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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Wallops IS Rocket Science

NASA logo2 No kidding.

At the NASA Wallops Flight Facility, just about everything is all about rocket science, aside from the balloon program, more on that later.JPGNASA Overview
And, it’s not often that folks get to tour this facility. After all, it is a government/military agency and those armed guards and barbed-wire fences are meant to keep people out.

But not yesterday when Wallops hosted a party – a 65th Anniversary celebration with a public open house.bus line There were no candles or cake, not even a rocket launch, but there were robotic displays, touch tanks, F18 jets, USAF Thunderbirds, exhibits and demos, giveaways and cups of free homemade ice cream. If you ever go to Chincoteague, VA, head to The Island Creamery for ice cream. Sorry,but you’ll have to pay for it since you missed the “free” stuff at Wallops.robotics1VA nature science consortium17 (11) Thunderbirds-5

F18s-1
  payload space station P1010650
 P-3-Orion-1 crash truck3
But, I digress, which is so easy for me to do, just ask Grenville.
Wallops is not an acronym, but gets its name from John Wallop, a 17th century surveyor and original owner of the island, who was granted the land by the English crown in 1692. (More on an English connection later.)

It’s one of the oldest rocket launch sites in the world.
Since its first rocket launch on July 4, 1945, Wallops has launched over 14,000 rockets from a 6-square mile island off the east coast of Virginia. There’s no astronaut or space shuttle space launches like at that other space center in Florida, but it’s a lot closer to the Frog and PenguINN – only a 45-minute drive, compared to 13 hours and 840 miles to Florida.

So, if there’s no astronauts or shuttles, what DOES Wallops launch?
Lots of sounding rockets - research rockets that carry payloads. No, not ones with money (that’s only the cost). These payloads are instruments to take measurements and perform scientific experiments during sub-orbital flight. The rockets are not only launched from Wallops, but are made there as well.
rocket-parts1 rocket-parts4
machine-shop1 machine-shop15
 sounding rocket rocket partial
balloon program posterOur favorite exhibit was the NASA Balloon program. These are not party balloons, but BIG high-altitude balloons for scientific and technological studies. Correction, I meant to say these balloons are HUGE. When fully inflated, they are the size of a football field or stadium.balloon info2And they are made of something you probably have at home in the pantry or kitchen. Look at a sandwich wrap bag and there you have it. These balloons use lots of thin polyethylene material and a whole lot more helium to keep them afloat.
balloon program4 balloon payload
The balloon carries a payload (no money) that includes instruments needed to carry out scientific experiments. Wallops annually launches an average of 25 scientific balloons, NOT from the eastern shore. Balloons are launched from the the NASA Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Texas, the Scientific Balloon Flight Facility in New Mexico, and worldwide. We watched a video touting the safety record of balloon launches, that apparently preceded this dramatic April 2010 crash in Alice Springs, Australia.

That was a big $$$ loss, so maybe NASA balloon experts should have consulted with non-expert British space enthusiast Robert Harrison, who in March 2010, took photos from space with a budget of £500 – under $750 (USD)compared to NASA’s multi-million dollar expenses. Here’s how Harrison’s successful budget balloon project worked:
Robert Harrison balloon launch  
Grenville and I are thinking of doing our own balloon launch in the F&P backyard. He thinks it will be even more fun than the remote control helicopter he was thinking about trying. Expenses would be low since we can buy sandwich bags from the local dollar stores and already have a Canon PowerShot® digital camera. Just need a source for some helium…
And, if  it works, maybe we’ll host an open house and party
with FREE ice cream – just like NASA – you're all
invited too! enjoy

5 comments:

Grenville T. Boyd said...

The alternative is becoming a 'chicken chaser' or a gutter or some other revolting job at the chicken plant.

Lois Evensen said...

Great post! Now I want to visit both NASA Wallops AND your open house launch! :)

possum said...

Why do you need a tank of helium? Just put a vent on top of the Firehall next Town Meeting, after we get done with our part, we can climb up on the roof, hold the balloons over the vent, and UP IT WILL GO!
On the other hand, if you want a different launching time... call Air Gas, 1-800-247-2282. They are in Salisbury and THEY WILL DELIVER! So, I ordered you a tank, just call them to let them know when you want it delivered!
OK, back to picking beans! Yummy! Picked one basketful already!

Beatrice P. Boyd said...

Thanks Lois, you are certainly welcome to visit the F&P, but it may be awhile until a launch. Perhaps a Wallops visit first would be better!

Beatrice P. Boyd said...

That's a good idea Possum, especially after sitting on those oh-so-hard chairs at tonight's council meeting. The budget sessions might produce even more hot air!

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