Thursday, July 8, 2010

Spacebridge Epsilon (Night Launch) Retrieval FAIL

As you may have heard we launched Spacebridge Epsilon at night with every intention to retrieve the next morning. The launch was a success but almost immediately after release we lost communication with the APRS radio. We watched the balloon float away into the dark without so much as a ping as to its location. As we watched it fade away into the night we figured that we had lost it -- we had, until it landed and sent location packets. We had a beat on it. First thing in the morning Brian Choate plugged the GPS data into Google Maps and we were off.
The retrieval party consisted of Brian Choate, Christopher Lincoln and myself. We met up at the Starbucks in Castro Valley, CA and after a breakfast of Starbucks' McMuffin and an iced-tea we were back on the road, heading for Patterson, CA.
According to all calculations the balloon fell ~400 feet away from an access road in the foothills, so by all predictions it should be an easy scamper and grab; boy were we wrong.
The coordinates we had placed it 1,500ft above the road but still only 400ft away. It was going to be a steep climb. Christopher and I finished our iced drinks and set off thinking we would be back right away, estimating it wouldn't take more than 30 minutes to climb up the hill, grab the payload and return to the air conditioning of Brian's truck. So at around 11:45AM we set off.

As we ascended it immediately became apparent that Christopher is in much better cardio-vascular shape than I am, so he pulled on ahead of me. Neither of us thought anything of it because we were both still so close to the car, in plain sight of the road... just up a bit. After about 45 minutes of hiking I realized that I was quite thirsty and couldn't make it up any further. I found some shade in an attempt to cool off and after a few minutes decided I needed to start heading down. That was the plan, its execution was not that simple. I ran down hill for about 50 feet before I stopped again. At this point my heart was pounding, I was dry-heaving and getting quite dizzy. The sun was high in the sky and the weather was getting hotter by the minute. I thought it best to sit down in some more shade, calm down and call for help. I found a small patch of shade, called down to Brian for help and waited.
The longer I waited the more I panicked and the cries for help ended up getting more and more pitiful until eventually I was able to convey to them the gravity of my situation. In an attempt to calm myself down and take my mind off the thirst I took a panorama with my phone's camera.
I then, with my last bit of battery and a faint signal sent a single e-mail that read:


sent from my android

I then thought it best to sit myself down in my patch of shade and wait for help to arrive. The very next thing I know, I'm laying on the ground and my patch of shade has moved far away from me; I had passed out. Panicked again I called out to Brian.
He had sent Christopher out looking for me, but I didn't hear him because I was unconscious when he walked past me.
This time, Christopher and Brian found the owner of the land on which we were probably trespassing and informed him of the situation. He then drove Christopher around the back side of the mountain with his son and a jug of water. After what seemed like an eternity (but was probably more like 15 minutes) they found me and they had brought water. I drank deeply and could feel the life returning to my body. The desire to vomit was the first to leave, next my heart finally stopped racing.
After regaining some strength from the water we set off down the hill, stopping every couple of minutes to catch my breath and drink more water. One thing I did find interesting was that Christopher kept walking wide around the thickets of shrubbery I was carelessly trampling through. When I asked him why, he told me it was because the shrubs I had been walking through were poison oak.
We continued down the mountain until we came to the last portion. The final 50 feet was a scree run, small broken loose rocks. We descended as well as we could, then right before getting to safety I fell the last 5 feet. Not bad after climbing a hill.
Once I back in the safety of Brian's truck I asked if he knew how hot it was. He told me that some of his electronic equipment reported being 113ยบ, but he wasn't sure because he was in the shade the whole time.

I learned a few things that day:
  1. I am more of a "lab scientist" than I am a "field scientist"
  2. Always bring water whenever going outside
  3. Never go to the Central Valley in the summer time
  4. Always bring radios if you are going to be doing any outdoor group activities where you can loose sight of each other
  5. I am immune to poison oak, Christopher is not :-)

No comments:

Post a Comment