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Scott Murphy's Field Journal
from the 2003 Campaign
While in Australia, Scott kept this journal for Trinity School,
where his son is in second grade.
Scott is now back home.
Second week of January 2003: We have been working pretty steadily on building up NIGHTGLOW. This week we put the telescopes together. There are three of them, and they look like white trash cans. Inside we have a big round mirror that is attached to the inside bottom plate. If you look at this round mirror you will see that it has a front that is shaped like a bowl. This shape allows the mirror to reflect light that shines on it to a point that is about 18 inches in front of the mirror. This point is called the focus. We can put something such as a camera at the focus and make a picture with the light that the mirror has reflected. These telescopes can see light very easily. In fact they can see in the dark! Even the light from the moon is too bright!
When we attach these telescopes we have to make sure they are all pointing in the same direction and that they are very straight. We have a motor that turns two of the telescopes so that they look at the whole sky. Here they are moving.
While we (the NIGHTGLOW team) were working on the payload, there were a bunch of guys working on setting up the equipment that helps to launch the balloon. These people (there are about 20 of them) are from the National Scientific Balloon Facility, or NSBF, in Palestine, Texas. Their job is to get all the equipment that holds us onto the balloon, launches the balloon, and even let's us talk to the balloon through satellites.
When a balloon payload is flown there are several things under the balloon that attach the payload to it. This is called the "flight train" because, like a train, it is made of several things that are connected in a line. Mostly there are steel cables that are very strong which hold up the payload. Another thing that is in-line with these cables is the parachute. The parachute is 130 feet in diameter (about as big as the new walking circle in the Trinity courtyard). One thing they do to the parachute is pull on it to see how far it will stretch when the payload is hanging from it (remember the payload is about 6000 pounds). One of the pictures shown here is of the "parachute pull test".
We also went to the Desert Park this week. The Desert Park is a place where you can walk around and look at areas that are set up to show the different plants and animals of the outback desert. We saw plants that can only be found here in Australia. There is the Witchetty Bush (on the right), which has a root system that is home to the edible Witchetty Grub (yummy!). There is the Spinifex bush (on the left next to the tall termite mound), which has 2 inch long hard and sharp spines. These spines regularly flatten the tires of the trucks we use to go out and pick up the payload when it lands.
They also had various lizards and snakes. Other featured animals were birds of prey. These birds hunt and eat other animals, mostly small animals like other birds, mice, and lizards.
The Aborigines: There is an interesting group of people that have lived in Australia for more than 30,000 years. They are called Aborigines. These are people who are native to Australia. They are very different, as they have grown up in the Outback without contact with the rest of the world. They have their own language and ways of doing things. They have no written language, only basic drawings. They used to wander the desert hunting small animals with a small spear and a boomerang. Most people recognize the boomerang. Supposedly if you throw it correctly it will fly through the air and return to you. This never happens with me, I always end up walking after it. Maybe with a bit more practice it'll come back. They also have their own musical instrument called the digiridoo (say DIJ-er-e-doo). This looks like a hollow, wooden tube about 4 feet long and 2 inches in diameter. The Aborigines blow into it a certain way and create eerie sounding musical notes that cannot be heard anyplace else. I don't have a picture, as we're not supposed to photograph them.
First week of January 2003: During the first week of January we spent most of our time working on unpacking and building up the NIGHTGLOW payload structure. Here are a few pictures showing how the buildup went.
The keel (structure that holds the telescopes) and the main deck (main structure where the electronics are attached)
Stephen and Roy are working to clear space for the payload.
NIGHTGLOW standing on its legs.
Electronics deck that holds most of the electronics that we use to control and run NIGHTGLOW (deck is empty now)
Outside of work I was able to see some of the local animal life, such as kangaroos, emus, camels, lizards, a tree frog, black-tailed kite, and the Australian hobby. Emus (say ee-moos) are large birds that look something like ostriches. They can't fly (like the ostrich), but they are big - as big as a regular sized second grader! We found an Australian tree frog living in the toilet tank. Here is a picture of him.
See his toes? They have large pads that help him to stick to trees when he is climbing.
There are a lot of camels around here too. They (actually their great grandparents) were brought here over 100 years ago to help get people across the desert. Now they are used to take people on rides.
I don't have a picture of the Australian hobby because he is too fast. Can you guess what kind of animal he is? I'll wait.....
It's a bird! It is part of the falcon family. These are very fast birds that hunt other birds, so they need that speed. The black tailed kite is also a bird that hunts lizards or mice. It has a forked tail so it's easy to see. I see a lot of them in the sky when I'm driving along.
December 31, 2002: I left the hotel around 8:00 in the morning and took a taxi to the airport to catch a morning flight to Alice Springs on the Australian airline Qantas. The flight took about 3 hours. The whole time I was in the air the only thing I could see on the ground was red sand and rock. The center area of Australia is called the red center, and it really is! We landed about 11:30 AM, and when we got off the plane it was HOT! The day before was the highest recorded temperature for Australia in 2002, about 110 degress!
We stopped off at the hangar where NIGHTGLOW is being put together just to see how things were going. All was well as one of our guys, Stephen, had been here since Christmas Eve working on setting up the workspace and checking to see if all our stuff arrived (most of it did).
Then we went into town to pick up a rental car. When I was in the airport I stopped at the car rental counter just to see if my reservation was in the computer, it was. When I went into the rental office in town (to get the car) the same person who was at the airport counter 20 minutes before was behind the counter! Things like that happen in small towns in the middle of large deserts.
December 28, 2002: Leaving for Australia
Australia is a long way from West Friendship, Maryland -- about 12,000 miles. It's on the opposite side of the world in the Southern Hemisphere. On the globe you can see Australia, and you can see how far it is below the Equator and that the Tropic of Capricorn runs through the middle of it. In the center of Australia there is a town called Alice Springs. This is where we are working to set up and launch NIGHTGLOW.
There are a couple of ways to get to Alice Springs, but the fastest way is with an airplane. This is the way I went. First I flew in a Boeing 757 from Baltimore to San Francisco, CA. I then changed planes and flew from San Francisco to Sydney, Australia in a Boeing 747. This is a huge plane with lots of fuel so it can fly the 7000 miles across the Pacific ocean!
This flight lasted over 13 hours, and we had 6 movies to watch. Most of the trip is in the dark, so the thing to do is try to get some sleep. We got to eat dinner and breakfast on the plane, too. While we were flying across the Pacific Ocean we crossed the International Date Line. You can see this line on the globe, it runs North to South through the Pacific ocean. When you cross this line your date changes by one day. If you are flying west, as I did, you will have to set your calendar ahead one day. So when I was flying on December 29th and the plane crossed the Date Line we all had to set our watches ahead by one day, so it was the 30th of December.
The Sun rose over the Pacific as we got ready to land in Sydney. Sydney is Australia's largest city (Canberra is the capital). I stayed in a hotel overlooking the harbor. Sydney harbor has been regarded by seafarers as the world's most beautiful natural harbor, and I think I agree. There are two famous landmarks in Sydney harbor, the Opera House and the Sydney Harbor Bridge.
This file was last modified February 13, 2003