Filming with BBC Cloud Lab

Just spent a week in Eloy, AZ filming with the BBC Cloud Lab crew.  It was very interesting getting to see all the behind scenes work that goes into making television.  It’s a lot of work getting the right angles, filming in between airplane take offs, and acting natural with a camera in your face.  It’s a fact that I take for granted that I get to perform most of my work alone and with headphones.

We were sampling for tropospheric microbes by adapting our balloon payload to something a sky diver could operate while falling to Earth.  By the end of the shoot we successfully sampled from 16,000-10,000 ft and from 26,000-10,000 ft.

Check out the twitter account @BBCCloudLab to get daily updates on the project!


Stratospheric Sampling Tomorrow

The next launch opportunity will be tomorrow morning.  We will attempt to sample for microorganisms between 60,000 to 95,000.  We would also like to avoid rattle snake hang outs upon landing, but that is really beyond our control.

We have two successful tropospheric sampling mission that collected microbes from 5,000-35,000 ft.  The enrichments are incubating and graphs are being generated.

MARSLIFE team has arrived in Fort Sumner, NM

Today the MARSLIFE team arrived in Fort Sumner, NM.  Here we plan to launch a fleet of the smaller Life’s Atmospheric Microbial Boundary (LAMB) payloads to map how the concentrations of microbes vary at increasing altitudes.  These mission will collect samples from a few hundred feet off the ground up to ~100,000 ft.  The samples will then be analyzed to determine the number of cells collected.  We will also attempt to culture microorganisms from different heights in the atmosphere.

In addition to the smaller payloads, we will also be launching the High Altitude Student Platform carrying a variety of payloads from universities across the country.  The MARSLIFE team is flying the High Altitude Device for Entrapping Samples (HADES) payload to collect microbes from ~125,000 ft.  This larger platform will reach the float altitude and collect samples for 6-12 hours (depending on wind speeds).

The past week has been filled with the largest sampling prep we have ever undertaken.  We have never flown this many payloads in such a short period of time.  The added bonus of being away from the LSU facility means a lot of packing.  I transported a fully functioning lab in the back of a Suburban.  I can truly appreciate the effort my fellow lab mates had to put forth for months of work in Antarctica.

Thank you to the team members back at LSU:

  • David Branch
  • Scott Burke
  • Seth Junot
  • Craig Jones


We will get to see all that hard work pay off over the next few weeks.  More to come!

Data from thermal vac

The data from the first thermal vacuum test has been analyzed.  Graphs have been made, edited, and made again.  This is great practice for compiling the larger data set we will get during the longer August flight.  We can monitor the rotation of the payload, the position of the doors, the temperatures of the components, and the relative humidity.  We believe the relative humidity made play a crucial role in the survival of aerosolized microbes.

It appears as though the modification for the rotation of the HADES payload did not survive the cold.  Since this was a quick fix, we are not completely surprised.  The doors operated as predicted during the cold cycle, but they managed to fail during the hot cycle.  We are currently trying to mitigate this door jam.  We have a few different approaches to try before tomorrow’s repeat of the thermal-vac test.

The teams that did not make it into the first round of thermal-vac testing will also get to test their payloads tomorrow.  Several of the teams have already passed flight certification and are packed and ready to go to Fort Sumner, NM.  Since everything worked properly during the first test, they do not have to repeat their experiments.

With the ability to test, tinker, and test again, I find myself thinking of the Curiosity team’s seven minutes of terror.  Keith Commeaux, LSU alum and director of the descent, entry, and landing of Curiosity, came to talk to the ACES (Aerospace Catalyst Experience for Students) group at LSU.  He said they were able to test the individual components of the craft, but it was impossible to have a full landing simulation.  The Curiosity landing was the first full operation of all the descent and landing systems.  Years of work and planning all came down to those seven minutes of complete terror.  Hats off again to the Curiosity team.!prettyPhoto


Thermal-Vac Test Today

The integration deadline was 5 pm Tuesday.  Payloads had to pass several checkpoints before being fully integrated onto the High Altitude Student Platform (HASP) including:

  • Current draw
  • Weight limits
  • Verification of commands sent
  • Verification of data down link
  • Verification of a proper data record

Once teams were cleared, they were allowed to integrate onto HASP.  Ten of the 12 teams passed the check out and our currently in the thermal-vac chamber.  The thermal-vac chamber allows for a full systems test under simulated stratospheric conditions.

This is our plan

  • Pumping down the chamber to a few millibars
  • Back fill with dry N2 to rid the chamber of humidity
    • ~800 mbar
    • Begin cooling down to -50°C (or -58°F)
    • Pump down to a few a mbar again
    • Sit for an hour
    • Check the payload functions
    • Comeback up to 1 bar using dry N2
    • Heat to 50°C (or 122°F)
    • Pump back down to a few mbar
    • Check the payload functions
    • Sit for hour
    • Back to 1 bar

The total process should take about 5-6 hours.  We should be done around 4 pm today.  Data is being downlinked and we can monitor in near real time.  In addition to individual payload data, we also monitor the HASP voltages, temperatures, and the ambient pressure.


Detecting DNA in Space

Chris Carr and the team from MIT are preparing to launch a payload to sample the stratosphere on the High Altitude Student Platform next month.  It’s great to meet fellow microbiologist looking for high altitude samples.

anunnaki,alien gods and spirituality


If there is life on Mars, it’s not too farfetched to believe that such Martian species may share genetic roots with life on Earth. 

Detecting DNA in space
Mars [Credit: NASA]

More than 3.5 billion years ago, a blitz of meteors ricocheted around the solar system, passing material between the two fledgling planets. This galactic game of pingpong may have left bits of Earth on Mars, and vice versa, creating a shared genetic ancestry between the two planets.

Such a theory holds great appeal for Christopher Carr, a research scientist in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. Working with Gary Ruvkun at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Maria Zuber, the E.A. Griswold Professor of Geophysics and MIT’s vice president for research, Carr is building a DNA sequencer that he hopes will one day be sent to Mars, where it can analyze soil and ice samples for traces of DNA and other…

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