Archive for the ‘Hawaii’ Category

Mauna Kea

Posted: July 18, 2012 in Hawaii

So while shopping in a Hilo Walmart, I had a conversation with a cashier about our project. I told him we were staying on Mauna Kea and he said, “I’ve always wanted to go there”. Now understand that Mauna Kea is 30 minutes from Hilo…

Mauna Kea is a sacred mountain (volcano) in Hawaiian Culture. It is also one of the world’s tallest mountains with extremely dry air. It is naturally one of the most desirable places in the world to use a telescope. And does it have telescopes.

First, some pictures of the drive up to the peak…

Ivan, Tom and Jimmy…


Frederick C. Gillett Gemini Telescope … When we got to the top, there was a storm of fast moving cold clouds. It was hard to see anything. At 13,770 feet (4197 meters), The Gemini Telescope was my favorite. It has a twin in Chile – hence the name. The two telescopes working together can cover nearly all of the sky. Built and operated by an alliance between the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, and Australia, they saw first light in 1999 (Mauna Kea) and 2000 (Chilean Andes).

Our Valley Tents (aka The Sand Box)

Posted: July 16, 2012 in Hawaii

Our mission here on Mauna Kea is to prove that the RESOLVE concept/design of a lunar robotic mining mission will work. That’s why Mauna Kea was chosen as our test site. The geography here is so unusual. It’s all about lava and lava dust; materials that create an environement that resembles the moon.

In the valley, we have some tents set up where the rover spends her nights. We happen to spend a lot of time in the tents. It’s loud because of the generators. It’s incredibly sandy and dusty with lava dust. It is windy. And it is cold. I worked 16 hours today and I am tired. Here are some pictures of our valley tents.





Can you see the lava dust on everything?


Somehow, an Athletic Club (of Bilbao) scarf found its way into the tent. This was a gift from our exchange student Beatriz.20120715-230246.jpg

Resting and enjoying the view.

Pitcher’s Mound

Posted: July 13, 2012 in Hawaii

So, between our dormitory and the valley is a large ridge. To the right of the ridge is the road in and to the left of it is the road out. We have strict rules which dictate the road into the valley and the road out of the valley. Why? Because these are the most treacherous roads I have ever been on and there is no way to make room to pass another vehicle. If two vehicles ever met head on, it would really, really suck. I mean suck bad… Did I mention this is THE definition of 4wd country?

So Wednesday, Lucas, Janine and I decided to hike into the valley in a direct path over this hill. It looks just like a pitcher’s mound. The color is perfect. The shape is right on. Then only tricky part is that the ridge is covered completely in lava debris. I mean this is exactly where all of your gas grill lava briquettes came from. Everything is loose. When you think you might have found a spot to rest, a lava debris landslide starts. And BTW… lava is sharp and jagged!

So here’s the pitcher’s mound…

One of the interesting plants that somehow survives in this windy, cold and dry environment.

Lucas and Janine hunting for nene birds…

I was surprised how good it would feel reaching the peak. But it was pretty exciting. Maybe that’s because I thought I might die on the climb up.



View of the valley base camp (tent city? The sand box?) coming off of the pitcher’s mound.

Robotic Mining

Posted: July 13, 2012 in Hawaii

So what is our project? We’re a group of scientists and engineers from the United States and Canada working together to build a robotic rover capable of hunting for water, mining and excavating dirt, processing the dirt in a chemical plant and analyzing what it’s made of. If it contains water, the chemistry plant can separate it and measure it.

Within the US, we have team members from Florida, Texas, California and the Washington DC area.

This is inside our tent in the valley where we set up a mini-control room for early checkout.

The payload before integration onto the rover. You can see the drill and chemistry plant.

The rover in the valley before the payload is installed.

Alignment of the prospecting sensors.

The fully integrated robotic rover working in the valley.

Into the Valley

Posted: July 12, 2012 in Hawaii

Wednesday started with an early breakfast followed by a safety briefing. Our next 2 days are all about setting up. Friday, we start operational scenarios. Today, we set the stage. So this meant unpacking computers and setting up a moderately sized computer control room.

Our testing with the rover is performed in a nearby valley. The valley is usually accessed with 4wd but for my first time going in, a few of us hiked in. It was a beautiful hike.





Above the Clouds

Posted: July 11, 2012 in Hawaii

A view of my dorm building…


I’ve taken 10 pictures of this view and I can’t figure out how to capture it. It’s looking south and the mountain in the back right is Mauna Loa, the active volcano. Then there is a sea of clouds — we are above the clouds at 9200 feet (2.8 km).


Stars in Hawaii

Posted: July 11, 2012 in Hawaii

Aloha. I am just settling down after a long day of travel to Hawaii. Tonight, I find myself on Mauna Kea, a very large volcano on “the big island” of Hawaii. My job brought me here where we’re field testing a robotic mining and materials analysis laboratory. The robotic miner is small and mobile with hope that one day, we land it on another planet. But for now, a volcano will have to suffice. Here’s a view of Mauna Kea from our plane:


We Stopped for some shopping and dinner before we took the 2-hr drive up the volcano. The landscape here is very interesting. Large expanses of rough ancient lava fields with grasses and colorful flowers slowly trying to turn it into something that looks alive. Saw several lava tubes before it got dark.




We’re staying at a Hostel/Dormitory owned by the University of Hawaii. There are many telescopes on top of Mauna Kea from around the world. The hostel has common rooms for socializing, watching TV and playing pool. There is a large dining area with some food available 24hrs. It’s very remote and quiet. I was told the view of the night sky would be impressive, but I had no idea. A few steps away from the light of the building, the sky reveals the most stars I have ever seen. It is incredible. The milky way is clearly visible with the naked eye. Very cool.