21 February 2009

Kangeroo Rats Dine on Spam for the First Time

Image: Dropping the skylight of Drop Cave. Credit: Dan Lowen.

My good friend, Dan Lowen, arrived early this AM. He and I worked together during Spaceward Bound!, 2007 Mojave Expedition. So, we haven’t seen each other in a while. Today was going to be a really good day. Now only do I get to see a good friend, but we’re also were going to put him to work! Our plan was to finish the first 24 hr collect of Drop Cave, move the camera to another vantage point and collect another 24hr of data from this cave, and then finish the mapping of Drop Cave. Doug Billings was the lead sketcher on this cave a couple of weeks ago, and he arrived later this morning to finish up the cave. I knew Dan wasn’t too concerned about having to work with us because initially he had planned to come out just to observe our operations. When I emailed him two nights ago to tell him that he would need to bring his vertical gear so we could drop a 40 ft pit, he was totally stoked.

Image: Doug and I rigging the skylight entrance of Drop Cave. Credit: Dan Lowen.

Tim surveyed a relentless attack by kangaroo rats and the cold Mojave night. He spent a very chilly night on the Aa Aa lava for the sole purpose of refueling the generator. This morning we learned, he was had good company throughout a good portion of the night. Several kangaroo rats stopped by to visit. Well…actually, they were likely drawn to his camp site because there were food wrappers left outside. He indicated that he saw pieces of some of his food wrappers this morning. Tim’s favorite field food seemed to have proved quite popular among the locals -- spam and bagels.

Dan and I are chatting with Doug, who is about 20 feet below us. He rappelled partially into this skylight to determine whether there was another entry point into Drop Cave. Unfortunately, this route proved too hazardous. So, we decided to rig the main entrance. Credit: Glen Cushing.

Doug, Dan and I (the Drop Cave mapping team) met up with the group later in the morning. Upon our arrival to site, I learned our equipment was holding up quite well. But most importantly, the first piece of REALLY good news is we now have 24 hrs of thermal imagery from one of our study sites! The generator held up through the night, the computer didn’t crash, and the camera didn’t fail. So, this was a huge success! Last year in the Mojave (refer to Mojave 2008- Will the Computer Work), we had several computer glitches that took a few days to rectify. We learned many lessons that were applied this year.

Image: International cave explorer, Doug Billings, in action mapping Drop Cave.

Due to high visitation on the lava flow and some other confounding factors, we decided it would probably be best to select another view point of Drop Cave, and collect another 24 hr dataset of this same feature. While Murzy, Pete, Tim and Glen began to relocate our equipment to the next vantage point for the imagery collect, Dan, Doug and I began to rig the rope for rappelling into the skylight of Drop Cave.

Our mapping of Drop Cave went quite well and was, fortunately, rather uneventful. Doug completed the sketch of the cave, and we plotted all the sensor locations on the map. It took us 2.5hr to finish up the work – 30 minutes more than we had scheduled. As we were preparing our ascent out of the cave, Tim called down to us. He was waiting to be sure we got out of the cave safely. The Goddard boys had returned to Barstow, and Glen was now en route back to FLG.

Image: Multi-sport athlete, math/ science teacher and good buddy, Dan Lowen, ascending out of the 40 foot drop of Drop Cave. Credit: Doug Billings.

Murzy and Pete successfully jury rigged an auxiliary fuel tank atop our Honda generator. We now have the capabilities to run the generator for over 18 hrs without refueling. This meant we didn’t have to baby sit the generator again. In other words, I wouldn’t be able to camp on the lava flow with the equipment. While I appreciate a nice hot shower and a warm bed at the end of the day as much as the next fella, I was rather bummed about this. I would have loved to have seen the k-rats, and I know camping out there would have been awesome!

Image: Cooler than velcro? More reliable than duct tape? This advanced concept by NASA was another victory garnered by our NASA-Goddard engineers.

Instead, Doug, Dan, Tim, and I began our hike back to the vehicles. Not only did we have another safe day, but we had a successful day in the field! We have now mapped all caves and non-cave features in the Mojave, all cave volume data has been collected and we now have thermal imagery over a diurnal cycle from one of our study sites. Today was a very good day!

Image: Left to right, Doug, Tim and Dan conducting a final walk through of the sampling station before we return to Barstow for the night.

1 comment:

CupcakeBunnie said...

Wow. thats so amazing. aren't you guys scared doing this stuff?