On Sunday, May 14th, the blissfully quiet campus of TSJC was interrupted by the sounds of students dragging bags and suitcases of clothing, food, and other necessities. While some packed lightly, others seemed to have insisted on bringing half of their bedroom with them. CLOEE insisted on this too. We took two vans instead of one bus. We were forced to throw everyone’s luggage in the back of one van as CLOEE and all of her things filled up the other. Despite each van holding up to 15 people, somehow we ended filling up all the seats of one van and the students being sardined together while the other students in the other van had entire rows to themselves. Some chose to be canned fish while others chose first class airplane. As we left, we said our goodbyes to the mild weather of Colorado and braced ourselves for the onslaught of Texas heat and humidity. The next two days consisted of six and nine hours of driving. On Monday, we finally arrived at our destination in the hot city of Houston! Upon coming and unloading at our hotel, we immediately set out to the pool. It was only afterwards that we took a look at CLOEE and made sure she made it to Houston in one piece. CLOEE started up right away and functioned as planned. The only thing we changed was the Gimbal as the old one at that point was made up of mostly super glue. After some tests and our grouchy comments at Youtube’s livestream system, we had everything ready to go.
On Tuesday, we gathered up our supplies and the rover and met with our NASA representative. We all paraded to the Johnson Space Center’s Mars Yard. Even though some of us overestimated the size of the area, we were all impressed either way. Early on, we impressed the NASA employees by our quick set up time (less than 10 minutes). They were expecting us to take about an hours’ time. We took the opportunity to see how CLOEE did on various parts of the Mars Yard before we started. While communications stayed strong the entire time, CLOEE did encounter a few issues. When we put her in the middle of a lunar crater, the loose gravel and steep slopes proved to be too much for CLOEE to get out of as she slid back down. It was decided that we would avoid the lunar craters until the end or altogether. The Mars hill also turned out to be surprising, as it is very steep except for one side of it (but steep enough we still couldn’t climb back up).
After some time, we were called off the field as the NASA employees set out several colorful rocks and Mr. Bill onto the field. The Mission Control was put inside a windowless trailer that was air conditioned while the rest of us were left outside to fend for ourselves in the high humidity and heat. Right before the run, Mission Control strategized on the best way to complete the course. Due to the difficulties getting out of one of the lunar craters, Mission Control decided to immediately go to the rock yard where the highest point rocks were placed. As soon as the timer started, Mission Control proceeded down Mars Hill. At the bottom, most of the terrain looked similar in different directions and CLOEE took a wrong turn.
She ended up heading straight for a grass patch on the boundary of the course. Luckily, Mission Control soon discovered the mistake and made the necessary corrections to get back on the course. Once CLOEE arrived at the rock yard, she immediately began scanning for rocks. There were so many big rocks scattered throughout the rock yard that the colored rocks blended in very well, making them very difficult to find. A few rocks were collected and when there were 15 minutes remaining, Mission Control decided to head back up the Mars Hill. However, that part proved to be challenging. CLOEE wasn’t as good at climbing slopes as we had hoped. There was only one narrow part of the hill that CLOEE was able to use to climb up the hill. We were unable to locate that part before time was up. We collected three rocks. Some of the members of Mission Control were discouraged and not happy with the results. After a pep talk over lunch, we learned that the total amount of points we received was 12, which would have put us in fourth or fifth place when compared to the previous year’s rankings against the major universities. It quickly lightened the mood.
We discussed strategy and came up with a new plan of attack for the second round. As CLOEE went down the Mars Hill, they found a rock that they successfully picked up.
Then the rover went to the sand pit part of the Rock Yard. This particular sand was beach sand which was much finer than the sand TSJC used to practice and test in. While CLOEE did well overall in the sand, she was sinking in the very fine sand which made it harder for her to traverse the terrain. Eventually CLOEE made it out of the sand pit and Mission Control decided to drive straight to the rocky portion of the Rock Yard. Again, there were problems with being able to see the colored rocks through the cameras. In the remaining minutes, Mission Control decided to try going up the Mars Hill again. They were trying to use particular slabs of stone in order to see the location where they would head up. However, there was a slight misunderstanding and CLOEE attempted to climb the wrong part of the Mars Hill again, which proved to be unsuccessful. However, we got 13 points this time around and performed quite well overall. The entire event proved to be very successful and we learned a lot on what to do to improve on our rover.
After the second run was complete, we packed up everything from the Rock Yard and were led to another part of the Johnson Space Center. We got our own very special tour of Building 9.
While tours of this building are usually held from the catwalks of the building, we got to be on the floor and see everything up close. The overall reaction of the whole team consisted of eyes widening and mouths dropping open before pulling out the cell phones and cameras to snap a dozen pictures of each thing. Building 9 had all kinds of things including replica modules of the International Space Station, land-based space vehicles, and robots. It was the ultimate paradise for space nerds and geeks alike.
Wednesday was a day full of tours and exploration. We went back to the Johnson Space Center and got presentations about NCAS (a community college program) and were also introduced to the potential of internships at NASA. Following that, we got to use VR goggles to take a 3D tour of the International Space Station.
While some people spun around in their chairs getting a look of everything, others couldn’t look down without freaking out, and some of us got terribly disorientated and nauseated within the first couple of minutes. After the 3D exploration, we got some lunch and then headed to Space Center Houston. We spent the rest of the day happily nerding out to all the cool space things we saw there. We witnessed mini movies of Space Exploration, got a look of the first ever original Mission Control that was responsible for the Gemini and Apollo missions, and we got to see all of the other neat exhibits there. Afterwards, we dumped a ton of money on shirts with witty quotes and other nifty little items from the gift shop.
We want to thank all of our generous sponsors for helping us build C.L.O.E.E and be able to take her to NASA’s Johnson Space Center for testing. We could not have done it without everyone’s help! We would also like to thank NASA for inviting us to test on their Mars Yard, and send a huge thank you to Stacy Dees and Lyndon Bridgwater for giving us their time and help to make this possible. We couldn’t have done it without you!
Also, we want to thank our great drivers for taking vans full of loud students to and from Houston!
We are planning to continue to improve C.L.O.E.E and fix the problems that we found while testing at NASA’s Mars Yard. We will make sure to keep everyone updated by posting a couple of times over the summer.