ALAN 2016, day 2

Greetings from Transylvania!  Geza, Ken, and I are attending the ALAN 2016 conference in the city of Cluj-Napoca in Romania.  (ALAN = Artificial Light At Night)  Btw, we took a walking tour today (organized by the conference folks), and learned that “Cluj” and “Napoca” actually mean the same thing.  Er, and that thing is…oh yeah, surrounded by barriers, like mountains & rivers, or something to that effect.

Today was the second day of the conference, and Geza rocked the house with his outstanding presentation about our NITESat mission.  Lots of folks have expressed enthusiasm about the mission, including some who noted an active interest in participating by setting up their own ground stations for down-linking data and/or participating in GONet.

One of the great aspects of the conference, which has impressed many of the attendees (including me), is the wide diversity of disciplines represented that all share an interest in ALAN, with focuses ranging from art/architectural design and tourism development, to observation and measurement methods/technologies, to impacts on health and behavior (both for humans and wildlife), to philosophy, and the list goes on.  In true science fashion, questions are always encouraged, and both support and (constructive) criticism are offered and received openly and always respectfully. Cool!

Tomorrow is the 3rd day of the conference.  I’m looking forward to what the next presenters have to share with us.  (I’m especially looking forward to the presentation on “the ethics of artificial nighttime lighting: creating a taxonomy of darkness as a moral value”.  Should be an interesting presentation, not to mention the discussion afterwards!)  I’ll post more after the conference is over.  I’ll also try to put in some photos.

Noroc!  (Cheers!)

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Flight #97: Up, Up and Away!

Written by Adler Teen Intern Sidney Madden,

It was a scorching hot Chicago day when I arrived at the Adler. I was not in the chipperest of moods because it was 7:30 a.m. and I yearned to still be tucked away in my bed. As I walked up and out to meet the campers, I saw speckles of bright green shirts already on the lawn, eagerly waiting for the day to begin. They didn’t technically have to be here until 8ish, but there stood at least ten of them, ready to work on their experiments before the launch.

As we headed downstairs, the campers tried to figure out the frustrating Wombat game. When we entered the project space, the campers dispersed to perfect their experiments. A group of girls were making oobleck in the corner, playing with the different ratios of baking soda and water for the perfect consistency to send up to near space. Another group vigorously worked to put the finishing touches on a glider they had constructed in a day. One boy separated his clovers into Ziploc baggies: one to keep on the ground as a control and another to put in the balloon.

At around 9:00, we boarded the vans with experiments and flight equipment in tow. The campers excitedly chattered as we initially took off, making predictions of what would happen and formulating hypotheses. Their excitement was contagious. Quickly, we shifted gears to playing the ABC game and more Wombat.

“LISTEN!” Becca, who already figured out Wombat, said. “If this is a Wombat, and that is a Wombat, are you a Wombat?”

At the Launch Site

At the Launch Site

“No?” I guessed.
Groans from around the van followed. “No, Sidney, LISTEN. If that is a Wombat and this is a Wombat, is Becca a Wombat?”


“Yes?” More groans ensued.

The game quickly died down when it became apparent I would not be able to accurately identify a Wombat.

We finally arrived at Koerner Airport, the rustic Kankakee airport, at about 11:30. Airik and Ethan stressed to the campers which gate to go to in case they got lost during the launch. I quickly wrote down the gate number on my arm in case I got lost too. Geza, the flight supervisor, and the flight prep team quickly began setting up for launch. Airik and Ethan helped the other campers setting up their experiments.

I mostly observed and took photos of the process. I got the opportunity to talk to one of the college interns who worked in the Far Horizons lab, and hear about his experiment. He and another intern were working on a cut-down system, that if successful, would be used during the total solar eclipse next summer. The campers’ experiments weren’t nearly as complex as this, but one girl named Meghan came close. This was not Meghan’s fi

Balloon being blown up

The Balloon Being Blown Up

rst Mission: Near Space camp, and in fact it was her fifth summer at the Adler. She had spent all week hacking a camera and working in the Far Horizons lab to capture cosmic rays. Meghan was also on the flight prep team with Geza. I walked over to check up on her progress.


“How’s it going Meghan?” I asked, “Are you excited?”

“This is like Christmas morning for me.” -Meghan, Mission: Near Space Camp extraordinaire

“This is like Christmas morning for me.” -Meghan, Mission: Near Space Camp extraordinaire

“Are you kidding?” She responded, “It’s like Christmas morning for me.”

Not long after that, the largest balloon I had ever seen was pumped up.

Meghan and Trum Adjusting Helium Tanks

Meghan and Truman Adjusting Helium Tanks

Not the party balloons you see at Jewel, but a massive cream-colored, egg-shaped balloon. The flight team worked to attach and secure the experiments to the balloon. Then the interns took over as they made sure the cut-down system was in place. Carefully, the balloon was moved from the safe and cool garage of Koerner Airport to the sweltering hot outside world. As last minute touches were made, Airik and Ethan rallied the campers to stand on one side.

“10! 9! 8! 7! 6! 5! 4! 3! 2! 1! BLASTOFF!” We screeched.

Geza let go of the balloon. We watched it go up further and further until it became just a dot in the stratosphere, but there was an excited, nervous atmosphere back on the ground with the campers. Many continued to look for the balloon long after we couldn’t see it.

The launch took way longer than usual. It was already 2:00 p.m. by the time we all piled back into the vans. We switched seats in the car so the navigation and retrieval teams could be closer to Ken and Airik. We would have lunch depending on where the balloon was. We ended up at a classy Kankakee KFC, where the campers ate and Ken tracked the balloon. KFC, unintentionally, became the stakeout headquarters. The campers passed time by catching new Pokemon and playing Uno.

The adult crew huddled around a long counter, watching the balloon’s whereabouts. They came back with the news that the cut-down system didn’t work, and it wouldn’t land until late tonight.

“We can stay!” Creighton shouted.

“Yeah, we can wait!” Truman chimed in.

It was decided we would go home to return the campers to their parents, and then the adult crew would head back out to find the balloon.

Disappointed kids made their way to the vans. The excitement was noticeably gone and the car ride back home was silent. Campers fell asleep, others listened to music, some just glumly stared out the window. I felt horrible for these kids, it was like waking up on Christmas morning to a stocking full of coal.

The next day, the campers were able to get their experiments back. The oobleck was cold, the glider broken, and the clover spent to near space was more alive than its on-the-ground counterpart. Meghan’s camera hadn’t worked, but Michelle invited her to join the Far Horizons team as a volunteer to fix her mistakes.

I firmly believe there are certain days I know I will remember. Watching an egg-shaped balloon float to 70,000 feet above are one of those days. More than that, I will remember trying to figure out Wombat with the campers. I will remember watching them carefully plan their experiments. Above all else, I will remember the excitement in the air when the campers let the balloon go.


Ray Wise Photographer

Ray was my fellow photographer, and actually gave me quite a few tips. In case you were wondering, Ray does have a Go Pro around his head and a Canon in his hands. Double the cameras, double the fun.


 Ethan helping campers attach the experiments to the balloon.

Ethan helping campers attach the experiments to the balloon.














 Ken and Sebastian predicting where the balloon will land.

Ken and Sebastian predicting where the balloon will land.

The balloon seeing the outside world for the first time.

The balloon seeing the outside world for the first time.















Geza, Jay, and David checking the cut-down system.

Geza, Jay, and David checking the cut-down system.

The balloon in her full glory.

The balloon in her full glory.
















“You can always live mas with lunchtime launch sightings”

“You can always live mas with lunchtime launch sightings”

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Flight #92: A Mission Near Space Adventure

IMG_3608 (1)On June 30th 2016, we had another MSN (Mission Near Space) flight launch with our MSN camp. I was one of two summer high school interns participating in the launch. As we left from the Planetarium we traveled an hour and a half to Koerner Aviation airport in Kankakee, IL. The moment we arrived around 10:02am we started to set up to get ready for our launch. Around noon the balloon was launched! Immediately we started tracking the balloon for about two hours through Kankakee,IL, Morocco, IN, and Monon, IN. We stopped at a local gas station in Indiana to wait. While we were at the gas station we noticed the balloon had burst. The team predicted that the balloon would start to descend for at least 40 minutes or more, but in fact the balloon had landed 18 minutes after it burst, much faster than what was predicted.


After the balloon had burst we started tracking it immediately to see where it landed. 30 minutes of looking for the location of where the balloon landed we found the area were it was near Monon, IN (Monon is a Township, White County, Indiana, United States with a population of 1,777). Question is, where exactly did it land? Well it landed in the woods across from a cornfield but, we had no idea where the SPECIFIC spot the balloon landed. So we got everybody together grabbed our cameras, a 30ft pole, and our radio to track it and to see exactly where it landed. As we’re walking through the woods trying to find it the radio starts beeping but we still had no idea where it was until we all looked up and saw the payload stuck in a tree,

IMG_3619We grabbed the 30ft pole hoping it would long enough to reach the balloon, but it wasn’t. Then we tried to see if Ken could climb the tree and grab the balloon, well that didn’t work either. At this time it was 4:30pm and we still had the campers and everyone else just staring at the balloon trying to figure out a way to get it down. We couldn’t keep the campers out in the woods with us to retrieve any longer so Chris gathered all the kids and drove them back to the Planetarium, and the other 9 adults were left back to figure out how to get experiments back. We realized we had to get professional tree climbers. We drove to a local gas station in hopes that we would find some tree climbers, well we did.

We met a woman named Hannah who could help us retrieve the balloon. We showed her where the balloon was and she wasn’t comfortable climbing the tree because of how big it was, so she called her dad to help. Hannah’s dad, Red, came within 15 minutes to help retrieve the balloon. Her dad grabbed his chainsaw, ladder, and some rope and we just watched him climb the tree effortlessly. Finally after about 15-20 minutes of cutting the huge tree branches down we retrieved the balloon. We gathered all of the things we sent up with the balloon only to find out one small green payload was missing, we searched the area for it but it was nowhere to be found. We chalked that bag up as lost. By the time we retrieved the payload it was around 6:30-6:45pm. We were so excited that we had the experiments and even more relieved to head back to the Planetarium, we didn’t get back until 8:30pm. To sum up the entire day, it was exciting and an amazing learning experience.



The hard way to retrieve a payload..


Thank you video to Hannah and Red (her dad) from the campers.





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