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TheGarcipian (58.28)

A Little Piece of The Garcipian Just Left Earth

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March 12, 2009 – Comments (20) | RELATED TICKERS: SPA , CE

This is just too cool not to blog about, and I hope you’ll pardon me for a little display of pride, for this blog has nothing to do with investing, but when connections like this are made, each of us can realize how we can affect literally billions of people on this planet and all of their future generations. My contribution to that affectation is infinitely small compared to others nearer the project, but I still feel a tiny connection there, and am excited to have contributed my itsy-bitsy tiny portion to achieving something so great, something that may impact countless generations ahead of me. Let me explain.

I don’t talk about my day job much because I never want to accused of talking up (or down) my company, or of front-running, or any other get-rich-trading scheme. I’m not close enough to the top of the corporate ladder to know any inside information, but I don’t even take the chance that someone would ever think I have some knowledge there. So, I don’t talk about the company, and certainly not on public forums. Period. However, I can describe what I do in general terms thusly: I help cable & harness designers create, design, cross-check, and prepare for manufacturing all sorts of wiring harnesses. As a consultant, I wear many different hats: from Software Designer & Developer to Trusted Advisor to Process Assessor & Implementer to Writer to Training Instructor to Tester to Defect Reporter. As you might suspect, my job rarely gets boring. I’ve worked with people who design harnesses for planes (commercial & military), trains (locomotive diesels and passenger cars), automobiles/trucks (domestic & foreign), snowmobiles, lawnmowers, backhoes, combines, cotton-pickers, satellites and even the Space Shuttle. About the only mechanized transport I’ve not worked on is tanks. I’ve helped designers design this Navy plane, the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye and Embraer’s ERJ-170 passenger jet, and some of the software I’ve written and tweaked is helping Boeing with their forthcoming 787 Dreamliner. I’ve sat in Black Hawk helicopters on the production assembly line in Connecticut, and in Boeing’s multi-million dollar flight simulator in Seattle, and stood in corporate jets (before the leather & cushy stuff goes in) under the cockpit floor of various aircraft where the bulk of the wiring runs. Business travel has taken me to many places in America, and because of my job, I’ve also spent time in Brazil, Canada, Germany, England, Singapore, and Penang (Malaysia). But it’s not all glamorous; believe me, traveling is not fun, doing the airport shuffle, working 8-10 hrs a day with the client, then putting in another 5-6 hrs back at the hotel, being am away from friends & family, eating too much fatty food & not getting enough sleep. You’d think I’d look better than this.

But I don’t. Plus, I get to travel to fabulous places like Detroit… where you can buy over 1800 homes each for under $10K.

But this particular adventure started in Boulder, CO, a few years back when I got to work with a Ball Aerospace support specialist, and helped him & his team by designing custom software that they used, in turn, to design flight control harnesses for a critical space mission. This past Friday, March 6th, 2009, at 10:49pm EST, that mission launched into orbit around the sun, currently trailing Earth by some 950 miles. And a little piece of me went with it.

Granted, there are tens of thousands of people across this country and the world involved in the design, manufacture, launch and operation of the Kepler spacecraft, but I’ll take pride in it just the same for this is an amazing advancement in both science and long-term social progress for the planet. Why is that, you ask? For that, you need to understand what NASA is trying to do with the Kepler initiative.

Kepler is a giant telescope of a different sort, working differently from the Hubble Space Telescope and with a very different mission than its sister. Named after the great German mathematician and astronomer Johannes Kepler who was famous for his three laws of planetary motion (and who helped prove Galileo’s case that not every object revolved around the sun), this device’s mission is to find Earth-sized planets out there in the vastness of the cosmos. But how does it do that?

These images might help you understand. The first picture shows the entire spacecraft with its solar panels and characteristic long telescope tube, akin to that of the Hubble.

Kepler SpacecraftKepler Photometer Assembly
Kepler Photometer

The “tube” is the Photometer, responsible for gathering star light allowed in via the baffle at the elliptically-shaped end and bounced off & focused via the highly polished Primary Mirror at the other (closed) end, back to the center where an array of 42 CCDs (like those in your digital camera) sit. Those 42 CCDs are electronic eyes able to capture & digitally process that star light, eyes that provide more than 7X the resolution of any commercially available digital camera today (at about 95 million pixels!). To give you a sense of the spacecraft’s overall size, the primary mirror alone is 55 inches in diameter, with the photometer being about 15 feet long. BTW, the baffles sitting atop the photometer can be closed when the spacecraft is not viewing the cosmos or needs to protect its sensitive internal equipment during “cosmic dust” storms.

For the next 4 years or so, the spacecraft will trail the Earth on its own power (from the solar panels) and point its “tube” away from our sun, looking in an extremely narrow field for long periods of time. It finds a distant star and locks its gaze onto that star, constantly measuring the amount of light it receives. When the light changes (drops in amplitude), we know that something has passed in front of that star, be it a planet, comet, meteor, Superman, Shirley MacLaine or Courtney Love. By measuring how much the light changes and how quickly, we can figure out how big the object is that passed in front of it and how far away it is from its sun. If we take enough measurements in that same narrow field of view and the phenomenon periodically repeats itself, we know we’ve found a planet revolving around that distant sun, how fast it revolves around that star, and how big it is. Is that cool or what?!

(Pictures from Ball Aerospace start here. Other links of interest are here and here.)

We will then turn the attention of the Hubble & Spitzer space telescopes to these planets to learn more about their atmospheres, something in which they excel with their different photography skill sets. According to NASA, first we’ll most likely find large “hot Jupiters” that are gas giants circling “close and fast around their stars”. Then will come the colder Neptune-size planets, and eventually, we will find other Earth-sized planets. Obviously, the smaller the planet, the harder it will be to find.

But why Earth-sized? Why is that important? Well, it’s believed that liquid water is an essential building block for life, and since a planet’s temperature must lie in a particular range for water to exist as a liquid, and since a planet’s temperature is mostly controlled by how far it resides from its sun, the thinking is we’re more likely to find life on planets about the same size as Earth and the same distance from its sun. With billions of galaxies in the universe and trillions of stars in each one, there is no question in my mind that there is definitely Life out there. Finding it and communicating with it? Well, that’s another story. But we are on our way…

For me, this is way better than “Elvis has left the building” –  TheGarcipian has just left Earth!

20 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On March 12, 2009 at 11:32 PM, EnigmaDude (98.06) wrote:

Very, very cool indeed!  The Kepler mission is a fantastic project and I am glad to hear that you have been a part of it.

I lived in Boulder for 13 years (and now live in Golden, just a few miles away) and my field of study involves using remotely sensed imagery - digital satellite imagery, GPS, aerial photos, etc.  The Kepler telescope is an extremely advanced instrument that will likely lead to advances in our own studies of the Earth from space as well.

Thanks for sharing!

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#2) On March 12, 2009 at 11:36 PM, whereaminow (42.76) wrote:

Wow. That, and your work, is amazing. Awesome stuff.

David in Qatar

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#3) On March 13, 2009 at 12:32 AM, falang1 (96.52) wrote:

Wow, a fellow wire harness-er.  I work in a harness factory in Thailand.  Not as exciting as the Keppler though.  Nice!

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#4) On March 13, 2009 at 2:30 AM, TheGarcipian (58.28) wrote:

EnigmaDude, if I'm ever out in Boulder again, I'll definitely have to email you (via CAPS) early so we could hook up. It'd be my pleasure to meet you.

whereaminow, your travels and staying in touch with the Fool are pretty amazing in themselves. I've read some of your blogs and replies to other people's blogs. Sounds like you move around quite a bit. That's a tough life, not fun if you do it very long. My hat's off to you.

falang1, hey there, I only write software and help the true harness people like yourself out. Like they say, "those who can, do; those who can't, teach."  That'd be me in that latter group, heh. I understand the process flow for design from the system schematics, thru the wiring diagrams, down to the manufacturer's drawings for derivative/child harnesses and how signals are to be routed through disconnects and bulkheads.  But as to why the boxes are hooked up as they are -- hmmrph, I think I would break a lot of Sneak Path rules and manufacturing guidelines before breaking a solitary synaptic gap in my head.

Glad you guys liked the story, and thanks for the Recs. Sometimes, especially with all this bad financial news, you just gotta do a human interest story like this to pull our collective head above the clouds, so to speak...

Peace,
--Gar

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#5) On March 13, 2009 at 9:00 AM, binve (< 20) wrote:

Gar, Hey man that is really awesome! Congraulations !. Yeah, there are little bits of binv floating around in Earth orbit ( and one that is headed toward the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter ! ). Yeah, even though any one persons contribution on a satellite project is often small, it still doesn't remove that feeling of awe when you see the rocket take off and you know you worked on something inside it :)

That is very cool man. Thanks for sharing! I am also a huge fan of NASA Space Science missions.

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#6) On March 13, 2009 at 10:29 AM, kdakota630 (29.81) wrote:

Cool!  I actually know another guy (through the internet, never met in person) who works for Boeing in Florida, who as part of his job, has been aboard the space shuttles.

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#7) On March 13, 2009 at 1:08 PM, Tastylunch (29.54) wrote:

All of Tasty's bits have been quarantined to Earth to assure continued intergalatic peace & stability. :)

very very cool stuff Gar!

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#8) On March 13, 2009 at 1:09 PM, Tastylunch (29.54) wrote:

argh  ensure not assure. dang gone it

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#9) On March 13, 2009 at 2:57 PM, anchak (99.86) wrote:

Crazy cool Gar!

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#10) On March 13, 2009 at 4:35 PM, bothisellhigher (29.13) wrote:

Top drawer kudos to you and your entire project- people...hope you find several earth-like planets...and real soon.  We seem to be going through this one pretty fast!

When do you start harnessing for the ships to get us there, wherever" there"turns out to be? 

I wanna go...can I, can I....

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#11) On March 13, 2009 at 4:53 PM, TheGarcipian (58.28) wrote:

kdakota630, as long as your Internet acquaintance is not a  Nigerian prince, unlike me... :-)

binve, I thought you might have some kibble-n-bits out there, considering your area of diurnal occupation. Very cool. I've got a long time friend (wow, known him for almost 3 decades now--hey Joe!) that works for the ESA (European Space Agency) in Germany, and I think they help track Kepler & Hubble. He's had a hand in several missions, so there are lots of his kibble-n-bits out there, much more than mine. I've done some work for JPL too, but don't actually know if my work made it on to the Mars rovers or not (so I wasn't going to claim that). Now, as for inventing chocolate, yeah, well the ladies do love me for doing that...

bothisellhigher and anchak, thanks. I don't know when the mother ship leaves but I heard they're gonna get John Travolta to fly it, something about returning to Xenu...

Tastylunch, LOL. Thanks for taking one for the team, well actually, for the whole world!  Will Smith and the people in Area 51 thank you as well. Don't need any more rogue aliens landing in Roswell or destroying the Capitol because of Tasty's adverts on the side of the ISS. Heh.

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#12) On March 13, 2009 at 6:29 PM, Alex1963 (28.90) wrote:

Wow! the Kepler is the science project I am the most excited about for it's potential implications for the entire human race. One of my top 10 movies-Contact.

I forget which comedien said "If they do find life on other planets imagine what that'll do to the Miss Universe Pageant." Leno I think. 

You have every right to be very proud.

Thanks for you contribution to our better comprehension of the cosmos and our place in it!

Alex 

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#13) On March 13, 2009 at 6:56 PM, RussWild (< 20) wrote:

That's fantastic GAR! Something to say for "pride of work" and "meaning of work"! You nailed it!

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#14) On March 14, 2009 at 12:44 PM, binve (< 20) wrote:

Gar,

Yeah, I have had the good fortune of working on many spacecraft and satellite projects. I have done work for NASA (JPL and Goddard), Military (Air Force, AFRL, NRL, NRO and DARPA), Commercial (many), and even the Canadian Space Agency. Man, I have had so many jobs: Structural Analyst, Vibration Test Director, Mechanical Designer, Machinist, Thermal Analyst, Thermal Vac Test Director, etc. I have also done work from the board level, to box / component level, to subsystem to full Spacecraft System. 

My proudest moment was on a satellite I was the Lead Thermal Engineer for. It was a design from scratch, cradle to grave satellite contract. It was a very small team and everybody wore lots of hats. So in 5+ years, we came up with the design, did all analysis, integration, environmental testing, and then we are ready to deliver and launch. This was an Air Force satellite and we will launch out of Cape Canaveral (fortunately not Vandenberg :) ). So we all get CCAFS badges and Atlas badges. I was able to be at the top of the VIF (where the Atlas V rockets are prepped vertically before it rolls out to the pad) doing the final closeouts of our satellite inside the rocket fairing. Which was a very cool experince. But at the end, we all got to see it launch. So it was a cool Florida night (night launches are awesome) and the whole team was able to watch the launch from on top of the roof of the Command Building of the AF 45th Space Wing (~3 miles from the pad). It was incredible!. It was even better, because all of our families were there too, they were allowed on the base for that night.

That was the coolest and most satisfying moment of my career.

Sorry for the ramble and the waxing nostalgic, just wanted to share :) . But absolutely none of that compares to inventing chocolate, well done man ... :) My wife certainly thanks you :)

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#15) On March 14, 2009 at 10:05 PM, TheGarcipian (58.28) wrote:

Wow, binve, that is a most awesome experience. Wish I had something like that to look back on (perhaps in the future). Because some of the designs that my clients deal with are military in nature and I'm not privy to the classified stuff (though I used to have a Secret clearance when I worked for Lockheed years ago), I often don't get to see the final assembled product. But man, that would be so awesome to stand just 3 miles from Blast Central, watch that thing ignite and hear the roar. Can you feel any of the heat that far away? Maybe just a little warm air? That's one of those things you just have to be there to experience, I'd imagine. My sister, when she lived in Florida, had been to one night launch, and said it was the coolest thing ever. If I get the chance to go, you can bet I'll be there, skipping a night's sleep due to launch delays if I have to. That would be so cool.

I'm impressed at all the different hats you've had to wear over the years.  It's when you get a job done and do it well that you can look back on it with a sense of pride and workmanship, if only for yourself. I sure hope the Gen-Xers & Gen-Yers out there can feel the same thing, because frankly it worries me a lot about what parents are NOT teaching their kids: (1) math should be given higher precedence; and (2) science should be taught at every level in every school, regardless of your religious beliefs. "Stupid is as stupid does," as Forrest says, but the best way to break the stranglehold of ignorance is to push forward in areas like science & math, but particularly in science.

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#16) On March 16, 2009 at 3:17 PM, binve (< 20) wrote:

Hey Gar, thanks man. No we couldn't feel any heat, and we were far enough away that is wasn't deafening. But it was bright !. Wow.

Yep I agree with points 1 and 2 above 100%. Math and Science should be a the forefront in the education system. 

It is really great how blogs like this one, or my "e is the coolest number" one gets so much attention. I think Caps really is filled with a bunch of smartie-pants (and I mean that in a good way) :)

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#17) On March 24, 2009 at 5:08 PM, jmt587 (99.88) wrote:

Hey Gar, just catching up on old blogs, but congratulations!

But before you bash Detroit any more, let me know the next time you're coming to town and I'll show you the good parts.

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#18) On March 24, 2009 at 6:04 PM, TheGarcipian (58.28) wrote:

Hi jmt587, sorry about that. (My complaint was more about having to give up a Sunday with my wife and having to fly somewhere alone, and less about the actual destination). I know you guys are really feeling some pain there with unemployment up (or above) 16%. Yikes. I've got some colleagues there, so I know about the pain. But I also know some of the good parts. I spent some time in Farmington Hills & Livonia. Ate some excellent Arabic food at Al-Ameer in Dearborn, and some delicious Polish food at the Polonia Restaurant in Hamtramck. But yeah, next time I'm in town, I'll pop you an email ahead of time, and see what we can make of it. Thanks for the invite (and the Rec)!

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#19) On June 03, 2009 at 1:16 PM, JonBarleycorn (69.25) wrote:

Way too cool, Fool.

I wrote some of the software to test the Apollo 3rd stage; I had the same rush every time it was successfully launched. Congratulations.

When I was younger, the phrase “Whaddya want to do, go to the moon?” was the about same as saying someone was impossibly nuts. Once in high school I found myself in the Boy’s Vice Principal’s office. When he asked me what I wanted to do when I was done with school, I said I wanted to be part of the team that put a man on the moon. He gulped and had the good grace to allow that I might just do that. Man, that acknowledgment was a great feeling.

Good luck on your next assignment.

JB

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#20) On September 09, 2012 at 9:01 PM, TheGarcipian (58.28) wrote:

It's been a LONG time since I've blogged on CAPS. This little thing called "lymphoma" got in my way when it was finally diagnosed in December 2009. But I am now in full remission from that cancer. Perhaps I'll blog about it later, but that's not the purpose of this quick report.

In following up to this blog, I found the following story which might be of interest to some of you:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=kepler-20-smallest 

We are truly not very far off from finding another Earth-sized planet with a hospitable atmosphere. It's only a matter of time for the hunt; one WILL be found, mark my words!

Cheers,
--Gar

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