March 26, 2007

Feet down, coming out

That's what they would yell at us at the end of each parabola. Basically it let us know that we would be experiencing Gs in a few seconds and we had better get our feet on the ground; otherwise we'd be slammed down wherever we were floating. Honestly though, my feet still have yet to touch the ground.

I made it back to CVille late Saturday night after two looong days of driving. I still can't quite get a handle on what I've just gotten to do. This was an experience I'll be telling my grandkids about. Of course by then they'll be like, "So what, Old Man? I was weightless in the hover-bus on my way to school this morning!" What I'm trying to say is that this was a truly incredible experience - one that I'm having trouble putting into words (let alone humorous, entertaining words). I think I will have to let the pictures and videos speak for themselves (once I get a hold of them). I can tell you some of the specifics though. For example, here's a typical reduced gravity trajectory...
This picture shows one parabola. At the top of each parabola we'd get about 25 seconds of weightlessness. Over four days of flying we did exactly 200 parabolas. (For those doing the math... that's about an hour and 20 minutes of 0-g.) Also, you might have noticed that between each parabola (we'd usually do 10-12 in a row) we would rise and fall about 10,000 feet. I flipped when I realized that this is nearly 2 miles! Imagine a roller coaster with a 2-mile vertical drop and that's about what this was like.

I'm sure I'll have more to say on this later - but for now I've got to get some more work done before dinner. I'm supremely behind after having been out of town all week. Ah well, who cares.

By the by - for those of you wondering - I did not get sick once on the Vomit Comet.

March 21, 2007

A new perspective

I did two backflips today.
I am awesome.

March 20, 2007

I'm still fat in weightlessness

Zero G is awesome.
Very much really awesome.
I don't think I'll ever be satisfied with 1G again.

Manic Monday

Well we arrived safely in Houston Sunday night. Today the real work began. We spent the whole day at Johnson Space Center loading our equipment onto the plane, bolting it down, connecting power cables, gas regulators, etc. It was a mighty long day. Still, everything went as well as could be expected. The experiment seems to have survived its 1300 mile ride (not to mention my advisor's 95mph "driving"). The laser didn't even require too much alignment. The only hiccup of the day revealed itself at about 4:30 when the NASA jokers finally decided to bring to our attention that 2 of the 3 of us are currently inelligible to fly. It seems my advisor didn't do some of the paper work. So we faxed some papers and are waiting for them to get signed and approved before the flight in the morning. If that doesn't happen I'll have to wait another day to experience 0-g. Easily the strangest sight of the day was the NASA Super Guppy. In closing, it's fantastic to be able to get some authentic Mexican food for a change. Tomorrow.... weightlessness!

March 18, 2007

I'm still going

Sorry for keeping ya'll in the dark and for not posting. To sum up. Not only was I sick this week - I had the flu. Still probably have it. Thankfully I have a girlfriend who loves me and takes good care of me. Also, I am currently in a hotel room with my advisor in Birmingham, AL. We are on our way to Houston (along with two undergrads...don't worry, I'm treating them nicely) to do microgravity combustion experiments. It's been an exhausting few days. I am about to pass out so I will bring this to a close. Hopefully this week I'll post some tidbits about the flights. They should be a blast (if I don't puke).

March 16, 2007

One time, OK, see, one time (part 4)

One time, OK, see, one time Randy Beaman's little brother ate Pop Rocks and drank a soda at the same time and his head exploded!

'K, bye.

March 14, 2007

Happy Pi Day

Happy pi day everyone. I hope you all remembered to mark this occasion in a creative way. Perhaps a pi-mile run? Unfortunately I'm battling being sick...again. So I don't have much brain power to use in a post. However in honor of this glorious day, check this video out (ps. understanding it might require some form of illicit drugs).

March 09, 2007

The Middle is the Goal

Lots of news in the past couple days. Our 0-g flights appear to be a go. I took part in my friend's sleep study (and got less than 2 hours of sleep the whole friggin night). And probably other stuff. But today I've decided to share with you the long ago promised college entrance essay which I wrote some 7 years ago. Oh, and it's about cinnamon rolls. (Make fun of me all you want... I got in didn't I?)

Question: How do you plan to adapt to the challenge of college life?

There are rules when eating a cinnamon roll. These rules may or may not be obvious to someone depending on whether or not he has ever pondered the technique involved in savoring this pastry. The most important rule to eating a cinnamon roll properly is always to work from the outside of the roll to the center. When I remind people of this order, I am often met with looks as if I’ve just told them the world is round. “Of course that’s how you eat a cinnamon roll! How else would anyone eat it?” they say. Believe it or not, some choose to break this vital, unwritten law.

Perhaps the method of eating a cinnamon roll seems unimportant. Unbeknownst to most, however, is that this method can be applied to everyday life. The center of the roll is undoubtedly the favorite part to those who enjoy cinnamon rolls. Therefore, it should be looked upon as the goal of its consumer. Truly, without first eating the outer rings of the roll, a person can not fully appreciate the center of his pastry. Basically, the cinnamon roll rule is this: take time with everything to enjoy fully the benefits of success.

If the engineers of the space shuttle Challenger had spent more time inspecting the hydrogen tanks, perhaps someone could have discovered the o-ring defect responsible for the deaths of eight Americans. If the navigators aboard the Titanic had paid more attention to their course, perhaps someone could have spotted the iceberg in time to steer the ship clear of danger. Similarly, when a student makes the decision not to study for a test he has the next morning and later receives a D, he has only himself to blame. The theory obtained from the cinnamon roll clearly applies. When a task is important, whether it is inspecting a shuttle, charting a ship route, or studying for a test, it will always prove worthwhile to spend the extra time required to get the job done correctly. The center of your cinnamon roll will taste much better because of it.

Eating a cinnamon roll from the outside to the middle is not only the best way to eat breakfast, although I enjoy cinnamon rolls during any part of the day, but also the best way to live life. Still, some people choose a different path. One of those paths is to eat only the middle of the cinnamon roll. As in the examples of the Challenger and the Titanic, following this path can lead to disaster. Someone who eats his cinnamon roll in this manner is a person who rushes into things and pays no attention to detail. Just as the child who, when his mother tells him to clean his room, stuffs his dirty clothes underneath his bed, he merely does the bare minimum amount of work.

Another variance of an incorrect way to eat a cinnamon roll is to leave the middle. This too has its consequences. Leaving the middle of the roll means a person has done all the work of eating the outside of the roll for nothing. Like turning a movie off just before its climactic ending, eating in this fashion leaves things incomplete. I, however, have always been one for completing any job I begin. Whether it be studying for a test, practicing for a theater or musical audition, eating a cinnamon roll, or choosing a college, time and experience have taught me to give my all and do my best in everything I hope to achieve. After all, I’ve always been told that anything worth doing is worth doing right. I can only assume that that includes eating cinnamon rolls.

I have no idea what awaits me during and following college. I do, however, know I will encounter my share of hurdles to jump and bridges to cross. In situations such as these, a person has to draw knowledge and perseverance from everything he has ever been taught about life. The abilities of being flexible, adaptable, and versatile in any situation are important in a person’s character. Sometimes the outside layers of a cinnamon roll are too hard or have been baked too long. When faced with this adversity, I do not despair; I know the solution. Dip those layers in milk or coffee or even use a microwave to heat them to softness. In other words, make the best of what may not appear to be an ideal situation. No matter what, keep working around the rings of the cinnamon roll.

I suspect college is like a cinnamon roll. A student has four and sometimes five years of grueling studying and learning. The goal and center of this cinnamon roll is receiving a degree as a reward for years of hard work, using that degree to get a job, and thus beginning life as an adult. As I have already demonstrated, patience and dedication are excellent virtues for this endeavor. College may be hard work, but it has infinite benefits to those who apply themselves and eat their “cinnamon rolls” properly.

March 05, 2007

Physiological Training (Episode 3)

Our final chamber test involved experiencing rapid decompression. Imagine for a moment you are flying on an airplane at 15000 feet (lower than most commercial planes actually fly). Since it's imaginary, I'd recommend avoiding Jet Blue. Perhaps imagine British Airways, I hear they're nice. The cabin is pressurized to a comfortable 500 feet. Suddenly, there are snakes everywhere... I mean... suddenly someone opens a window because they're an idiot (never mind asking who built a plane with windows that open - I'm sure it wasn't an American company) and cabin pressurization is instantly lost. Essentially that's what happened; except that since we were on the ground, they achieved this by pressurizing two different chambers at the altitudes mentioned above and unexpectedly blowing the door in between the chambers.

A couple fun facts regarding rapid decompression:
  1. Everything that I've previously described for higher altitudes occurs just the same... just... rapidly. (for example, it gets super cold super quick)
  2. Due to the sudden drop in temperature, the water in the air condenses into a fog cloud in the room, which then rushes out in a gust of air.
  3. After the initial gust of equilibration, there is no continual sucking. Movies that show people clinging for dear life are inaccurate.
  4. Rapid decompression cuts your TUC in half. Therefore - if you're flying at 35K feet and experience this - you've got about 15 seconds before you're an idiot (if you aren't one already). Good luck with that.
Good times. It was also at this point in the training we learned the term gangload. It seems that in such a scenario, you want to gangload your regulator before putting on your oxygen mask. To make things simple for ya'll - gangload means "flip all three switches up". Another moment in which I found humor and the air force guys found none.

Having reached the end of the chamber portion of my tale, enjoy this really old school video of some hypoxia demonstrations and rapid decompressions. Although this is an ancient clip, it isn't entirely dissimilar to what we experienced...

The 2nd day of our training was much shorter and spent entirely in the classroom. We got to learn some interesting things regarding night vision, but my favorite section was on G-LOC. G-LOC stands for gravitational loss of consciousness. Essentially it means that a pilot is pulling so many Gs that all the blood rushes to his feet and he blacks out. Here again we got to see a video montage of fighter pilots in a centrifuge G-LOCing. The weird part is the recovery. You can almost see the blood return to their upper body, extremities, and head. And they always feel just fine after. Still, there are ways to combat G-LOC including the G-strain maneuver. Basically it involves a lot of muscle tension and unnatural breathing to resist your blood's exodus to your feet. We saw videos of pilots using such techniques to pull up to 9 Gs for 30 seconds at a time. Wild, wild stuff.

Here's another old school clip of what I mean. Be sure to check out the second guy. He gets up to 9 Gs and carries on a conversation at the same time.

Well, that about wraps things up. As you can tell, it was a full 2 days. Hopefully, more adventure posts will be coming soon. This Wednesday night I'll be doing a sleep study - so maybe I can post my brain wave patterns or something. And in 2 weeks, we're scheduled to take a ride on the Vomit Comet. In the meantime, what say we get back to talking about cinnamon rolls.

March 01, 2007

Physiological Training (Episode 2)

Sorry it's taken so long to get the second installment out (btw - this will be a trilogy). But at least it hasn't been as long as we've waited for January Madness stories (if they exist).

After peaking at 35000 feet, we descended down to 25000. At this altitude it's still very cold. And a person's time of useful consciousness (TUC) is on average between 3 and 5 minutes. So I was understandably a little nervous when they instructed us to take off our oxygen masks. The idea was to be without O2 for long enough to experience and recognize our personal hypoxia symptoms. They also split us into two groups (one on each side of the chamber) so that we could objectively observe the symptoms of hypoxia in others.

They also gave us a worksheet which we were to do as hypoxia began its onset. I've scanned mine and posted it here. I find it quite hilarious. Quantum especially will enjoy noting that I only completed three of the five math problems. The fact that I couldn't do math (and got horribly lost in the worksheet maze) was probably my first clue that I was hypoxic. But I also experienced this crazy tingling all over my body - and not the good kind. So finally - after 5 and a half minutes without oxygen - I put my mask back on. I would point out that I was the last to do so in my group - but it wasn't a contest. But if it had been, I'd have won.

After recovering (which takes only about 20 seconds when breathing 100% oxygen), we got to sit back and watch the guys on the other side of the chamber do the same stunt. The guy across from me got so light urple and blue that he reminded me of Violet Beuregarde (from Willy Wonka). The guy next to him though was the only one of the lot of us who passed his TUC before putting his mask back on. Since he didn't pass out or die or anything, I think I'm allowed to say that it was kind of awesome. I had noticed he quit working on his sheet awhile ago. Then I saw his hand start to spasm. Soon his arm began to shake. At this point, the flight commander had noticed and - I might add - took the time to point out to all of us what was going on. By the time the commander put the man's mask on for him, the guy's whole upper body was rocking out. Twenty seconds later, he felt fine, but didn't remember a single thing.

After everyone had had a chance to recover, we began our descent to 18000 feet. At this altitude, the average TUC is probably 30 minutes. Once again they asked us to drop our oxygen masks. Further, they dimmed all the lights in the chamber and gave us a chart with some pictures and color wheels and whatnot. The goal here was to notice how our vision degraded over time as a low-grade hypoxia set on. All I can tell you is - a lot. At the end of the demonstration, we put our masks back on, and they brought the lights back up and I saw all sorts of colors and details on the chart that I had totally forgotten were there. My recommendation to you all, do not operate heavy machinery (or fly any form of aircraft - including fighter jets) while hypoxic.

On the startling conclusion of Physiological Training - rapid decompression and the definition of the term Gangload.