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Saturday, March 27, 2010

SUCCESS! Well, for the most part!

The launch, flight, & landing of our craft was SUCCESSFUL! It was released around 6:40 a.m., a bit later than anticipated due to this being my first launch and my desire not to rush anything. I have to tell you, it is really easy to screw something simple up (like filling the balloon too rapidly and accidentally popping it, or having a hand slip and letting the darn thing go without the payload, ect). The ascent rate was downright awesome. The craft flew immediately over lake DeGray and disappeared from view within 3-4 minutes. I have read of people being able to see their craft and track it for an hour...this thing was MOVING! About two hours later, at 9:15 a.m. I received a gps signal from 80 miles away, south of Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Unfortunately, my SUV was stuck in the mud all the way up to the door and was so frustrating I almost took it as an omen and cancelled the launch, but realized this was my only good window to launch before spring break is over. The winds were 4-5mph but had been at 25 mph and would soon return since we have a new front coming in Saturday. The cell phone battery died, I was stuck in the mud, and I walked all the way to the ranger station, who graciously allowed me to call a wrecker. $75 later, a nice guy named Ray pulled me out of the mud.

We then went home, fed the children and set lunch out for them, and set out to retrieve our craft. Honestly, I half-expected to receive no signal at all, but there it was...every 10 minutes, it was sending out a signal within the same 20-foot area. It landed in a wooded area, full of pine trees (go figure, Pine Bluff?). A bit of a drive later, we were walking around in the wooded area. You can look at the map where it landed at the link I provided below. Have to say, finding it on the sattelite image is a lot easier than findng it out in the woods. While this thing should stick out like a sore thumb (and I have those now!), it took 2 hours to find it. We were actually starting to think we wouldn't find it. I used my cellphone (with a car charger now...good investment!), called my oldest daughter and had her guide us from the sattelite image. In the future, I'm going to bring the cellphone gps which displays your current gps coordinates and can be compared to the SPOT gps image (so then you can compare where you are to where it should be). After 2 hours or so of searching, my wife FOUND IT! There it was, dangling in the trees....about 40 feet above us. Also, I need to mention that we walked 2-3 miles before coming to where it is since the area is blocked off from vehicle traffic. I tried shaking it, climbing it, using a fallen tree to retrieve it...we were there for HOURS trying to get this darn thing down! After realizing we'd need something else to do this, and darkness approaching, we went back home. I'm going to Atwoods this morning and will piece together several lengths of PVC pipe to form a long pole in sections. That should do it. So, at this point we have had a successful launch, flight time, and landing (the craft is completely intact from what I can see). It is still possible the cameras failed and we have no pictures, but I think it is unlikely. I used brand-new lithium batteries in the camera and gps unit, and used two cameras for images (one video and one still) in the event one fails. I do not yet know if the images of sunrise were successful, or if the camera took pictures all the way up and down. I am leaving right now to put a pole together, which will be useful for future launches since we have so many trees in Arkansas. Once we retrieve the craft, I'll start going through the up to 5,000 still images and video we have potentially recorded. I'll post when we get back home this afternoon and then the work of sorting all the images will begin (provided they are there, of course). Talk to you soon!

Here is the GPS page link...check it out!

Aaron & Danielle

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