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Notes from the Field

Strikk øg Drikk

December 3rd, 2018 by Doug Rowland

The VISIONS-2 team got an early gift this year. Like an overstuffed stocking, our cardboard box for “red tag” items (items that protect the payload during testing, but which must be removed for proper operation during flight) is full to the brim. This means that at last, our testing is complete, and we can proceed to the launch window.

This box contains all the protective items we must remove from the instruments on the rocket so that they can operate in space. These are things like dust covers, grounding straps, shorting plugs, and mechanical restraint devices for our deployable systems. We leave them on during testing, for the safety of the ground crew and also the instruments. Right before the payload is buttoned up for flight, when the nose cone is installed, we do a “walkdown” on the payload, removing and documenting each of these “red tag” items. There are many other red tag items on the rocket payload, used to protect the various pyrotechnic, spring-loaded, or other devices, and these are separately accounted for by the payload safety officer, Logan Wright. Credit: Doug Rowland

The Kings Bay Christmas party was a wonderful way to celebrate this milestone, and to get into the holiday spirit, with a huge gathering of everyone in Ny-Ålesund, including former employees, friends, and Kings Bay staff who flew up from the mainland. Kings Bay even flew in some catering staff so that the Kings Bay cooks could enjoy the party as well. It was quite the event. Everyone dressed up, and there was food and drinks and dancing, including a unique “Ny-Ålesund IPA” brewed specially for the town by Svalbard Bryggeri. We were also treated to a great auroral display that night, which whetted our appetites for the launch window.

The Ny-Ålesund Christmas tree, erected on blocks of ice that calved from a glacier and were retrieved by forklift from the Kongsfjord. Credit: Doug Rowland

Left: The northernmost menorah lighting, in Ny-Ålesund, on the first day of Hanukkah, 2018. This menorah was built by payload team member Mark Frese, out of the materials he had available, to help his friend and colleague Koby Kraft celebrate. Right:The second northernmost menorah lightning, in Longyearbyen, by members of the science team who were preparing to embark for Ny-Ålesund the next day. From left to right: Rob Pfaff, Jeff Klenzing, Sophie Zaccarine. Credits: Koby Kraft (left); Ruth Lieberman (right).

After the party, a day off, and then we performed a dress rehearsal on Monday, which went very smoothly. We are now entering the launch window, which runs from 8 AM to just after noon local, from Dec 4-19. Each day we will elevate the rocket launchers, perform tests to make sure everything is ready technically, and then wait for the cusp and its crimson aurora to move to intercept our trajectory. To start at 8 AM, we have to be “on station” at 3 AM, to provide time for checking out all the rocket systems and preparing for a possible launch.

While we wait, we are experiencing the vibrant social life of the community of Ny-Ålesund. Between the Kings Bay staff, the Norwegian Polar Institute researchers, and researchers from many other countries, there is always something going on, from group dog walking (with rifles, just in case), to lectures on science or history, to “quiz night”. On other nights we have enjoyed nighttime photography excursions, to capture the aurora, often from outside the city limits (with a Norwegian guide and rifle, just in case), dog sledding around the town, movie night in the brand new “Kongsfjordhallen” (concert hall), hockey in the gym, or just a quiet night of billiards or foosball.

The Ny-Ålesund social calendar for the month of December. Everyone keeps busy, with events from Monday-night “bandy” (like floor hockey, played in the gym), “stikk øg drikk” (knitting and drinking), and various holiday themed events for this month. Not shown is Wednesday night karaoke. Credit: Doug Rowland

The community, though small and tight-knit, is extremely welcoming and inclusive, and we have been embraced at every turn. Sometimes it is tough to enjoy these activities and still be awake for the 3 AM “station call” but it is worth it – we have enjoyed so much hospitality here and it makes the long polar night infinitely more welcoming.

One of the most pleasant social activities (apart from karaoke night) is the weekly tradition of strikk øg drikk. This is the weekly gathering for “knitting and drinking”, where people bring their yarn and patterns and their drinks and snacks, to gather in the cozy couches of the Polar Hotel. Sometimes there is more knitting, other times, more drinking, but it is a good way to connect with everyone. There is even a group project to knit a “cozy” for the metal flagpole. It’s about halfway complete (only needs another 8 or 9 meters). As a special holiday treat, we enjoyed a taste of “Feuerzangenbowle”. With the lights down, and Christmas music playing, it felt like being transported to a quieter, slower time, the darkness lit only by the flames from the rum as it melted the sugar cone, and the room filled with the scent of the hot spiced wine.


Feuerzangenbowle (after consumption). This is a very warming seasonal drink made from dry red wine, similar to mulled wine, heated, with fruit and spices. The preparation involves suspending a cone of sugar over the heated punch bowl, scooping rum over the sugar cone, and then setting it alight, which melts the sugar into the heated wine. The name is German, and means “fire-tongs punch”. Credit: Doug Rowland

Refreshed and re-energized by the welcome of our Ny-Ålesund colleagues, we are ready to launch.

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