Just when you thought it's been quiet around here at Michelle In Space, look out! A big old California post with pics and all :D
Tuesday: Tuesday was a normal day at work, although we were all pretty stressed out about finishing our posters before the trip. We had a fireside chat with the director of engineering at Marshall - Chris Singer. Chris was like a less pepped up Marty Kress, heh. He was very friendly and knowledgeable. I think the best thing he informed us about is the PIP program - a way for new hires to move up from GS-7 to GS-11 in a couple of short years. Seems like a pretty sweet deal!
At night we had an early evening speaker - Tim Pickens. Tim was a particularly fascinating guy. He's like a living Tony Stark. He spent all of his upbringing building rockets, and turned that passion into a career. Eventually he formed his own propulsion company - Orion - which was later sold to Dynetics for millions of dollars. Now, Tim uses his fortune to work on pet projects in his "man cave", a house that he's converted into a workshop. He now spends his time inventing many things that belong in many different fields - not just space - and remains sharp, witty, and humble about the entire experience. Like I said - a real life Tony Stark.
After that, there was packing and a lot of Steve Shark trying to drag me into a game of Betrayal. Steve Shark won. As usual.
Wednesday: The crew met up not-so-early to embark on a two hour journey to Nashville airport. The airport is deceptively large. We had to take a bus just to get from the parking lot to the front gate. We were flying Southwest, so there were no assigned seats, and we all got to sit next to our buds on the nonstop flight to LAX. I wanted to go Eoin Colfer hunting, because he was in Nashville for a book signing that day, but I never ran into the Irish wonder.
We arrived in LA around 2:30 local time. Zach and Dean - the other mentor who was chaperoning - met us at the car rental place and we headed off to Hollywood. Our van ended up in a sketchy overpriced lot where they tried to make our van park in a space made for Tonka Trucks, but it worked out alright. Then, we walked through Hollywood Blvd. It's still as crazy as I remember it being when I was 15...although, you do kind of get used to it after you walk around for awhile and learn to ignore the fifteen people trying to sell Star Maps. The Kodak Theater is now the Dolby Theatre and houses a Cirque De Solei show. A few people got crepes at the Dolby mall. I resisted because I knew we'd be eating later, but that turned out to be a bad idea because In-N-Out burger literally only sells burgers. So, I only got fries and a shake, but they were darn good fries and a shake.
After that, we headed off for a two hour drive to Lancaster. It was a very scenic drive. Before dropping off at Hotel Number One, we went to a Wal-Mart to pick up supplies. For most, that included granola bars. For me and Dan, it included candy. Nom.
Once at the hotel, a few of us headed down to soak in the hot tub. Andrew and I chatted in the lobby over Sprees afterward (which would become a nightly ritual).
Thursday: 7:15 leave call for Dryden Flight Center! Actually, our first stop was a local one to a hanger which houses SOFIA - Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy. Basically, it's a really big telescope on a really big plane, and I believe the only observatory of its kind.
They're pretty proud about capturing the shadow of Pluto with it. Also, they did a lot of instrumentation inventing with it, which was interesting for me to hear about. The first thing we saw in the parking lot was a bunny, and we were warned about snakes in the hanger. Welcome to the desert.
Our next stop was the real Edwards Air Force Base in the REAL Mojave. Our van got a bit confuzzled about how to get past the gate, but once we were on base, we saw all kinds of jets whizzing by. We stopped at the Test Flight Museum and picked up an awesome amount of free air force swag. Hosek and I took pictures by the B-52 bomber, we saw an SR-71 Blackbird, and Zach impressed us with his knowledge of airplanes. Which is one time of a dozen that Zach impressed us with knowledge of something, because I learned a new rule on this trip - Rule #53: Zach knows everything. It's a little funny how being confined to one topic (ECLSS) with someone all summer can cover-up the fact that they're basically a jack of all trades genius, heh.
From here, we headed to Dryden proper. Andrew informed me of a prank performed on Kevin, a Robo, in which they hid his Stow-And-Go seat and convinced him that someone stole it. We ate lunch in the surprisingly expensive cafeteria and toured various facilities of the flight center. The desert is hot and dry. Really. I kind of missed humidity. Among the things we saw were the GloboHawk - an unmanned drone used solely for science; the operating trailer for the predator drones, we got to take pictures in the cockpit of a working jet (which resulted in Kevin almost accidentally hitting a live ejector seat - thank God that didn't happen. Kid was having a hard day already).
Andrew strikes a model pose, and Zach wonders why he's in this picture, lol.
We visited a flight simulation lab where Josh did some barrel rolls, Alex landed the plane upside down, and Zach flied the plane like a boss (Rule #53). We also visited an abort simulation lab, where Zach volunteered to be strung up in a virtual reality skydiving/canopy experience. His landing was...splat, but the computer simulation was a little spotty :P
We finished with Dryden and made another two hour journey back to the LA area. We ate dinner in Pasadena at a place called the Yard House. I played up the happy hour specials and got an entree and dessert for $11. One of the tables wasn't so lucky and had to find a way to split a $280 check. On TV was some very strange chariot style horse racing. Then, we headed to Griffith Observatory. Traffic was packed to get up the mountain. Hosek was super excited that everyone was so interested in astronomy...but it turns out they were all there to see Al Green at a Greek Theatre up there. Cue dissapointed Hosek. Parking was maddening and we had to walk about a mile around a gorge to actually get to the museum. Once there, we didn't have much time, but the view over LA was quite impressive and lovely. It was nice to visit, even if briefly.
The gang headed to Hotel Number Two - the Holiday Inn at Pasadena. Most people went to bed early to prepare for the crazy packed day ahead.
Friday: Early morning wake up call to head to Honeybee Robotics. It was a brief tour, but neat to see a very small company working on drills for the Mars Rovers. I was pretty miserable with fatigue, deydration, a headache, and a whole number of things making me feel crappy. After that, we trekked to Jet Propulsion Lab. What a hip place. It was hard to tell it was a NASA center, cause it felt more like an arts campus. Our tour guide showed us a 3D movie, some cool Earth climate visualizations, and information about the new Mars Curiosity rover. JPL is the main center for the Mars Science Laboratory mission, so there was a lot of excitement and advertisement for that. We saw Curiosity's model twin and her robotic twin. That's a biggun! No wonder it has to have such a complicated landing maneuver. Curiosity touches down on Martian soil on August 5th or 6th, so the buzz is high. Fingers crossed it works.
We also saw some various workshop rooms at JPL, including a room full of tinker toys and other fun engineering past times. JPL definetly has the cool California vibe to it. Pasadena is a gorgeous area, although the cost of living is surely outrageous. Gas itself was $4.00 a gallon everywhere. We ate lunch at the wicked good JPL cafeteria, made better by free lollipops! At the JPL gift shop, I sucked it up and bought a NASA bomber jacket to put my mission patches on. The adult ones were $110, the youths were $45, and the youth large fit, so I saved a whole lot of money ^_^
Finally, it was the long haul to Space X. Traffic didn't get us too badly, but it still took nearly two hours to get across town to Hawthorne, where Space X and Boeing Satellite Systems were located. It is a surprisingly mundane part of town. Our tour of Space X got some mixed results, with people either loving it or hating it. I think I can't talk about specifics, but I can give you a general gist of the place. Most of my peers will scoff at me for my blasphemy, but I honestly hated it. There was a disgusting level of unprofessionalism displayed (I lost count of the amount of F-bombs dropped by our orientation presenter and our tour guides - I'm not a prude, but even a monkey knows to keep it out of the workplace), a lack of anyone there over age 30 (aka, lack of any experienced wisdom and mentoring), and the sheer negligence that was being displayed with flight hardware. I mean, absolute negligence. I had more than a few raised eyebrows watching people work carelessly on stuff that is supposed to fly into space.
I love that the space industry has gone private, and I can certainly understand why someone would want to avoid the government-style red tape that comes with working at NASA proper. But this is the one company I've seen this summer which openly admits to skirting the edge of safety to save a buck, and then puffs out their chests in arrogance because of it. It actually baffles me how anyone could ignore that, especially since no one who fell in love with Space X has actually explained to me why they do - they've just looked at me like I'm psychotic. Personally, I am heavily dissapointed, and even a bit heartbroken by what I saw there. I was expecting amazement and a glimpse of the future, and instead I walked out with dread. Of course, I am happy we went, because it was very eye-opening and informative to see - I merely think the Dragon may as well be named the Icarus.
At least our day finished with something to brighten my spirits in private industry - Boeing Satellite Systems. I actually did sign a non-disclosure for this one, but I think it's pretty obvious we saw some satellites being built, which were all beautiful and awesome sights. I didn't think construction of a satellite would be that interesting, but I think it was one of my favorite tours of the whole summer. Our guide was lovely and knowledgeable, and everything was very clean and carefully controlled. It was what I expected a space contractor should be, and I was glad to have my support for Boeing confirmed. The environment reminded me a little of ULA (another Boeing company), which was also an awesome place, even though it had been exhausting to tour, heh.
We went to Hotel Number Three - La Quinta at LAX - for a quick-change, and I ended up losing a shoe from two different pairs in the process. Yes, I had two pairs of shoes and I lost a shoe from each of them, essentially ruining TWO pairs of my shoes. Including the ones I bought at Wal-mart on Wednesday. We're still not sure how this happened. We headed off to Yankee Doodle's VIP Lounge where we played some pool and waited way too long for food and drinks. The pool was fun and the food was good but the management wasn't so great. I can't really blame our waitress because she was the only one down there with a group of 30, but that could have been easily modified by the manager.
Back to the hotel an hour later than expected. Andrew's van "supposedly" ran out of gas in a bad neighborhood and had to be pushed (this later turned out to be a prank on Josh, their navigator, for abandoning them). We got to sleep in the next day, so we all had time to chill and hang out with each other. Andrew somehow managed to find a bag of Sour Patch Berries for me, which we've hunted for for weeks now.
Saturday: Sleeping in and then University of Southern California Aeronautics lab! Turns out to be a wicked garage with a vacuum chamber, a solar furnace, and an undergraduate rocket club. A couple of the Ph.Ds (one a former ECLSS alum) talked to us about their projects and what it's like to study Astronautical Engineering at USC. The campus is quite lovely and the food court of all Asian food was particularly awesome too. Dan, Zach, and I got some Korean BBQ that defeated our best efforts, but man I wish we had that stuff in the South. On the way back to the parking garage, some of the bored guys attempted to do human flag poles with varying degrees of success.
Zach! (Rule 53!)
Ford! (lol he looks like he's just holding the pole and we took the picture sideways)
Next, we headed out to La Brea Tar Pits, which was a surprisingly not-remote park in the middle of the city. We saw some skeletons and played in some tar, haha. Forget the wooly mammoth - the most awesome thing I saw was a traffic cone that had quite obviously been shoved into one of the miniature tar deposits on a daily basis, and we speculated about how many times the security guards had to pull that thing out of there.
After another quick change at the hotel, we headed out to the Santa Monica pier. Cue another parking nightmare.
The pier was also crowded as all getout, so Zach, Andrew and I snuck off to get some food away from the beach. We ate at a British pub which was quite good. I was a bit envious of Zach's awesome looking curry and Andrew's pork chops, but my chicken sandwich was good for a chicken sandwich. Then, we passed a British store, where I wishy-washed about twenty minutes over what to buy from there, with a few nudges from Zach, who is British by marriage. He handed me a hippo cookie filled with nutella so I was like "okay, I'll buy this", but the main thing I bought was a surprise for the boyfraan ;)
I really wanted to get some Vegemite but it was ridic expensive for something that probably tastes terrible and over 3oz, so I couldn't take it on the plane. Alas. I really wanted to buy some sticky toffee pudding, but I dunno what I even would have done with that, since we didn't have a fridge. Or forks.
The crowd met back up and headed to the hotel for packing and hanging out. We got up early Sunday morning and shuttled off to LAX. The plane ride was long and dry but we were glad to be home eventually. Posters are due tommorrow at 9am, so we're all bustling around and trying to finish those. One more "real" week of work before all the deliverables have to be...delivered :P On the plane home, I sat next to a woman who lives on Daniel Island and whose children go to Divine Redeemer. I said, "I live on that street". Small world, and it made me miss home a bit. The gate next to the one we exited from was going to Charleston, and although I've had fun this summer, I think I'll be quite happy to return to the real world at the end of next week. Dad is visiting this week, and I have the rest of the fam and Austin coming next week, so at least a bit of home is coming to me before I have to pack up and say goodbye.
Now that our California trip is over, it really is downhill from here.