Packing for ATom

 

After months of preparation, testing and optimizing instruments, and fitting out the flight rack  to carry out instruments on the plane, it was finally time to pack up the lab and send everything down to NASA Armtrong ready to integrate onto the plane for the ATom mission.

Having successfully set-up all the instruments in the rack, we had to remove them all (in full knowledge we’d just be putting them back in again the next week on the plane) and pack them in their own padded, metal boxes. The rack then goes in a specially built wooden crate, where it is bolted to the floor.


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Then everything else from the lab that we might need during the integration onto the plane and testing down at NASA Armstrong needs to be packed up. You might be imagining a tool box and a little tubing here, but in reality it’s more like moving the entire lab. Big chests of tools, hardware, spare parts that look like furniture sitting in the lab all year and suddenly secured, closed up and packed as their own boxes. Kits for soldering wires, running exhaust tubing the length of the plane, calibration set-ups for check the instruments after the drive over to California are all carefully boxed up.

There are a number of different groups in Boulder participating in the ATom mission, some more from NOAA ESRL but also from CU Boulder and NCAR. Between us then we hired a very large truck, and shipped everything out from NOAA together.

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When the truck arrived one Friday at NOAA it looked so huge I thought we’d never fill it, but surely as more and more crates and boxes arrived space grew tight. The truck driver has final say in where and how it’s packed but it’s our job to load it all (although out driver kindly helped out with loading too). When we brought all our own cases down from the lab to the loading bay I helped out with lifting and organizing inside the truck itself. As it got fuller we were stacking two or three rows high, which involved climbing on top of the crates we’d already loaded, passing up new ones and stacking them safely on top and then securing everything to the truck sides. Hot and heavy work for a few hours inside the tuck body in Colorado summer, but fun working as a team and doing something quite different from the ordinary.

Finally it was loaded and, muscles aching, we watched the truck leave with our precious cargo. It was strange to see the instruments we’d devoted ourselves to for so long being taken away, and walking back inside to a pretty empty lab. We’ll catch up with them again in Palmdale next week, but still there’s a little separation anxiety seeing them go. It also marked a mile-stone in the project – we’d prepared, tested and packed all we could and now that phase is behind us. To celebrate the teams from NOAA all headed down to bar in town for margaritas.

 

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