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This blog is named after one of my poems. Even thought its not the best of the lot, I just fell in love with those words- The Psyche Unknown...

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Life in Netherlands-Part 6- ..3..2..1.. Ignition..Lift off

And tower cleared.. It went ricocheting from the ground into the windy skies of the ASK Military base at 't Harde.

After months of designing and constructing with 4 other super cool international students, the rocket was ready for launch. It was a fantastic experience which involved some awesome rocketry knowledge, a chance to work with some brilliant minds around and a real launch feel . Probably the coolest project I have done till date. For the first time in Holland, being with this team made me feel at home.

      Best team I've worked with till date

Antanas couldn't make it on launch day

We probably had the best looking rocket amongst all. Martin's idea of putting up every team member's country flag was such a feel-good idea that made us all proud and happy. An international collaboration that truly materialized experiences in a plethora of domains.. We named our rocket MEAT 52, a scramble of TEAM 25 that we were officially called in the beginning.

Successful or not, a great deal of lessons were learnt while sprucing up the rocket. Listing few major ones and the entire experience of launching a rocket! 

We decided that a simple mechanical deployment system would work best (not the greatest idea-Lesson 1) for our rocket since we didn't want any hassles dabbling with circuitry and programming too much. Lesson 2-Nothing, I mean nothing at all is free of electronics and/or programming in today's science. I think it was quite simpler when men pushed the wheel cart!

Our rocket malfunctioned the previous night of the launch. Apparently the updated code wasn't working because of a software glitch in the system. How small things can ruin your life! Stefan(my skilled teammate toiled through the circuits all along when we lesser mortals who could not go beyond the definition of capacitors and resistors watched) and Eric(the electronics and programming/debugging guru) worked on it all night while the other teams and safety officers had set up a camp fire in the middle of a beautiful scouting camp situated right in the heart of a typical European countryside which had great big farms hosting animals like Llamas and kangaroos too!!
The campfire in the middle of nowhere
Yeah, it was peculiar but great.. The guru and the prodigy had set the system right before the night died and we began testing and retesting it. The servo behaved stranger than ever.. The gear inside wouldn't turn a full 180 degrees consistently. It kept getting stuck midway which ultimately was the cause for the 'after' condition of our rocket!
 Lesson 3- Don't test so many times that a working system fails!
Setting up the towers
Anyway few more adjustments, it was just fine and we retired into our sleeping bags. The launch morning wasn't a guest for perfect weather though.. Just like the previous day, it kept raining and the cold penetrated through my shoes and lost me my toes for the day. When you are in Holland, complaining about rain only wastes your energy. It rains in Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring!! And every time it does, it feels the same. A thin chill passes down your spine constantly giving you the feeling of being electrocuted! Soaking wet,we tested the deployment system and it was working. Alleluia! After removing and wrapping the parachute into the top section several times so that it did not interfere with servo rod that pushed off the nose cone during deployment, we fixed the motor with Olga's guidance and help. (Lesson 4 – Give more than enough tolerance for a mechanism that will keep your system safe). We went back to the tarmac and one by one the rockets shot off from the towers that we the participants had assembled the previous day.
It was awe-inspiring, encouraging and motivating to see a rocket-our rocket being launched. I got an opportunity to set off the ignition for the launch! ;)

MEAT 52 and some other launches
Rocket sciences isn't exactly easy or predictable, I can now sympathize with the millions of dollars draining in the gutter all over the world due to failed space missions. Who wouldn't after seeing the remains of our rocket that had a perfect launch but a failed deployment because the servo wouldn't just turn all the way?! The military officials at the base took the longest to find our rocket remains. The egg placed in the belly of the rocket that had to return safely to the earth (the competition criteria) was probably deep fried mid air and had shattered into a thousand pieces when the rocket nose dived at approx 200 km/hr from about 700 m high! 

What came back of our rocket!
We knew we had lost the run in the competition when we saw the rocket diving down with the nose cone still on the body after it had disappeared into the clouds for few seconds. The yellow of the parachute was nowhere to be seen then. But that was just one thing in the rocket that was intact amongst the remains, in fact we got it back exactly the way we had packed! The nylon was still roped around the cloth. We had probably tied it too tightly while trying to make space for the servo rod. Lesson 5- Make sure of the material thickness while designing the system. Everything occupies more space in the body than you imagine!
So our rocket's launch and flight were alright but we could not retrieve the egg safely, Mission failed. "Well, sh** happens!" grunted the safety officer. Though slightly disheartened, Martin's ever positive attitude and the rest of the team's pick up and learn mindset, helped a lot in digesting our rocket's demise. Atleast it would be lesser unknowns for the next time! Some other rockets that were working fine till the last minute faced terrible fate at the end too. But on the whole, the rockets not just from DARE but also NAVRO and NERO(all Dutch amateur rocket organizations) rounded off the day with some mind blowing show!

Wouter on fire! 
It was not just a great learning experience but also so much fun. Met so many amazing people, heard different stories, saw some great fire tactics display and truly camped after ages. Plus it felt cooler later on to tell “I just launched a rocket!” ;)

That was the first time I realized that it was not just Stefan who was good at working with his hands, it was common to all the Europeans there. They are used to working on their own. Some of them there had built every piece of furniture in their apartments! Of course assembling/transporting launch towers and rockets wasn't a big deal for them! In India, the usual age when you would probably hold a drill gun is around 15-16.. May be not even then for most of them(generally speaking). Here, a majority of them know how to repair any problem that comes with a bike or for that matter any mechanical/electronic gadget. It made me feel lot more dumb than usual! Why hadn't anyone let me try when my house needed painting or a partition in the living room had to be erected? Where was I when dad kept sending his old 70's bike for servicing? Or when my computer and audio/video player needed repair? Why hadn't anyone told me I could do it or taught me how to? All I remember from my childhood is everyone's desire for me to excel in academics and extra curriculars. India should be westernized from this aspect. We run to “professionals” for everything. We are so much dependent on someone else for everything. Why is it that we never try doing it on our own? Is it just laziness or pure ignorance? Are we afraid to try or do have a false dignity of labour concept? Or is it just because its simpler and easier to let someone else do it? Any which way, children in India miss out on developing essential working skills for life.
These people have done it all. Plus they are good at academics and extra curricular activities. I felt a little useless in comparison to their efficiency. But since then, its been a different story all together. Those couple of days changed me quite a lot. Every time there is some machine malfunction, I just think of the launch days.and some how I come up with a solution! :) Lesson 6- Just the mere thought of someone else being able to do the job makes you do it yourself first! And it gives a little boost to my confidence. Its not just me, most of my fellow Indians are now painting and furnishing their houses on their own which they definitely wouldn't have done in India!

The rocket days are something I will never forget for it has been an eye-opener to a new subject, new friends, new mindset and a host of experiences that I had come here looking for.

In the making of...
Unforgettable  days...



chandralekha said...

My dad thinks u will make a wonderful journalist;)
big fan...keep it coming:)

aeroyogi said...

Whoa! Tell him thank you!I hope he is right..:) although I'm not entirely satisfied with this one!:-l

Ann said...

great piece :) i loved the way ur narrative includes insightful lessons :) :D keep us, laymen n women! enlightened more on further work of urs n ur team ;)

pushpa said...

"It is very interesting to read, while reading i feel like i am with u"

aeroyogi said...

Thanks all..:)

adarsh said...

october sky madam ... deja vous

aeroyogi said...

adarsh- deja vous only for the first half of it! dunno when I'll be able to make another one.. :'(