Friday, September 26, 2014

Mission Accomplished

Well, it was quite a night last night (Thurs). Started out at 7pm for most of us, gathering at the factory where our PTS (Payload Transportation System) folk had dropped off the spacecraft container 2 weeks ago. The vehicle had been loaded inside the container in the giant clean-room, maintaining the clean integrity of the container and the spacecraft (contamination of any sort could destroy a VERY expensive spacecraft, cutting it's mission life in space short). About 10pm they opened the outer door to the clean-room 'airlock' and the 3-axle bogey (the back end) was connected. After that they fired up the bogey and backed the container slowly out. After that there was much standing around as we weren't allowed to push the container onto the street until midnight (there were a LOT of lookey-loo's from the factory....I gather it's a big deal for them each time one of their spacecraft leave...many years of labor for LOTS of people, and a quite significant investment for them and the country...many of our tax-dollars rolled out on the street last night!)

We had lots of security and police type people....this was the first time I can recall seeing 'guys with guns'....they were Dept. of Defense police (didn't know there was such a thing). They were some extremely serious looking guys wearing body armor and carrying M16's. They had spread out pretty good, not entirely sure how many there were, but the ones I did see looked like they were really watching the environment...kind of what I would think Secret Service does when they are on 'the job'. Then we had the local police, the factory security, and the Highway Patrol (who would be running point on our convoy). All in all, a lot of guys with guns. After they blocked the street and pushed the container out all the way they were able to hook up the "prime mover" (a super-dooper semi-tractor, custom made for this job).

FINALLY around 1pm we had a big gather-round as the details of our route along with the convoy makeup (your position in the convoy) was discussed. HP would be leading the way, lots of corners to turn (the container is pretty ginormous, and it doesn't corner real good...thankfully we're moving about 5mph MAX, and they'll stop or slow for anything they need to). There were more than a few times where we were going around stoplights (they hang too low) or driving in the opposing traffic lane. The various police agencies were running interference, blocking all the intersections as the caravan slowly made it's way by...and the local police at the end were trying to keep cars from driving into / past our convoy. They were pretty busy back there....many times we'd hear them on their PA telling cars to "STAY WHERE YOU ARE"....I'm sure many of the drivers out in the middle of the night were wondering just what was going on. A giant vehicle of some sort, people up on it/all over it, civilians, Air Force, all surrounded by multiple law enforcement agency vehicles....lots and lots of flashing lights of all colors, all the vehicles in the convoy with their hazard flashers must have been quite a sight.

Our place in the convoy (I was in the electronics monitoring truck) was 2nd behind the container, so we had a birds eye view of 'the show'. OH...I forgot to mention...we also had "G-men" in our little band of brothers....while they were hooking up the container and getting it ready to roll, a few of them (dressed quite casually, looking like 'people in the crowd') came into our truck and introduced themselves....they were asking lots of questions as to our monitoring capabilities. Specifically they were asking if we could monitor certain frequencies that those little quad-copter drones run on....APPARENTLY (and I hadn't thought of this before actually) they can be a real security threat. Whether carrying a camera or something else much more sinister, they are so cheap that pretty much anybody can have one, and be flying it from a block or more away...(making it VERY hard to capture them if they have bad intentions I'd suspect...I mean, who do you go after?) was an interesting conversation...and they were amongst the convoy along w/ all the rest of our 'protectors'.

All the vehicles had 'radios' so there was constant communication in our convoy. I was riding shotgun, so I also had the radio (woo-hoo!) There were 6 of us in our vehicle (we had picked up 2 'extras' was a specialist in the RF emissions arena from the factory....and another was another guy from the factory looking for a ride to the aircraft and we were a large truck....welcome aboard.
At one point during the drive apparently some car got pretty aggressive trying to get around the blocking police in the back (to pass our convoy as we were moving QUITE slow) and actually hit the cop. I'm betting THAT didn't go too well...might have been drinking is my was now somewhere between 2 and 3am as we rolled along and finally got to the west gate of LAX, where we were escorted in, regrouped as they closed the gate, then escorted quite a ways on airport property to our waiting C5. All the PTS crew who wasn't needed on the convoy had been bussed over and had work-lights blazing away and were standing by to load. Also a bunch of factory folk were there, wanting to eek every last moment with their spacecraft (some will even come up to the base and be involved with/watch the launch).

And so....we are at the aircraft, the PTS people are jumping into action loading the huge container into the huge C5 aircraft....and we start prepping our giant carts of equipment to go into the aircraft too (the equipment follows the spacecraft wherever it goes as long as it's outside of a protected clean-room). Each of our two 'carts' full of gear weighs 1000 lbs...(the cart has wheels). Our truck has a nice hydraulic we can wheel the cart out onto the ramp and lower it to the ground. But that's after we've removed our antenna assemblies from the lift mechanisms (they are lifted thru holes in the roof so they are sticking outside for the drive) and put on the cart with the rest of the gear. We have small UPS (Uninterrupted Power battery backup) with each cart good for around 10 minutes. We do our best to keep all the gear's the kind of gear that really doesn't like being turned off and then turned back on (we've had it all running for over a week now...our truck has on-board generators providing power for as long as we need it). We keep them plugged into AC power right up to the moment they are fork-lifted on-board the aircraft...which only happens after the container is fully loaded. The rear bogey needs to be removed from the container and brought around to the front of the aircraft, and loaded in front of the prime mover (the C5 opens in front and can literally drive tanks and such on from one end and drive them out the other. This C5 is one of 2 modified to fit this special container....the largest one in our inventory). While they are disconnecting and moving it around we quickly load our carts of gear and get them plugged back into power before they die (do NOT want that to happen).

Of course I've glossed over how much WORK is involved in all we are loading our carts it's now about 8am and it's now light out (remember we started back at 7pm the night before).  As we are completing the power and location/etc of our carts the PTS crew and the C5 aircrew are finishing up chaining down EVERYTHING. The aircraft has a "load-master" and he's in charge of the load. He (or she) is in charge of making sure EVERYTHING is lashed (chained) down properly in the right locations. The plane has to be able to FLY after all, and things need to be balanced. He needs to know weights and such...however this isn't the first dance with the container...and things can NOT break free and move around during flight...that would be VERY BAD. So...the PTS crew has bypassed our racks (remember, they weigh 1000lbs each...pretty significant hunk of stuff on wheels if not properly tied down) as it's getting close to time to after running power and comm cables all over the aircraft I now get to lash them down (I've never used the chain-rigs they use...though I've watched and it doesn't seem like rocket science).

Turns out chaining stuff down is pretty significant work. And there's a method to the madness...everything is 'cross-chained' (hard to explain).  As it's getting near 9am turns out the entire convoy is waiting on US to finish tying down our gear (not my job btw, but I'm not going to walk away and leave it for somebody else). It's loud on the aircraft as they are running some jet motor for power generation (don't know the actual name...maybe APU...Auxiliary Power Unit?)....and it's getting quite warm as they've now closed up both the rear and front it's also quite a bit darker as I finish chaining down our racks. The engineers have finished making sure all is well with the gear (it's running properly) we finally work our way out of the aircraft and climb into our now nearly empty truck, and jump back into the now container-less convoy headed back to the factory (where we are all parked)...and from there back to the hotels to sleep like the we've just worked a 15 hour night. My guys and I decide to stop at IHOP on the way home and have as much breakfast as we can bear (quite a lot)...mmmmmmMMMM! Love a tasty breakfast. After that it's back to the hotel for some serious snoozing.

Our schedule is for the aircraft to fly back to 'the base' tonight (Friday) and as soon as it leaves we can leave and also drive home....then to show back up at the flight-line Saturday at 6pm for a 12 hour night-shift...and again on Sunday for the next/final convoy of the container to the payload center. HOWEVER....we get calls this afternoon that the flight out has 'slipped' 24 hours (common aerospace term....slipped...meaning there was a problem with the aircraft and they have delayed departure for a now the entire schedule has also slipped a day. So now I have a quiet day on Saturday here in LA...and as I said, we can't leave until the aircraft does (just in case for some reason they can't leave and we have to unload's happened before). And I sit in my hotel room, Friday night, just coming up on Midnight...trying to stay awake as long as possible as I'll be working nights for the next few days. IF things go according to the 'new' schedule, the plane will fly tomorrow around midnight...and I can then drive home (about 3 to 4 hours). I'll probably make a stop for my favorite taco's in the world off on Topanga Canyon blvd in San Fernando Valley...a little hole in the wall called "Taco de Casa" 24 hours. I should get home around 3 to 4am Sunday morning...then I have to work the next 2 nights out on the flight-line...but that's ok...gets me out of my 'day job' for a while. you are up on 'the haps' of my's been a pretty good one all in all...the guys (and girl) I've been working with...we all seem to get along pretty's been a good crew thankfully. Had a few nice meals too...(benefits of being on Per-diem)....

And it's coming up on Midnight...don't think I'm going to last much longer than that this time tomorrow I'll have my rental car loaded and be standing by waiting for a phone call (or text) that I can leave for home...then I hit the freeways north.

OK...bed time I guess...have a great weekend!


Saturday morning update: the aircraft did NOT leave last night as planned...some kind of engine problem. They pushed it 24 hours, now it's supposed to leave tonight around we are still here awaiting them to fly.

Have a great weekend!

I found a picture online of the SCTS container being loaded into the C5...thought it would be appropriate. Though this is a few year old picture, as it's the old "2 axle" bogey...we now have a fancy-schmancy 3-axle bogey. The bogey is the wheeled contraption on the's self powered and can move the container very slowly on it's own without the tractor up front (which isn't visible in this picture as it's already inside the aircraft).


  1. WOW! Sure hope everything eventually made it to its destination and you were finally able to head home. Love the story! I guess it IS rocket science!

  2. Wow, have just printed & can't wait to read tonight!

  3. Monday update: The plane did indeed finally fly on Saturday night (Sunday morning) around I was free to zoom home. Last night's shift (Sunday night) we showed up at the Vandenberg AFB flightline where both C5's were waiting. With tons of work by the small army the bogey was pulled off from the front of the C5, moved to the rear and re-connected to the container, and eventually they backed the container out of the aircraft (the container won't actually fit to pass all the way thru like 'normal' cargo does). While that was going on we unloaded our electronics packages and reinstalled them in the mobile van, and finally around 4am Sunday morning we convoyed the container/spacecraft over to one of our buildings for overnight secure storage (this building was originally built to house the space shuttles...back before Challenger blew up the plan was to launch shuttles from both coasts...Vandenberg is important as we can provide a higher payload weight polar orbit launch than Florida...if you look at how California juts inland just below Vandenberg, that means we can launch almost due south without flying over people. The Cape/Kennedy Space Center can't do that from Florida...they have to fly out over the ocean and then turn they waste fuel and can't carry as much weight to orbit using that route). ANYWAY....tomorrow (today actually) we meet up again around 6pm for the final convoy out to the payload center far away on South Vandenberg. At the payload center the spacecraft will be removed from the container inside a giant cleanroom, placed on a stand in the vertical/launch position, and will be 'processed' for launch. That will all occur over the next few months.

    Gotta run...get some food and get ready to go back to work...the last of the LONG days on this mission until launch time. Later gaters!

  4. Tuesday evening update: Well...the container and it's spacecaft are now safely INSIDE the payload center! Worked all night last night with a few dozen of my closest friends, and we transported it from the north-base to the far end of south-base (where the payload processing center is located). Got off work @ about 5:30am today, then had to get up and come in again (whatever time I choose) to put in my 8 hours for TODAY...which is what they call a "Transition" day...(when we change from one shift to my case from nights to days. So I went back into work around 1pm and worked until about 9..boy am I TIRED! And tomorrow I"m back on my 'normal' day shift (7 to 3:30). Yep...the fun stuff is over, back to my day job...rats.

    OK...bed time...I feel like I should sleep good as I''m SO tired, but my body has been working 12 hour night shifts since last I'm all whacked as to when to sleep. Fun stuff...Later gaters!

  5. Have you recovered yet?! Gosh, Matt - it is FASCINATING what you do! Thanks so much for the write-up. Loved reading all about it! Are you allowed to take a few photos while you're doing it or is that a security breach?

    Well, hopefully you're all rested up & will either be able to do some riding tomorrow or watch college football! There are some big games tomorrow! Ohio State plays my alma mater (MD) & I'm so torn who to root for! And hopefully, Ole Miss takes down Bama (please, please, please!). And Notre Dame plays Stanford (GO Domers!). Sooooo sorry about your 2 fave teams (both college & pro) - Michigan & Oakland are sure having a tough time these days. Hey, I'm not the biggest Jim Harbaugh fan but at least the guy can WIN. If San Fran doesn't want him anymore, maybe he'll go across the Bay to Oakland OR go back to HIS alma mater (Michigan)! So, things may be turning around for you soon. You should pray though that Lane Kiffen doesn't get hired as Head Coach at Michigan.

    Anybody have any fave new TV shows? I'll chat about what I like & don't like next week. Would LOVE to hear from everyone!

    Have fun whatever you do this weekend, Matt! :) :)

    1. Susie, not really supposed to be taking pics of 'things' when I'm working...not to say it might not have happened here and there by accident....

      Hope to do a bike ride tomorrow....(Sat)...and speaking of Sat...HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Hopefully you DON'T have to work on your Bday...that would suck. I might sneak in some Football...sad to say I'm afraid ur turtles are in for a whuppin tomorrow by the EVIL Buckeyes...and GO STANFORD!!! And sorry to say, I think Ole Miss is also in for a shellacking by Bama. But we will see...after all I root for crappy teams all the time (hence my STILL being a Raider AND Wolverine fan). Yeah...wouldn't that be something (horrible) if Lane Kiffen goes to Michigan...would be right up my alley I guess.

      Anyway...have a great day! (and sorry for the football talk Rae! Ok..not really...ok, well, maybe just an Teensy bit sorry)

    2. Well well well...Ole Miss came thru and DID INDEED take down #1 Bama (I was surprised)...they looked pretty good, and even did it after getting a cheap TD against them by that facemask NON-call...that was pretty sad. I was rooting for the Rebels at the end...they deserved it (and Bama looked like my Raiders...the most penalized team in football). Don't recall ever seeing a Nick Saban team w/ that many penalties! And the Irish also took down Stanford (that was quite a game also...I had 4 great games on, and I was switching back and forth...also watched the Oklahoma/TCU and also the Baylor/Texax games). Haven't had a nice sit-down afternoon of football in a long time (I was whipped after my pretty toasty morning was QUITE HOT here...104 today, 101 yesterday, and I think 100 the day before... which I think are all records, and quite unheard of...we don't even have AC in our houses!) Got all our fans out of the attic running. The babies are all lying around panting all day again.

  6. Glad you felt a little remorse on my account, Matt! I was at work today and "the game" (which must be distinguished from THE Game IYKWIM) was on every TV in every room -- even my patient who had been in shock at 8 am was asking to have the game turned on by mid afternoon (a testament to my healing touch of course!)

    Haha, I was going to point out that actually it is rocket science but Daniel beat me to it! Great story, thanks for telling us about it.

    It was SLEETING here this afternoon! ARRGGHH I can't stand it! Summer CAN'T be over! Supposed to get into the 30s overnight -- on Thursday it was 80!! I have all my potted citrus trees on the patio swathed in sheets -- I am not ready to bring them in for the winter.

    Happy Birthday, SusieB! I hope you are treating yourself! If you have some TV show recommends I would like to hear them. The past year it seems the only show I've really gotten into -- besides Project Runway and Top Chef -- is Major Crimes. I wanted to see that new mystery series with David Tennant but missed the first episode the other night. My daughter was looking forward to Gotham and I think she hasn't been disappointed -- she is one of those " kids" majorly into comic books and Japanese video games.


    1. Hey Rae...I'm chuckling at the fact that every TV in every room had "the game" on! And Susie, sorry about your Terps...but was expected I guess. What a CRAZY day of football! Top teams falling like domino's! The new rankings will be crazy...I gather Auburn is the sole survivor and will be the new #1. Don't they play Ole Miss next week? THAT should be THE GAME to watch...hope the same Ole Miss who just beat Bama shows up, I'd like to see them win that one!

      I'm off to Colorado Springs for the week (work...nothing exciting tho...just routine stuff). Hopefully the weather is good. Rae...funny you'r talking about your bad weax....we've just had 3 days of OVER 100! (it was 104 yesterday for my ride, but I was home before it got that hot). All records for us...we don't have AC in most houses here...once in a while we get a crazy wind shift and we get the hot air off the Mojave's been this way since Weds I think..and supposed to be in the 90's today, and still mid 80's all week! (too bad I'm missing that...80's are nice!)

      Still working on my backpacking writeup...just got Greg's DVD of pictures (he took over 500!) much to choose from between his and mine...and trying to make 5 days of big-mile-days slogging along at altitude carrying a pack sound fun (GRIN)!

      Have a great week!

  7. THANKS SO MUCH, MATT & RAE! I spent the day reveling in SATURDAY, BLOODY, SATURDAY! Whoooo-eeeeeee! Avert you eyes, Rae, I will be talkin 'bout football for the next few minutes! Can you BELIEVE it, Matt! DOWN goes another one! 5 of the Top 10, 11 of the Top 20 - DOWN they go! Whoo-hoo M-I-SS-I-SS-I-PP-I! Bet they were partying quite hardy all-night-long in the Magnolia state!

    And I expected MD to lose, but hey, didn't they LOOK MAHVELOUS in their uniforms & spiffy new helmets? Do wish it hadn't been QUITE the beat-down though. But even then, the Buckeyes ain't getting no respect! I'm sure that makes you smile, Matt! Seriously, they have been penalized WAY too hard for losing to VA Tech early on, that they STILL haven't climbed back in the Top 14 DESPITE 10 higher ranked teams LOSING on Saturday! I thought they would at LEAST get back to #11. Stupid AP poll voters!

    And even though it was GLORIOUS to see BAMA go down, I'm not celebrating just yet! Nooooooo! They are the freakin Terminators of college football! Heck, the voters only dropped them to #7! All they have to do is win out (which means beating current #3 Miss State & #2 Auburn) & they'll be right back in the playoff!

    And Matt - YOU must have sucked up the entire country's warm weather! Did you see the people in the stands in game after game? They all were bundled up like December! And it got cold around my neck of the woods too. Had to break out my gloves this morning!

    Rae - I'll be back to chat this week about TV but the one show you mention - Gracepoint is a remake of the British series I just watched about 7-9 months ago on the BBC America channel : Broadchurch. It's so bizarre but fascinating to watch this remake when the other show is still fresh in my mind. And Tennant plays the same character (only as an American this time). I've read that the culprit will be different this time & it was a shocker on the original, so can't wait to see who it is. Also, Nick Nolte is in this & so far, have to say he should head up a chapter of OVERACTORS Not-so-Anonymous! Hope he dials it back a bit. The rest of the cast is good so far. Do you have Comcast? You can watch the 1st show On Demand. Since I'm back to not watching the NFL, I spend my Sundays watching all the various shows On Demand that I missed that week. It's the ONLY good thing about Comcast!

    And Matt - can't wait for your hiking/camping adventure! The photos alone are always worth the "price of admission". :) :) :)

  8. Andy Schleck is RETIRING! Don't know why he doesn't give his knee more time to heal before making such a life-changing decision. AND see more knee specialists - like Dr James Andrews, the American doc that seemingly ALL the top athletes go for knee surgeries, etc.

    Am not totally shocked since Frankie re-signed with Trek without it being a package deal with little bro. Still, am very, very sad. Was hoping he'd be back battling with AC, Froome & the other GC faves on future Tours. Of course, MAYbe after time passes & his knee heals or he has more surgeries, he'll (be able to) change his mind & launch a COMEBACK! Fingers crossed. X

    Of course, maybe he just doesn't want to be a pro cyclist anymore. You sacrifice a lot being a pro athlete - special diet, constant training, much time away from family. AND fans & the media constantly harping at you why you aren't the rider you used to be. To put up with all that, you have to REALLY want it & maybe his heart wasn't in it anymore.

    But geeze, for his career to sputter out like it did the past 3 years - it just kills me. JUST 4 years ago, could you have envisioned THIS?! I sure didn't. Moral - NEVER take an athlete or sport for granted as you just NEVER know what will happen!

    And yooouuuuhoooooo, helllloooooooo everyone! Janann? Barbara? Where'd ya'll go? We MISSSSSSS YOU!

    1. WOW! Hadn't heard anything (of course, I'm still on the road up in the haven't been keeping any tabs on 'current events'). Been a busy week, had awesome weather until TODAY. Raining since lunchtime...and pretty hard too! If only we could get this in CA...

      Anyway...ANDY IS RETIRING? How old is he? I can't fathom that his knee prob is THAT bad...but there might be lots we don't know. Wow....hard to believe. I've been waiting (like the rest of the free world) for Andy to get back to his form of old, when he and Alberto were duking it out on the big climbs of the TDF (and Chaingate). That is a terrible blow to cycling, that we'll never get that from him again. Sad. Just sad.

  9. knock, knock, knock, IS THIS THING ON?!!! :)

    Where IS everyone?! Matt - you ok in Col Springs? Able to do any biking?

    Question - why is it that when you're a kid, & there's an event that is just 2 WEEKS away, it seems to take forever to get there! The time just draaaaagggsss. And when you're old (ok, 40 & up), time seems to FLY by! Why, it seems like freakin YESTERDAY I was waiting for the TDF to start & here we are mid-October, time of falling leaves & stock prices. I used to snicker at the grown-ups when I'd hear them say stuff like this! Seriously, do you think this means our brain cells are dying off?

    Anyhoo, Horner still doesn't have a ride for next year. I'll be VERY disappointed if he's not with a top team so we can see him again at the Tour.

    Later gators!

  10. Oh I am so sad to hear that Andy has retired. He was such an exciting athlete, but it did seem that not only did he have to contend with some serious injuries, but somehow he lost the spark or drive. Kind of like Tyler Farrar -- never the same sprinter after the crash that killed his best friend.

    I will be so ticked off if no one gives a contract to Horner -- after his good performances at Colorado and Utah, even at the TdF while sick! How many teams would be happy to even have someone in the top 20? (Giant-Shimano - Cofidis - Cannondale - Garmin?) He wants to ride -- it's Not fair!

    SusieB, I am well past 40, and have really been suffering from this perception of time flying. I have so much that I want to do, but it seems that the day will be gone -- and I swear that I just got up! Hate that.

    Janann, if you are out there, I know it must be hard to log on with 2 small ones and a job etc -- so hello and hope that you had a good summer! I wondered recently how the story with Geico ended!