Ted's Boomerang 2002 Antarctic Web Log

Frequently Asked Questions

Current Mission Status: We Have Landed!

  • View all of the tracks of balloons launched so far this season at the N.S.B.F. website here. This is real-time data from the onboard GPS receivers.
  • If you have a computer that can view proprietary Micro$oft Windoze media formats (I don't), you can view a webcam broadcast of Willie Field here.
  • Here is some Antarctic news and weather from our newspaper, the Antarctic Sun.

Flight Today

January 19, 2003 09:10 (NZ)

Our C-130 flight to terminate the Boomerang flight has been rescheduled for 1:00pm today. The balloon altitude right now is 75,000 feet, so hopefully we can get to it before it auto-terminates at around 62,000 feet. We are actually still collecting data, and will wait to turn things off until either we get to 71,000 feet, or the C-130 takes off. In principle, terminating a flight automatically is not so bad, but we really like to be at the site so that we can make sure that the parachute detaches after it lands. If it doesn't detach, it's possible for the payload to get dragged across the polar plateau...

Rapid Descent

January 18, 2003 16:59 (NZ)

Our balloon has been continuing to drop rapidly, and probably has less than a day before the payload automatically detaches from the balloon. This "auto-termination" of the flight is triggered by an altimeter when the balloon drops below 62,000 feet. Just for safety, we plan to shut down the telescope when it gets down to about 75,000 feet (it's at 83,000 feet right now). We think that based on the ATIC GPS position, that NSBF has successfully terminated ATIC's flight. We are still waiting to hear when we might be going out in a C-130 to either terminate Boomerang's flight, or at least see where it landed :-)


January 18, 2003 13:29 (NZ)

As I was looking out the window of the science building in town last night, I thought about what this place must have been like millions of years ago before the continent froze over. This poem ended up sounding a lot like Tennyson's "The Lady of Shalot", which is one of my favorites...

Ancient Sun and Frozen Sea

Long ago, the warm winds blowing
Passed through trees and grasses growing,
Rippled rows of flowers flowing
Beneath the sun; beside the sea.

Winter came without alarming
Any life- 'twas even charming!
Dusty snow with little harming
Beneath the sun; beside the sea.

Winter went without much stewing.
Melted snows fed rivers spewing,
Letting life begin renewing
Beneath the sun; beside the sea.

Eons passed and climates shifting
Buried green with endless drifting
Stars could never think of lifting!
Ancient sun and frozen sea.

Jagged, jutting spires reaching,
Piercing icy sheets and teaching
Patience to the sad land screeching,
Ancient sun and frozen sea.

Under ice the earth is weeping,
Subtle signs are upward seeping,
Land not dead, but only sleeping,
Ancient sun and frozen sea.

More Info

January 18, 2003 12:57 (NZ)

We've received more news about yesterday's search and rescue. A helicopter crashed in one of the Dry Valleys with two people (including pilot) on board. Both were airlifted via C-130 to Christchurch and are now in stable condition. We have all breathed a sigh of relief that no one was killed.

In terms of ballooning, our balloon's descent has begun to accelerate, and we're not really sure how many hours we have before the flight is automatically terminated at around 62,000 feet. The NSBF team is currently in a twin otter taking care of the flight termination of the ATIC payload. As soon as they get back, we will take the next available C-130 and fly out to terminate the Boomerang flight. We don't know if we'll be able to make it before it auto-terminates...

Flight Cancelled

January 17, 2003 18:43 (NZ)

Tonight a large Search and Rescue (SAR) mission was initiated that has taken priority over all other activities on base. All possible resources (including the plane we were to use) have been devoted to the rescue effort. Our thoughts go out to all those involved. I'll post more details when they are made public...

Termination Flight

January 17, 2003 11:09 (NZ)

This evening we have a ski-equipped C-130 scheduled for the 10 hour flight out over the polar plateau to terminate Boomerang's flight. In addition to the pilots and the NSBF team, Carrie and I will get to go along and observe. Hopefully I'll get some good pictures... In a few days, or whenever it can be scheduled, a twin otter will make the 20 hour round trip flight (including fuel stops) to go retrieve the data from the telescope. Francesco will be going on this exciting trip into the most remote corner of the continent. If the twin otter flight happens within the next week, there is a good chance that we may be able to leave McMurdo on January 28th!

Recovery and Castle Rock

January 16, 2003 09:48 (NZ)

Events have been moving pretty fast today. We are now in day 10 of our flight, and have been collecting great data so far. Our biggest concern has been figuring out a way to recover the data that is stored on board. The balloon is fairly stalled out over one of the coldest and most remote parts of the continent. The daily low point of our altitude seems to be accelarating, so NSBF plans to try and terminate our flight tomorrow. This is done by flying a C-130 Hercules under the balloon and sending a radio command which fires some explosive bolts. After separating from the balloon, the payload parachutes down to the ground. Once the people in the C-130 have verified that the payload is on the ground, a second radio command will separate the chute from the payload so that the telescope does not get dragged across the polar plateau. After this, the recovery will involve flying out onto the high plateau with a twin otter (twin engine prop plane). Twin otters can take off and land in even extreme conditions, but they only have a limited range, so making this trip will involve stopping at 2 fuel caches along the route. The trip out to the payload and back will take approximately 20 hours. Another issue is the altitude. The altitude at our cut-down location is already 14,000 feet, but the effective physiological altitude is much higher. This is because the air is thinner at the Earth's polar regions than near the equator. When the twin otter lands at the termination site, it will keep one engine running while the recovery team removes the pressurized data vessel and satellite communications package from the telescope. The rest of the telescope, including many pieces of expensive hardware, will be recovered next year.

In other news, the six of us remaining down here took yesterday afternoon off to hike to Castle Rock. It was a great trip, and we even saw an Adelie penguin near the end of the hike! It definitely helped us get back some small piece of our sanity, which has deteriorated after months of focusing only on work and being away from family and loved ones.

Waiting and Watching

January 13, 2003 15:22 (NZ)

We have now been acquiring data for approximately 6.5 days. The track of our balloon has been heading far to the South, and the upper level winds seem to be shifting around a bit. Dropping our ballast gave us an altitude boost, but our overall altitude (not including the daily oscillations) still seems to be dropping. The reason for this is not known, though everyone has their favorite theory. Since there is no way to predict where the balloon may go, we can't really make plans for recovery. All we can do is monitor the onboard systems and wait. We have had to switch between a couple of our pointing sensors onboard due to some thermal problems, but fortunately we have many sensors telling us where we are looking. Today we also sent some commands to temporarily override the flight schedule and go look at a region of the galaxy. Aside from that we are simply waiting to see where the wind takes us...

Ballast Dropped

January 11, 2003 16:34 (NZ)

This morning it was apparent that our balloon was getting a little low in altitude. The cause of this is unknown- it could be that we are caught in some unusually cold air, or perhaps there is a small leak in the balloon. In any case, NSBF dropped the rest of our ballast this morning (over 200 pounds) and now we are climbing rapidly back to a normal cruising altitude. With any luck, this extra boost will let us climb back up to a warmer layer in the atmosphere and maintain that for the rest of the flight. In the case that we do have a small leak, at least we have managed to extend our flying time by a few extra days. Every day that we are aloft, we get more data, and our chances of being able to measure the polarization of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation improves dramatically.


January 10, 2003 10:55 (NZ)

Today about half of our team in the field will begin their journey home. The six of us that remain will monitor the telescope during the day, and pass off the night time monitoring to team members at home. Most of the lab equipment has been packed away, and we are spending our time doing some simple preliminary analysis of data from the flight. Our microwave receiver is working far better than we had hoped, and some simple pictures of the sky that we've created look awesome. Our balloon has been passing over a storm system or area of cooler air, which causes the altitude to drop somewhat. This morning NSBF will drop some of the ballast we have on board in order to give us a boost in altitude.

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