Posted on May 21, 2013 03:32:40 AM | Kimberly Ennico
Tonight’s line operations were cancelled due to open issues
recertifying work on reworked parts of the telescope assembly (TA) power
subsystem. There are no show-stoppers, just the need for more time for testing
and integration. Progress continues to be made. The cautious step was to make
the decision to start line ops tomorrow, and there is a contingency day next
week to make up time if needed. The schedule for the remaining three nights of
line ops will remain tight, but there is a plan. Creative re-ordering of tasks
will be the “philosophy” these next three days. Having worked operations on two
space missions, I can say that operations of any craft, air or space, is a
skill of “firm flexibility.”
This evening, I experienced a Technical Readiness Review
(TRR). This consisted of getting all the leads around a table and walking
through the status of each subsystem, who is needed where and when, what types
of testing will be done during the next few days, and when the daily crew
briefings will be held. Also addressed were questions posed by the visiting
science team to the operations team, to fill in some gaps. Today was the first
time the group had re-assembled since the last line & flight ops, which for
the FORCAST instrument, had been back in March. Since then, two other
instruments (HIPO/FLITECAM and GREAT) had been installed, tested, and removed,
and there have been software upgrades to both the telescope and telescope to
science instrument communications. This phase of operations is pretty complex,
folding in highly dynamic items that may seem be changing a lot, but it’s
actually normal. And the job of operations is to keep to schedule while still
achieving the tasks. Sometimes the path is different from the exact original
concept, but if the goals are met, it was a successful journey. At tomorrow’s
crew briefing at 2130h, open items from today’s TRR will be addressed and
closed before line ops begins, set for 2300h-0500h.
I’m still a bit on the sidelines, watching and learning from
the experienced SOFIA observers who have worked with SOFIA operations before.
During a lull this afternoon, I got a glimpse into the AORs, or Astronomical
Observation Requests, which is how an end-user communicates her requests to
enable an observing plan via scripted observational tasks. The AORs for our
upcoming lineops have been written, and one of my roles will be quick look data
analysis to confirm they executed as expected. My colleague Luke Keller, from Ithaca College, is shown below crafting some new slit-stepping observations.
Oh, I got to step inside SOFIA today. She’s bigger on the
inside (compared to what I had expected, that is.).
Being in the presence of a cool lady, a 747SP named the Clipper Lindbergh
Posted on May 20, 2013 04:04:25 PM | Kimberly Ennico
I have arrived here in Palmdale, CA. This is a new place for
me, so it has a share of expectations. Palmdale, just 50 miles north-east-ish
of Los Angeles is home to the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility or DAOF, for
short. Upon arrival, I learned that NASA
Dryden Flight Research Center itself is about another 40 minute drive away, so
time permitting, I'd like to check out that sister center.
I've rendezvoused with two colleagues from Cornell and
Ithaca College who have both flown on SOFIA and also have put in so many hours
to make the FORCAST instrument a success. They are eager to get back to
operations & science observations again.
I've also met two graduate students, one who has flown already and
another, just as green-as-me, this being his first time to Palmdale and
checking out the *Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy* for
Today marks a special
occasion for me to see SOFIA in all her shiny-white-paint with an organized crew
getting her ready for this week of line operations, or line ops. The reality is
intense. One can read about things on the internet or in papers, but to
actually see the physical metal,
glimpse at her sleek curves, observe the crews keeping her safe and airworthy,
is something else. And that’s just the outside.
instrument FORCAST, a mid-infrared instrument, is already installed and had its
latest cryogen fill this morning.
Tonight, line operations are scheduled from 11pm-5am and I
can share what I learn. Until then,
pieces of the complex set of what goes into operating a facility such as SOFIA,
are slowly coming into place.
For now, I just cannot help staring at this amazing beauty.
747SP, the SP means “Special Performance.”
ATTREX: Last week of work
Posted on Mar 04, 2013 04:06:14 PM | Maria Navarro
54 to 57: Fifth Science Flight
Here we go again. After
finished the pre-flight and the science meeting we are ready to go airborne one
On Feb 26 at 9:59 am
(PST) the Global Hawk 672 took off from Edwards Air Force base heading south to
sure you are wondering why we fly to this area so often. Well, our brilliant
group of meteorologists and modelers always keep an eye on the weather
conditions and try to find the perfect locations to fulfill the objective of
our missions. For this flight, this area was characterized by the presence of
anticyclonic circulation, very cold air, considerable condensed water, and low
water vapor concentrations. So, from our scientific point of view, this was an
On the other hand, the
flight kept me busy most of the time. Once again, we performed nine verticals
profile which forced us to power up and power down the instrument several
times. Besides, the absence of one of our satellite bands, made the sampling
strategy a little bit complicated. There were a lot of delays for getting
confirmation of the commands we sent. However, one of the most exciting parts
was to execute two of these vertical profiles near to the area where another
group was performing balloon measurements. Comparisons between our measurements
and the ones obtained by this group will be extremely helpful, not only for us
but also for all the scientific community interested on knowing the behavior of
ozone and water vapor along the different layers of the atmosphere.
58 and 59: Sixth Science Flight
Our ATTREX 2013 last
flight I have a bittersweet feeling and a strange
sensation which is hard to explain. I’m excited to complete our mission, but at
the same time it is sad for me to perform my last flight. I know I will be do
it again in a blink of an eye, but believe me, with my lack of sleep it is hard
to control my emotions. So, here we are again (and for the last time), on March
1 around 6:15 am (PST) the Global Hawk 672 took off from Edwards Air Force Base
heading south of the equator and along the continental line. 24 hours of
excitement, particularly in the southern part of the leg where we found a huge
cloud which allowed us to take a lot of measurements. Without a doubt, one of
the most entertaining flights! I collected a great amount of samples around
this cloud. At some point, I was even worried because I thought I would use all
my canisters here and I would not have anything else for our way back. However,
the science mission crew was aware of the number of canisters left and worked
with us to maximize the their use.
By the end of the
flight, just before landing, I noticed that many of us were exhausted. We did
feel the satisfaction of completing our last flight and the whole ATTREX 2013
campaign was a success! We were
surrounded by the most amazing crew of pilots, managers, scientists and
Next step, remove the
instruments for the aircraft, pack our supplies and go home!
60: GOOD BYE ATTREX 2013!
Wow! My two months of
adventures have come to an end. Everyone packed and one by one have left the
hangar. Yes, the place that I used to call “my office” for the last months
looks empty, but it feels full; full of happy memories, funny moments and some
It is hard to say good
bye, but for all us it is more like a SEE YOU LATER…we will back in a couple of
months to continue our mission. I’m sure ATTREX 2014 will be even better.
Thus, I don’t want to
finish my blog without saying THANK YOU! Yes THANK YOU to ALL my ATTREX team.
We made it! You guys are the most incredible, fascinating and enthusiastic
team. It is an honor for me to be part of you, and I could not feel more proud.
Let’s continue with our hard work (I know it is extremely HARD) but it is worth
I can’t wait to see you
again to discuss the results of our measurements, and to prepare our next
campaign in the beautiful area of GUAM.
ATTREX 2014! Here we
ATTREX: Eighth week of work
Posted on Mar 02, 2013 12:53:22 PM | Maria Navarro
49 to 52: Fourth Science Flight
After a very nice break
we are ready to keep working and preparing our instrument for our fourth
science flight. Once I finished our pre-flight, I needed to figure out our
flight plan for sampling. This plan is based on the information provided by our
science team, who look at the weather conditions prior to each flight. Looking
at the flight path provided by the science team I thought about how much fun I
would have on this flight. They planned 13 consecutives vertical profiles (or
dives) which would mean to turn off GWAS before each descent. It was also
challenging to plan how many samples we should collect during every ascent. So,
after a couple of hours I came out with a good plan: collect 5 to 6 samples
during ascent and just a few (3 to 4) at cruise altitude. In this way we could
have a better look at the chemical composition of the vertical structure of our
So, here we are,
February 21th around 6:47 am (PST) the Global Hawk 672 took off from
Edwards Air Force Base heading to south of the equator for the second time. I’m
not going to lie, I was still nervous about the behavior of GWAS, but after our
first dive and noticed how GWAS recovered from its first power down, I felt
more relaxed. Besides, this time I took the later shift (from midnight until
the aircraft landed) so I did not have to deal with the communication lost
issues and the blind sampling strategy.
After 24.5 hours of
flight the Global Hawk finally landed. Three hours later we were able to take
the canister out, collect the data from the aircraft computer and put the new
set of canister to have them ready for pre-flight.
Yes, two flights down,
two more to go!
GWAS sample locations (blue dots) during Science flight # 4
53: A visit from the students of Palmdale
Today, we hosted an
event for 99 Middle School students from the Palmdale Aerospace
Academy. Without a doubt,
another of my FAVORITE experiences. How fun it was to explain to these kids how
my instrument works. It was not that easy, because I think I am used to using a
technical vocabulary for this, but I finally found the right words and I
believed they got the idea.
Even though they still have time to figure out what
career path to follow, many of them already know what they want to be. This is
really encouraging for our scientific community. It is nice to know that future
generations are already attracted by science. I wish them the best for their
future. Keep working hard kids. Remember that society makes progress by having
a skilled and creative work force.
Thanks for coming to Dryden.
Some of the students from the Palmdale Aerospace Academy during their visit to Dryden
ATTREX:Seventh week of work
Posted on Feb 27, 2013 02:22:07 PM | Maria Navarro
41 to 43: A rollercoaster of emotions
After an unsuccessful
flight, we were ready to deal with the instrument to try to find a problem.
During three days I was
in a circle of happiness and disappointments. We performed several tests with
our instrument which sometimes it worked fine, sometimes it crashed. We also
felt the pressure of having our instrument ready in two days, just before our
next flight. So it was not the best way to start our week.
To summarize our
journey, we took some parts out of the aircraft (computer, connections, and
control box) and all of them worked fine by themselves. Just to play it safe, we decided to change the
aircraft computer, assemble the instrument again and test it with an external
power supply. The instrument also worked fine, but once we put the whole
instrument back to the aircraft it failed. At this point, we figured out
something could be wrong with the aircraft power, so we change our power zone
to another channel and the instrument performed well. Yes! That night I went to
bed confident that the problem was solved.
The next day we tried
to take a sample with our instrument just to prove that everything was in good
shape. However, the instrument failed when it was trying to open canister #1.
After several attempts
to determine where the problem was, we decided to jump canister # 1 and try to
start sample with canister #2. It looked like a miracle! The instrument worked.
We kept going on testing the other canister, until we reached canister #11 and
one more time the instrument died. We saw the same behavior for canister #31,
and #41. So, something was wrong with the connections for the first canister of
each module. One of our engineers checked the wires inside of the canister
connections and found the problem: An electrical short with the connector
backshell. YAY!!!! We fixed the connection and
solved the problem for good.
GWAS is ready for
A look of GWAS computer outside of the aircraft
44 and 45: Third Science Flight: A constant “heart attack” state
Here we are, February
14th (Happy V-day!) around 9:48 am (PST) the Global Hawk 672 took
off from Edwards Air Force Base heading to south of Hawaii. I have to confess,
I was scared…would my instrument finally work and collect the 90 canisters we
need? Wow, I suffered the whole flight, I was sending the commands to collect
our samples, but every time I pressed a button I felt like my heart stopped for
a second. It wasn’t until I collected sample canister # 71 when I felt kind of
relief (of course I was also tired. I was up for 19 hours straight and it was
time for me to go back to the hotel). Elliot kept working with the instrument
until the Global Hawk landed. At that
point we got our 90 canister filled with air and ready for analysis. Yes, GWAS
finally worked and we ROCKED! Great job GWAS team! I’m so proud of working with you. I’m finally smiling again.
GWAS computer finally in action during a sample collection
46 and 48: Post-Flight, Data analysis and a well deserved break
This is exciting! I’m
finally looking at some numbers. Tons of numbers that provide temperatures, and
pressure readings, times and locations of each sample collection. It is alot of
work, but I never felt so happy. I also took the canister out of the aircraft
and sent them to the lab for further analysis. Yes, what a great weekend.
Besides, there was a programmed power outrage at Dryden so my weekend will be a
long one. I’m not only planning to take a look at this data, but I’m also
planning to go outside of base and have some fun with other members of ATTREX
team. First stop hiking at Tehachapi trail, then a trip to Sequoia National Park. See you next week!
ATTREX: Sixth week of work
Posted on Feb 20, 2013 02:42:34 PM | Maria Navarro
34 to 36: First Science Flight!
Aircraft: in runway!
ATTREX team members: ready to go!
up…vehicle is moving…
YES!, On Tuesday Feb 5
around 7:52 am (PST) the Global Hawk 672 took off from Edwards Air Force Base
heading to West Pacific Ocean. I was extremely excited, my heart was beating
fast and my hands were sweating…it was amazing to see the aircraft finally in the
Two minutes after
take-off, I started to warm up my instrument (pumps were on!), and 15 min later
I started to take our first sample…Yes, so far so good!!!
I kept sampling for
several hours, but suddenly, when I was ready to draw some air inside canister
33, the pressures in my instrument dropped…uh oh!!! What is going on…PANIC!!!
This never happened before. I was glad that our instrument PI (principal
investigator) was next to me, so he figured out that one of our pumps just
Well, no more sampling
from this flight (bummer!)…I was really disappointed, not only because I would
miss the fun of the sampling collection, but also, because I felt like I
letdown all my ATTREX team (In this kind of campaign, the data collection is
really valuable from other instrument teams since they can compare and validate
their results)…but everybody kept telling me, and I knew, these things happen,
and it is part of the science, which is based on precision and not on
perfection (otherwise it would be so boring!).
Anyway, the worst part
of this event was to know that we would have to stay in the Operation Center
until the end of the flight, yes, 24
lovely hours doing almost nothing…just turning our instrument on (to keep it warmed)
and turn it off for descending (remember, AWAS takes most of the power from the
aircraft, and they need it during descending.)
Yes, what a night! I
was only waiting for the aircraft to land to get inside it and determine the
reason why my instrument had an unsuccessful flight.
A view of my instrument screen before pumps failed
37 and 38: A little surgery for the
Ok, so my team had
access to the aircraft, and we found that indeed one of our pumps died during
flight. We took it out, opened it and found a frozen bearing. This is something
feasible, since temperatures at high altitudes are really cold. Thus, we
replaced the pump with a spare one (lucky that we packed it before coming to
Dryden) and reinstalled inside the aircraft.
To avoid further
problems and to verify our cold temperature suspicions, we decided to add a thermistor
monitor the temperatures of the pumps for our next flight (yes, we scientists
love to know the reason for everything!)
Now, we are ready to go
on ATTREX’s second science flight.
Preflight is done. Science meeting was held, and aircraft will be in air on
Saturday, February 9th . Wish us luck!
GWAS pumps outside of aircraft. (pump # 1 guilty as charge!)
A little test before installing the new pump inside the Global Hawk
39 and 40: Second Science Flight: Here we go!
Yes, it is the weekend,
but science never stops. Besides, someone told me that Global Hawk stands for Global Holiday And Weekend Killer (LoL!) and I’m starting to believe its true. Thus, are we
ready? Let’s Fly…
It is Saturday, Feb 9th,
the Global Hawk 672 took off from Edwards Air Force Base heading to West Pacific Ocean and South to the Equator. I felt
the same excitement as I felt on Tuesday, although I was also worried about the
behavior of my pumps.
Well, this time I
waited until the aircraft reached 40,000 ft. to start the pumps. So far so
good, the pressure reading was right, and temperatures were warmed. After 10
min, I was ready to sample our first canister, so, I enabled the button to
start my sequence, but I did not see any response in my ground computer. At the
same moment I noticed we lost communication with the satellite, thus, I waited
a few minutes for it to recover. Then,
communication came back on, but my instrument was still in stand-by. Looking at
another screen I noticed there were no current values in our aircraft zone…uh
oh AGAIN!!!, AWAS died one more time. But, this time was even worse since I was
not able to collect any sample. My frustration reached a boiling point…how
could it happen? Did I miss-connect something during pre-flight? I wondered if
the new pump thermistor working fine? Ohhh no!!! What a mess…
I decided to leave the Operation Center. I went back to the hotel
with tears in my eyes…I exercised, went out for a walk, talk with everyone
about the problem just to try to vent my frustration, but it seems like it did
not work…I knew it was not the end of the world, but for me it was…Then I
realize what the problem was: I LOVE my job! And I care so much about it that I
want it to do it well.
Well, here I am waiting
for the Global Hawk to land. The pressure is on. We will only have two days to
figure out what happened with our instrument and fix the problem before our
Third Science flight. Stay tuned.
(No picture here... )
ATTREX: Fifth week of work
Posted on Feb 12, 2013 11:52:21 AM | Maria Navarro
27 to day 31: Scrubbed over so many reasons, but still having fun!
Wow, I do not even know
where to start. Last week I mentioned that our first science flight was
cancelled due to bad weather. Well, this week we did not have too much luck
either. Our flight for Tuesday was cancelled for communication problems, and
the one re-scheduled for Wednesday was moved to the next day due to transponder
issues. On Thursday we tried one more time, but now, we had synchronization
problems between the aircraft and the ground station. By mid-morning they
called the flight cancelled. Fortunately, this problem was solved after few
hours. So, the same afternoon, we came back to the operation center to set all
our instrument computers, but just to find out that we would not be able to
transit from Edwards Air Force to the Pacific Ocean
on time…so yes! We were double scrubbed (and on the same day!!! just a new
record!). Under this circumstance we decided to hold our first Science flight
and schedule it for next Tuesday, Feb 5.
In the mean time, we
are taking this bad patch with humor and doing something really cool! We were
shooting videos for the ATTREX Education and Public Outreach. Our film crew has
been wonderful with us. They are the most dedicated and enthusiastic people I
ever met. Honestly, they have been really patient, especially with me, since I
have to repeat my video many times! I bet the results will be extraordinary. If
you have not seen the video they already made for us, take a look… you will be
INCREDIBLE film crew (Diego Beltran and Rafael Mendez) and one of our Scientist
(and model) Dr. Jasna Pittman
Film Crew in action!
32: ATTREX Student Visit (A day to remember!)
Without a doubt one of
the BEST DAYS of my life!!!...How nice is it to share your experience with
those who are interested in your work!
Today, I had the amazing
opportunity to talk about ATTREX with kids from the Independence
High School (San
Jose, CA) and El Camino High
School (South San Francisco).
Our conversation was very casual. I talked about my experience as part of the
ATTREX team, tried to give them some advice about how to become a scientist;
and the kids came out with interested questions about how to become part of us.
In my opinion these kids have an enormous potential. They are smart, creative,
and very eager to learn. I hope my talk gave them the motivation to keep
chasing their dreams, be achievers and find success.
Here are some pictures
from that day… Thanks for coming Chicos!
Some of the students from the Independence
High School (San
Jose, CA) and El Camino High
School (South San Francisco)
The students next to the Global Hawk