Friday, June 17, 2005

Houston Day 2 National ROV competition

What a day…

We arrived at the Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL) at the Johnson Space center. That’s where the astronauts train in a floating environment. It’s a really big pool, 50 feet deep and space station modules and shuttle parts for the men and women to practice mission tasks on before they have to do it in the real weightless space.

A little fact we learned last night – You have to look down towards Earth when orbiting to see meteors. Since they need the atmosphere to burn and the shuttle (and space station) are above the atmosphere… and they look little. When we look up to see them, they are 30 miles above us, but to the space crew, the meteor is 100+ miles below them.

Our ROV, “Smokey” survived the shipment from Phoenix and we had him set up in a hour. We has some soldering to finish, a job that we started when he had to be shipped. Right now, everything works 100%, but we did not get any pool time today to test him.

The big event for us was the technical presentation. Although teachers are allowed in the room to listen, Fredi, Sam, Ruth and I do not. There is nothing we can do to help and we think it just adds to the kids’ stress if we are there – and it shows that we really have confidence in them – which we do. Their 30 minute presentation stretched to 55. One person came out of the room and said, “You have every reason to be proud of those kids. I am not a judge, but they are good.” Then the kids came out all smiles and feeling good about their performance.

Cindy (our recovering cheerleader) is not the most technical member, but she is willing to do anthing asked of her 100%. She was in charge of explaining how the two video pictures and all the data was transmittied through the hair thin 200’ long fiber optic cable. When one judge asked her what wavelengths were used, Cristian started to answer but the judge said he wanted to hear Cindy’s answer. She said it was basicly two different colors of light, one for the uplink data while at the same time, the other color carried the downlink data and it all goes serially, kind of like Morse code signals. Not the graduate engineer answer, but it was an elegant and correct answer. The kids felt REAL good about their test.

The hour-long Dayna Steele show was live from the NBL. She was kind enough to interview me about how cool the whole event was. She chatted with Oscar about college and the difficulties that undocumented high school graduates have. Marcos Garcia-Acosta, our mentor and friend from Intel spoke about the Dream Act and what can be done to move it on. (Write your congressman). Dayna has been so great with the kids. She truly loves them. She bugged Luis about going to college. He now has another mother pushing him.

Karen Suhm, our engineer mentor from Phoenix, while talking to the astronauts last night, learned a bunch of them had been rejected for the progam many times before being accepted. She had applied a few years ago. Anyway, she had a meeting today with Duane L. Ross who selects astronaut candidates and he pulled out her record and gave her some pointers. She is reapplying. That’s what is so neat about this whole experience. People are not telling our kids what to do, but doing very positive, ambitious, creative activities in front of them. We are all feeding off each other’s successes. What a way to learn.

In a few minutes we are off to the Johnson Space Center for a reception. We get to see all the cool stuff there and get even more excited about the fantastic technological achievements and meet many of the people who made it happen. I can see Karen training here in a year or two, and Cristian and Cindy in 10 more. And… well, some one has to be the first to step on Mars. I would not shock me that she is here this weekend.

Tomorrow at 11:00 is our underwater ROV test. Thirty minutes to complete all (or as many as we can do) tasks. Potentially we can do them all, if everything works like we hope it will. But then again, we have never had the ROV deeper than 12’ and there are quit a few points of stress on the machine. The kids are ready. Hopefully, we will be able to sleep some tonight.

Fredi is posting pictures at
So many people go to it that it shuts down at times. Be patient.

I’ll email an update tomorrow.



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