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Iain's Rocket Diary Day 1 2 3

Day Two

The local Alabama Hills are amazing to look at. The low rounded peaks, with incredible bulbous shapes, are in fact made of granite. In the hot desert conditions, the granite outer crust is weathered off to ensure that a smooth, rounded shape is formed. What’s strange is that the very same granite forms the stunning jagged peaks that tower over the hills from the nearby Sierra Nevada. Way up there the cold conditions cause the granite to weather more by freeze-thaw processes, so forming a completely different mountain landscape. Actually you’ll have probably seen the Alabama Hills on telly, since just about every early western was filmed there. And it’s still movieland country up here, with small parts of Gladiator and GI Jane being filmed here most recently. And soon, you’ll see it on Rough Science too.

Apart from enjoying the scenery, Ellen and I were keen to try to launch our parachute from the highest peak we could safely manage, so that it had the long chance to free fall and open up. We were assuming that the rockets that the others were making would be giving us a few hundred metres of height (ha, ha - as it turned out), so the main question was to check that the chute design was stable and that the descent was as slow as possible. As usual, I was more than happy to clamber up the rocks, particularly since Ellen was still nursing a twisted ankle (that’s another story – for the full sordid details check out her webpages). A morning of me throwing up (as ever), and Ellen catching down ended with us feeling pretty good about our chute. The egg-splattered granite surfaces made us feel less confident about the safety of our payload. So, back to the mine to work on that.

We figured that it would be against the spirit of the challenge to embed our egg in jelly (my idea), or to hard boil it (my idea) or various other cheats (my ideas), so we decided instead to give it a natural cushion (Ellen’s idea). She went out to collect some soft vegetation that would make a nice wee nest for our precious egg. The return to the mine also gave us the chance to see how the rocket designs were coming on, important for us since we had to design our payload to fit onto them. The designs of Kathy and Mike were fine – both were using 2 litre plastic lemonade bottles, so we could use the cut off base of one of those and simply attach it loosely on top. Jonathan’s rocket was a vicious beast – a thin rod of metal tubing that when heated we expected would sore skyward, bringing down one of the F-16 jets that regularly buzzed the mine (I swear they must have thought we were a terrorist group – how else would you explain such strange comings and goings in the middle of an abandoned mine). By the end of the day it had turned out to be a bit of a damp squid, the air pressure rupturing the seals before it could escape explosively.

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