MICA rocket launch, part 5…

Hello all, greetings from within the Arctic Circle. Yes that’s right, on Friday I safely arrived in Fort Yukon, Alaska (66º 34.39′ N, 145º 15.03′ W), about 125 miles northeast of Fairbanks and about 1.5 degrees (8 miles) into the Artic Circle. The flight up was fairly horrifying to begin with, the plane only had 9 seats, 7 of which were empty; that’s right, it was me, the other grad student working on the campaign and the pilots. At first I was mortified because I was sitting within 5 feet of the engine propeller, but once we had taken off and gotten above the clouds my mood immediately changed. Soaring above the mass of clouds as the sun rose was absolutely breathtaking and immediately soothed my nerves. At times it was hard to tell when it was clouds below us and when it was snowy mountains. All in all the flight was good and less than an hour after takeoff we had landed.

We (University of Alaska-Fairbanks grad student Jason and I) got a quick tour of the village of Fort Yukon. It’s a very small little place, with a population of about 700 people and almost all of them are natives who’ve lived here their whole lives. There are no roads in or out; in the winter you can use snowmobiles or dog sleds or fly and in the summer locals use river barges. Possibly the oddest part is the high number of junked cars that litter the town; many of them look like they have been abandoned, sitting for decades with broken windows and rust and snow on the inside. Between all the busted cars and the small dilapidated and abandoned houses, the village almost resembles something out of a movie about the nuclear apocalypse.

On Saturday we spent the day unpacking and setting up our video and camera equipment. In addition to my (in comparison) dinky Xybion ICCD (intensified charge-coupled device) video camera, Jason and the UAF folks have several very impressive cameras and video cameras plus some very fancy equipment to run and house them. Last night we were sitting around waiting for the aurora to show up, but it never did. It’s being pesky. Meanwhile, back at Poker Flat, the Wallops folks have finished the rocket’s final assembly and moved it to the rail to begin final preparations for launch. Saturday night they performed a practice launch count and had Sunday off to get onto a night schedule to begin the campaign. So far we’ve been “socked in” due to clouds at Fort Yukon, but the folks down at Poker Flat have seen some pretty nice aurora. It’s like the aurora’s mocking me, teasing me, showing up where and when it knows I can’t see it…pesky aurora. In any case, we’ve been tracking the auroral forecast from spaceweather.com and things are looking very promising. We have a very large sunspot with a lot of potential facing towards Earth, which could mean some very good auroral activity in the next few days.


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