among the group was a teacher at Anzac High School, and we spoke about getting him to bring the kids out to the hangar to see the experiment and balloon sometime.

After lunch today we did our student demo balloon project, organized by Bob Hull. Bob built a mini TV package with visible and IR cameras (spy cams!) and a transmitter and GPS unit. We launched it with 3 pi-balls (pilot balloons) up to about 60 meters. The winds were gusty out of the south and sometimes blew the payload down at about a 20 degree angle, I'd say. (The balloon was tethered for ease of recovery.) We raised and lowered it a few times to adjust the camera and the GPS unit. The video should show the differences between visible and IR imaging. The payload itself weighed about 700 grams and really required the 3 balloons to get it up to float altitude.

February 3, 2003: Not much better luck today with the winds. The levels are a bit too high but more importantly the wind direction is too variable for a reliable launch. There will be no show / rollout tonight.

Later this afternoon someone from the local paper The Centralian is coming out to take a few pictures. We had an article in this paper 2 years ago. Tomorrow we are going to try and fly our small student payload TV camera. If that goes off I'll have some pictures to show!

February 2, 2003: Another disappointing day. The winds were marginal but not too horrible, so the call was made to show up tonight. We showed up at 11:00 PM and did our pre-pickup checkout. Everything was nominal. But the winds were just too high (over 20 knots) and not decreasing, so around 12:30 am it was called off.

We'll have another weather briefing tomorrow afternoon.

February 1, 2003: Waiting game continues. NIGHTGLOW is ready to go, but the winds are not cooperating. Right now a large high to the south is bringing us strong winds and cloudy skies. It will take several days to pass as it is moving slowly. In all likelihood, there will be no launch for the next 3 - 4 days (that's my best guess). We continue to have weather briefings every day however. You can see the local weather here from a link on the 2003 Balloon Campaign page.

Trephina Gorge Trephina Gorge

Yesterday afternoon Eric and I went for a drive to Trephina Gorge (above) and Ross River. Trephina Gorge was a bit disappointing as there was no water to be seen anywhere. We did see a few more cave paintings however (below).

Trephina cave paintings Trephina cave paintings

Roos escaping along the road Also we saw about a half dozen wild kangaroos along the road in various places. I was not able to get any good kangaroo pictures (left), but I have those closeups of the gorge and of the cave paintings. It was a nice day for a drive and a hike. The temperature has cooled off quite a bit - probably the high was only in the upper twenties or low thirties.

Me at Trephina Gorge Me at Trephina Gorge
Eric took some pictures of me by the Trephina Gorge sign (right).

Along the way to Trephina Gorge we stopped off at the "Sail Rock" a large rock formation very thin and looking somewhat like a large sail. I got a picture of Eric through a hole in the rock and of the view from up on top (below).

Eric at Sail Rock Sail Rock Sail Rock Sail Rock Sail Rock Sail Rock View from the top of Sail Rock

We also saw the largest ghost gum tree in the eastern MacDonnell Range - its a beauty. These trees have a chalky white trunk and stand out against the other trees and shrubs (below).

Ghost gum tree Ghost gum tree Ghost gum tree Ghost gum tree Ghost gum tree

January 29, 2003: Lazy day today. Slept in late. Hadn't done that for a while. Went to the hangar for a 10:30 weather briefing. No good news. A new cyclone off the NE coast and still variable winds. No possible launch tonight.

Today Scott Murphy and Brian Abresch left on the 12:15 flight to Sydney. Ravi Sood, the person in charge of the base here, is also leaving for a few days to head back down to Canberra, where he lives.

We are going to try and roll the payload outside tonight around 9:00 PM, after the Sun and Moon have set, to view some dark sky. Hopefully it won't be windy or raining. And maybe better news tomorrow from the weather man.

January 27, 2003: Super Bowl Day! A bunch of the guys went to a local hotel to see the Super Bowl.

Emily Gap Emily Gap Jessie Gap

I slept in late then took a drive out to Emily Gap and Jessie Gap - both a short drive to the east of town.

Cave paintings Cave paintings
I took some photos of some cave paintings (above) and an emu (below) I saw on the side on the of the road.

Wild emu Wild emu

Just had our weather briefing - winds are unpredictable of course, but we will try showing up tonight and looking at conditions.

Wooden emu Kangaroo sign After that I drove around town and took a few other interesting pictures: a wooden emu in someone's front yard and a kangaroo sign on a fence and some pictures from up on Anzac Hill just north of town. Anzac Hill Anzac Hill

Rolled out of the hangar about 30 minutes past midnight. Around 2:10 a.m. they took NIGHTGLOW out to the pad. The balloon is still in the hangar right now, presumably they will gather more wind data.

NIGHTGLOW outside at night NIGHTGLOW outside at night NIGHTGLOW outside at night

Mini TV transmitter student payload January 26, 2003: Bob Hull is working on his student payload - the mini TV transmitter. Scott is finishing up the lidar mirror repair from last night's accident.

1:00 a.m. - well, surface winds are low (good) but upper levels are strong (over 20 knts)... no rollout tonight....Going home early.

January 25, 2003: Well, I tried to sleep as much as I could during the day Saturday. Anticipating another late night.

Showed up at the hangar around 9:30 pm...shortly after midnight the crane picked us up outside. We spent about an hour setting things up (hanging antennas, running cables, taping things down) and then we waited again. The surface winds seemed to pick up - certainly they are higher than expected. It appears that the monsoon low off to the northwest has dipped down further south, bringing higher winds. And so we wait. And now its 02:40 ...

Lidar repair in progress By 03:45 they decided to call it a night. We reversed our whole process and took the instrument back in. We sustained some damaged when the payload was lowered back to the ground and somehow caught a ladder, which caught our secondary LIDAR mirror. The picture shows the repair already in progress. The inserts in the aluminum beam were damaged, and we must epoxy new ones in place - which is what is shown here.

Crocodile Crocodile Also I've got two pictures of our lucky crocs that are taped down and ready to fly!

Big box with (take our word for it) the balloon Here's why we're all here - the balloon in the box.

January 24, 2003: ROLLOUT ! At 2:00 am local time we rolled out the doors and were picked up by the crane. Some rainshowers that came through the area had delayed the pickup from midnight. While things were looking good for us, the delay was enough that we had to scrub the launch on Saturday morning. By 5:00 am we rolled back in and called it a night. A bunch of really tired guys went straggling back to their hotels.
Sunrise too late

Rollout Rollout Rollout Rollout You can see some of the pictures from the rollout here - the rollout and being picked up on the crane. Putting the crush pad feet on. And several pictures of the guys waiting around, inside and outside the hangar.
Group waiting around Group waiting inside

But we were told Sunday morning conditions would be even better - with a very low pressure gradient, so low winds.

January 23, 2003: Well just because we planned a bar-b-que for tonight - it is raining today! Two brief thunderstorms rolled through, knocking out the hangar power briefly. It's quite fun to hear all the UPS beeps all around the hangar. The weatherman predicted 20% chance of showers, so we shouldn't be too surprised. I hope this is all for the rain. close up of puddle

I was interviewed earlier today by Chris Tangey for a short documentary he is making for Goddard.

Roy and his wife have gone off to visit Uluru, about a 4 hour drive. They will be back tomorrow afternoon. Rick Walker and Tom Nolan are both gone and Brian Abresch will be leaving soon.

January 22, 2003: I'm actually writing this Tuesday night (the 21st) because I know the 22nd will be pretty hectic.

In the morning we have scheduled: a weather briefing at 10:00 am, the flight readiness review at 10:30, and the flight procedures meeting right after that. At 2:00 pm we are meeting with a cameraman, and at 3:00 pm I am meeting with someone from the local TV station: IMPARJA. We are arranging some filming and publicity for this effort! I hope it goes off well.

Hopefully tomorrow night I'll be able to report on some of this.

January 21, 2003: Last night we all went to The Firkin and Hound - a local British-style pub. I thinks it's becoming our favorite hangout. The food is good - especially the fish and chips, the beer is plentiful, and the two waitresses are a riot of fun.... A firkin is a small cask (keg?) of beer.

I meant to mention before - the "roundabouts" in the road everywhere. Its fun going around them "backwards". At least I think so.

We (NIGHTGLOW) are going to be weighed this morning. Scott has predicted we will weigh 3270 pounds. We'll see how close he is !

Well, a few hours later the result is known: our weight is 3155 pounds. Scott was pretty close. I wonder if I owe him some french fries?

Driving in this morning I saw a hot air balloon floating my way. Hot air balloon tours are popular around here. They pick you up at your hotel at 5:00 a.m., you are up in the air at sunrise, and then you are back at your hotel by 8:00 a.m. for a good breakfast. I haven't done it; I'm hoping for a helicopter ride, myself!

January 20, 2003: Pretty hectic day today! Showed up at 6:15 a.m. for a hang test and compatability check out. During the hang test we pick the payload up with the crane and readied all the cables, ballast hoppers, straps, feet, etc. that go on for flight. This is to be sure things fit together. Then we run the instruments.

So far so good. We had some problems with our LOS commanding, but it turns out our GSE software wasn't doing the right formatting for that packet type. It's been fixed and is now working reliably. We had to cut the hang test short because of pretty high winds that came up.

The GSE is now pretty spiffy! Tom has added a lot of nice features. I'm pretty happy about it.

Rick Walker made a "totem" of NIGHTGLOW to fly with the payload. And he put the aboriginal words "Dhook-Ken Yoom-broo Koor-ra Yur-ra" on it. That means "to rise into the night sky".

January 19, 2003: Last night we had a big dinner with most of the crew - myself, Tom Nolan, Bob Hull, Rick Walker, Brian Albrecht, Scott Murphy, and Eric Christian. We went to the Overlander Steak House. When you are seated the waitress asks where you are from and then they put a little flag of your country on the table. Looking around the room when its full, you see a lot of different flags. Alice Springs is really a small, but cosmopolitan city! Its fun to try and identify the country from the flag. I ordered several kangaroo and emu appetizers for the table. I don't think Rick and Brian liked it, but Eric ate his share and theirs. I had a common Australian fish - a barramundi. It was served with prawns in a cream sauce. Quite good.

The weather this morning is not so good - cloudy skies and windy. It looks almost like it could rain, but I don't think it will. Speaking of weather, we have our own meteorologist here. Every day at 10:30 a.m. we get a weather briefing. He gives us the local conditions and forecast, especially the winds. We get the surface winds, the winds at a few hundred feet, and then the wind conditions at 100,000 feet. The predicitions for where the balloon would go if launched the next morning are also made. Currently the upper level winds are too high (70 knots) and the balloon would make it to the west coast of Australia in just about 16 hours.

Interestingly, there is one channel on TV here (and there are only about 5 channels total!) that seems to show a satellite weather map practically all the time - at least early in the morning. Later I'll talk some more about Australian TV, and cricket!

Today is the last day for us to finish up work on the payload. I think we are on track to make it. We have to pressurize our electronics gondola and install the IEP package. Then its just a matter of making things tidy and adding insulation! Hopefully things will go smoothly.

January 18, 2003: Late last night, or early this morning if you prefer (2:00 am) we all showed up here at the hangar (shown below) - hoping the clouds would all go away, except for the ones in front of the full moon.... alas they all went away for awhile, then reappeared just before sunrise.

This is a view of the hangar where we are working. It is air conditioned so we don't suffer from the heat.
We rolled the NIGHTGLOW payload outside about 3:00 am and took some data by the light of the full moon. We were pointing toward the south, and of course the moon was off to the west. Still there was substantial scattered moonlight. We went ahead and took some data while we could. We don't have too many opportunities to go outside and get data while it's dark. It's unwieldy to prepare the payload and roll it outside - it takes at least 6 people to do it safely.

Tonight its a completely full moon - we won't be going outside at all. But everything worked just fine and dandy tonight.

Surprisingly too - there were almost no bugs outside at night! That was a nice change from our experiences last time - when it seems like we were attacked relentlessly by all sorts of insects. Perhaps they are on holiday !

January 17, 2003: Today we are continuing toward flight ready status. We have closed up the LIDAR pressure vessel and are making some final flight cables for the telemetry system. Later I hope to test the LOS (line-of-sight) transmitter. The LOS is used from right after launch until the balloon gets a few hundred miles downrange.

Once we are out of range for the LOS, we switch over to using TDRSS. The TDRSS data goes through the Mission Operations Center (MOC) in Palestine, Tx.

It is interesting to see how many different kinds of antennas are on the payload - GPS, L-band, S-band, omni-directional TDRSS, and a new pointed TDRSS "domed" antenna. The omni-TDRSS antenna has a 10 kbs (kilo-bit-per-second) limit; the pointed has up to 150 kbs. This is a test flight for the pointed TDRSS link.

We have quite a large crew here - NIGHTGLOW has 9 people (last time we had 5). I'll try to run down everyone in a later entry.

January 16, 2003: The NIGHTGLOW instrument is assembled except for the LIDAR PMT, which was taken off last night so Gene Loh and I could do some tests. All three telescopes are on and running, and we got a lot of calibration data. I think it looks good. Tom Nolan is here working on the software. We hope to be flight ready by Monday. We still need to do an end-to-end check of the LIDAR system in situ (bench tests looked okay), and mount the three piggyback instruments: the NiteLite, GPSREx, and IEP. (side view of NIGHTGLOW shown)

Side view of NIGHTGLOW
I think Eric arrives tomorrow.

Yesterday Tom worked hard and got all the software going. After dark, Bob Hull and I did an end-to-end test of the LIDAR system. The hardware and software all worked as expected. That's good!

Some of the guys meanwhile went out and played tennis for a couple of hours. They're sore today. Brian Stilwell (NSBF) was the winner.

The solar panel construction started yesterday as well. About 1/2 the solar panels went up. The array is quite large, about 16 panels, and each panel is about one square meter. Today they should finish up with this.

Predicted high temp today: 38 C - about 101 F

January 14, 2003: Today we had the Mission Requirements Review - with all the NSBF folks, and Ravi Sood - who runs the balloon base here. (He's from the University of Canberra.) I re-iterated our minimum science requirements of 30 hours of "dark" data - i.e. with no moon out. We reviewed the weather for the remainder of this week (okay, meaning sunny and cooler), and tried to be sure everyone would be ready next week. I have to sign off on a safety plan. We did not discuss the flight safety regarding overflying large cities. (Saving that for later!) I also asked for cloud cover data post flight.

January 13, 2003: Early in the morning we installed the NiteLite instrument. It checked out okay, after we discovered a SIP cable was plugged in backward.

Local flora Two birds Stork-like bird Another stork-like bird

Kangaroos Snake Bird stealing eggs Bird stealing eggs

Scott and I went to the Desert Park nearby and toured around. We saw a lot of local flora, birds, and kangaroos. Scott talked to the ranger at the park after the Bird of Prey show.

Park ranger Scott with the park ranger Scott with the park ranger

Played a couple of tough sets of tennis tonight with Scott, Rick, Dwayne, Mike, and Brian.

January 11, 2003: Last night several of us went out to relax. There are two pubs in town - a British pub (the Firkin and Hound) and an Irish pub (Sean's). Sean's had some live music - but not Irish music.

The pumpkin (ULD) balloon arrives!
This morning the new balloon arrived!! (left) They are rolling it into the hangar now.

January 10, 2003: The ULDB balloon crew arrived late this afternoon, so we spent some time arranging our stuff and making room for them, and even more importantly, for the balloon - which will arrive in the morning! I hope to get good pictures of it.

We have about 10 or 11 days to get everything perfect and ready for launch.

January 8, 2003: Last night had some problems. We came up after dark to do some work when we can run the instrument with the high voltage turned on (something you can't safely do during the day). But there were some problems with commanding the telescope motion and high voltage control.

Today I figured out that the problems were really only in the documentation of how the software and commands work. Everything is working correctly, and we are all greatly relieved.

January 7, 2003: We've been working on testing all the equipment during the day. So far things are going well. Afer work we are trying to get some exercise - often by playing tennis. The heat, wind, and bugs make it quite a challenge working or playing outside. When some more of the NSBF folks arrive, we'll probably play some golf too, at the local golf course.

January 2, 2003: The team is starting to take shape. Scott Murphy and I arrived two days ago; Stephen Holder was already here. Roy Park arrived safely from New Mexico on Dec 31, and we are expecting Bob Hull (NMSU) in two days. Soon we'll get a team photo to show.

Road sign with distance to other Australian towns Gap in the mountains
The weather is hot, but not extremely so. The town appears the same to me as it did two years ago.

Herd of camels grazing near the road Closer view of the cames
The scenery is beautiful - flat desert land to the south and west, and the MacDonnell mountain range just a few kilometers to the north. You drive about 12 km (sign on top right) into town from here, through a "gap" (top left) in the mountains. Sometimes you see herds of camels (bottom left and right) alongside the road.

January 1, 2003: Arrived in Alice Springs yesterday (see sign on top left) and started working out at the hangar today. The base we use for our work is basically a warehouse out near the airport. We begin the process of unpacking everything (the stuff that's arrived anyway!) (sea containers in top right picture below) and checking to see if everything has arrived intact and working. Setting up the computers and the network is one of the highest priorities.

Sign welcoming drivers into the town of Alice Springs on the main road from the airport Sea containers used to ship equipment from the U.S.

I've taken some pictures of the hangar where we are working and the launch vehicle (crane) (lower left).

Driving around Alice Springs is fun because we drive on the left side of the road ... It came right back to me, surprisingly.

This crane is used as a launch vehicle The convention center

Last night we went to a New Year's eve party at the local convention center. There were 3 bands. The convention center (on the right) is adjacent to the casino (below) (where I'm sure we'll lose some money).

The casino
This file was last modified March 27, 2003