Sunday, May 25, 2008

on Mars!!

So. This afternoon around 3:50 Pacific time, the Phoenix Mars Lander successfully landed on Mars (which is great because it would have been said for something named Mars Lander to have failed to land on Mars). The mission is guided by U of A on behalf of NASA. This means that I got to go to the celebration for the whole thing. They held festivities all afternoon in the Space Science buildings on campus. At the time the festivities started, the Lander was still thousands of miles away from touchdown, but it's important to realize that it was traveling at a speed of around 60,000 mph relative to Mars. That's pretty unfathomable if you ask me.

Anyway, I got there in time to catch some info about the cameras installed on the Phoenix, check out the university's Visual Imaging Center, check out some amazing prints with 3D glasses, and hold a piece of Mars in my hand!!! I also got a ton of free stuff: stickers, a poster, 8 x 10 prints of the surface of Venus. Oh, and punch! And I checked out the cool stuff on display at the Planetarium. This is me with the moon:
Around 3:30 we headed into the main building to watch the live feed from NASA while some grad students who were working on the mission translated the geekspeak and answered questions. It was so incredibly exciting to be in the middle of this event! The ground control mission is actually at the U of A, so when I say in the middle, I mean it!! This thing has been on its way to Mars since August of 07, so imagine how incredibly anxious the people working on it must have been! Every time something went right, the smiles on their faces got so big they looked painful. Since the cameras onboard the Phoenix couldn't deploy until landing (obviously, since we're talking heat and speed), there weren't any live shots of the landing or anything like that (sorry no News Channel 2, though I wish I were a news anchor sent to Mars to cover an event). Instead, they had digital simulations, shots of the control rooms, and of course the countdown. The crazy thing is that it takes 15 minutes for information to be transmitted all the way from Mars to Earth. So, the Phoenix had landed already only we had no idea what had happened because the information hadn't made it to Earth yet. So as we were anxiously receiving the data, the entire thing had already happened. Luckily it all went incredibly smoothly. In fact, they had more problems during testing than during the actual landing. Here are some shots I got of the crowd and the screen:
And we have touchdown!!!!!!!!
Everyone was so excited. Cheers and hugs all around. It's actually on Mars! No problems! How amazing!!

It then took several hours for the Phoenix to get its bearings and whatnot. Also the other 3 orbiters were lining up to beam back stats on the Lander. But after a couple hours the first images started arriving:
The Martian horizon as seen TODAY from the Phoenix Mars Lander. This takes my breath away. It's really unfathomable and amazing that we can see this so clearly. If you want to check out more about the mission and the other images the Phoenix is getting (eventually we'll get color images too), then you can keep up with it all here or here.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

on the beach

So, I spent the weekend in San Diego with Christa (who just recently moved back there). It is about a 6 hour drive from here, and a very beautiful one at that. Also, I was in dire need of some open road.

I left Friday after work, to follow the setting sun (of course). I got stopped at all three Border Patrol checks that were open. There must be something about my car that screams smuggler because every single time I've been through a border check, they've had me stop, pull over, and pop the trunk. For those of you who don't know, this isn't routine. Usually you pause or maybe even exchange a few words, but rarely do they actually search your car. Well, this time, they even put the dogs on it. By this point, I'm hoping they have a party. I almost want to fill my trunk with something really weird so they'll at least get a kick out of it. Can't be fresh produce, but what if I just fill it with bouncy balls so that they roll out when the trunk is opened? They would think I was so weird. And I would be rolling in laughter. Well, needless to say, they found nothing. But it did give me a great idea for a story: 24 year old American girl is the leading Colombian Drug Lord. How unsuspecting, right?

Anyway, I got to drive through Saguaro National Monument, and through Yuma, and through the rocky area east of SD, and then the mountains. It's probably my favorite 6 hour drive. I rolled in to SD around 7:30, just in time to to get ready for a night on the town. We opted for the casually elegant look, complete with sneakers and rocking socks:
First we stopped into this bar called Katan (I think that's how it's spelled). This place has a medieval theme with coats of arms and swords on the walls, so I was geeking out a little. Even better, they were hosting this Puertorican drum group. SO, there's a dance floor, AND live drums. Can life get any better than this? It's questionable. We rocked out for a while, and then four of Christa's friends got there. It was great to meet one of the girls I've only heard about in stories. Anyway, they weren't really digging the world fusion as much as we were, so we all hopped across the street to a place called Air Conditioned (which it wasn't) where this dj was spinning 80's dance grooves. It was pretty crowded inside. And wicked hot. 80's music is great and all, but I can only dance to it for so long before I'm bored. Being with Christa though, we had loads of fun and the boredom didn't come till much later. Two of her friends left, and then Christa and I decided to hop back to the first place. We did, and the dj was on top of the world grooves. It was incredible. We danced and danced. Some guy even taught me some new latin moves. I had quite a blast. In fact we were having so much fun that before we knew it, the place was closing. So, we headed back to the car and then got home a little after 4 a.m. (I'd also like to add that I was freaking cold. I'm so used to desert life, that Cali seemed crazy cold. Which is odd to me).

Next morning we awoke around 10 to hit the beach. Actually, first we made a scrumptious breakfast of eggs and salsa, vegetarian sausage, toast, and pear. It was really yummy. Okay, so then we hit the beach. We cruised down to Sunset Cliffs, which is like the most beautiful place in SD (I blogged about it from last time I was there, in case you missed it). There's one particular beach that is Christa's favorite, so we decide to hit that. Only, it's down the cliffs. When she used to live there, there was a rope. Well, not anymore. It rotted. Or something. So we really want to get down there but it's a wicked steep jagged rock slope. I'm completely game because I really want to get to that beach, so I start down crab style on my hands and feet. Then mostly I'm on my butt trying to slide. It was crazy precarious, and I had to drop to the rocks below. And I was barefoot. And I threw my stuff down in front of me. I had quite the adrenaline rush. BUT. We made it down, and it was so beautiful and so worth it.
We explored the whole beach, and even found a dead crab who was quite beautiful.
Then we lounged around in the sun, and kept moving our belongings back as the tide came in.

Enter: problem . We got there by sliding down a rock face with no rope. Hm. And now we want to get back. Hm. No rope. Well then. There are some steep stairs at the very far end of the cliffs. Only the tide is coming in. So the rocks you would walk on to get there... are covered in ocean.If you look closely at this above photo, you can see the stairs. And imagine those rocks covered, and the cliff face is to the left. We spent what seemed like forever taking one rock at a time, at the moments between one wave crashing against the cliff face and the next. You couldn't see where you were stepping except at that exact moment. So, slowly but surely. But the tide was strong. At one point it knocked me into the cliff and back into Christa. We and all of our belongings were soaked, but we finally made it, exhausted, to the stairs. Where we then had to climb four flights. :) It was awesome.

Next we changed clothes and hit up Newport Ave for some shopping and a yummy Mexican dinner at a chill little place with optimal people watching. Among the things we saw were two 4 year olds with mohawks, a dog with sunglasses, and a guy running down the street with a half empty handle of whiskey and another guy chasing him. :) After that, we headed to this little suspension bridge she wanted to show me that hung over this lush canyon. It was wonderful to see so much green in one place.
Then it was up to the top of Mount Helix for the sunset. The place had a great view, only the sky was wicked smoggy.
There was a huge cross on top of the hill, too, because it is owned by a church.
And the sunset started, and was mediocre because of the fog, but then suddenly the sun just kind of dropped behind the smog, and the sky turned gray, and that was that. I can honestly say it was the ugliest sunset I ever saw (and I don't think sunsets are ugly). At least we got a kick out of it.
And on the way down, we got a great view of this crazy house on top of that mountain. Flying Saucer anyone?
Then we headed home, exhausted, to get ready for another night out. We had to jack up on the coffee, but off we went. First to this place that was hosting a night called One Nation Under Groove. The club seemed awesome. An amazing environment, big dance floor, etc, etc. Only, someone needs to look up the word groove in the dictionary. This was more like One Nation Under Bad Excuse for Dance Music. We tried to goof off and have fun anyway, but like the 80's, that only lasts for so long. Some of Christa's other friends showed up, so I got to meet them, but then we split for this other club (I don't recall the names of these). We were kind of iffy about paying another cover fee for the night, but we stood outside to listen, and it sounded tight. Then, the bouncer let us in for free (woot!) It pays to be a pretty girl sometimes. ;) This place was pretty crowded too, but the music was hiphoppy and good. Lots of people were dancing. So we rocked for a while. Then the dj started some weird experimenting with some not so flowy tunes, and we kept loosing our groove. Finally we decided to call it a night (we were extremely exhausted anyway). So it was home to bed by 2 or so.

Sunday morning, we woke up, ate some Mexican leftovers (enchiladas for breakfast are my favorite), and went out for coffee. We went to this Egyptian Teahouse which was really cool. We even lined up a possible dance performance with the owner (score for us). Then it was back to pack and hit the road again. Which I did. The drive was just as beautiful heading back. There was only 1 border check this time, too. Which would have made my trip shorter, except I stopped in Yuma to play in the dunes. There's one little road going through miles of sand dunes, so I parked Thel and hiked up. You can see a little of its amazingness here. If you want more, check my older blogs. I love Yuma.
So, I rolled into Tucson just after sunset, to crash and get ready for work Monday morning. I'm still recovering, but it was amazing. I had a blast. And the road felt so good. Next up: north to Utah. Over and out.

-Desert Belle