11 April 2008

Computer Failure -- One More Try

Monday, 07 April 2008
Cave Detection in the Thermal Infrared
NASA Spaceward Bound!

Image: Checking out the camera. Credit: Glen Cushing.

After a somewhat restful sleep in the truck, I got up and climbed atop the cinder cone to check on the camera, generator, and Glen. Everything seemed okay. However, Glen didn’t get much sleep on account of the wind. He decided to sleep in, and I headed back down to the truck to fix breakfast.

A few hours past, and Murzy arrived. He and I then went back up to check on our data collect. Well…we then learned the computer had crashed. We set the software program to batch all files (i.e., each image taken) and write them to the disk at the end of the sampling period. At this point, we had been logging data for almost 18 hours. We lost all of our data.

Image: Camera Sampling Station atop Pis-gah Crater.

So, we had to restart our data collect. About this time, two trucks arrived and they were loaded down with people. As I saw them preparing to go to the caves, I went down to chat with them. I found out they were a Boy Scout Troop from Los Angeles and were planning on camping in one of the caves --- one of our caves! Well, this was not good for the mission. After speaking with them and describing our project, they agreed not to stay in one of our sample caves and they decided to camp elsewhere.

I felt really bad that we had foiled their camping plans. So, I offered to lead the Scouts into one of the caves. I gave them the caving ethics lecture, and I also discussed the fragility of cave ecosystems. I also provided a context for our research, why were studying caves in the Mojave and what types of critters we may expect to find on Mars (provided life ever evolved there).

Image: one of the MANY cave-like features that were appearing as warm spots on the thermal image.

Once this was done, we went back up to check on the computer. Well, it crashed again, and we couldn’t figure out why. We did change the settings on the software to save each image as it collected. So, we did have two hours of data at this point. We restarted the machine and started the collect once again.

Glen and I were planning to spend the night at

Zzyzx Field Station

. Spaceward Bound was already underway, and I wanted to see all my friends and thank Chris McKay and Liza Coe for all their help with our project. I was rather reluctant to leave Pis-gah because we were having computer issues.

Murzy agreed to stay until around 8:00 pm. He wanted to keep an eye on the equipment and insure everything was running properly. We received a call from him indicating the computer crashed yet again. We were all very concerned that we were not going to get our data. Two hours later, Murzy called again and said he thought he figured out the problem. The computer and generator was not grounded. There were high winds and a lot of aeolian sand was beating against our computer and generator. With each grain of sand that hit this equipment, it brought with it a tiny static charge. He thought the static electricity reached a threshold on the computer (and/ or the generator). When this occurred, it would shock the system and the computer would crash. He decided to ground the machine and cross his fingers.

Seeing the entire Spaceward Bound team was awesome. I’ve worked with these good folks in northern Chile for the

2006 Spaceward Bound, Atacama Desert Expedition

and the

2007 Spaceward Bound, Mojave Desert Expedition

. So, it was really good to see everyone.

We had an excellent dinner at Zzyzx. Eric, the field station’s chef, is a culinary wizard, and the grub was incredible (as always). Thereafter, I visited with everyone and we stayed up late chatting about the expedition, our progress in the field and our plans for Tuesday. It is very late, and I now need to go to bed.

No comments: