Friday, June 19, 2015

Council shops closed Tuesday 6/23 for Training

Visit for online orders. Shops reopen Wednesday 6/24 @ 10:00 a.m.

Headed for home

Six months ago today I sat in front of my computer, staring at the screen. I wanted it to be just right. An email had crossed my desk in a roundabout and somewhat accidental way, and the past two days had been a scramble of activity to respond and get an application together.

Truth be told, I was a little scared. I was applying for a fellowship that was an incredible opportunity, but I had some reservations. What if I couldn’t pull it off? What if I didn’t get selected? What if I wasn’t good enough?

The thought of potentially going halfway around the world and being separated from my family worried me. What if I got seasick? What if I was sad and lonely? What if I suffered from a  lack of sleep? What if I couldn’t physically keep up?

But I have a personal goal of taking on things that scare me. Every time I have done it before, I have made it through just fine. And usually I even surprise myself, and I find talents I didn’t even know I had.

I closed my eyes and piled all my best thoughts and energy into the application. 

I took a deep breath and hit the Send button.

Today, in just a few hours, I board the first of a series of planes that will whisk me back home, after having one of the most incredible experiences of my entire life. 

I am so glad I hit that send button.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Meet Hercules

In case you have been wondering about some of the technology that makes ocean exploration aboard the E/V Nautilus possible, today’s post is about Hercules, one of the ROVs. 

Hercules parked inside his hangar, where he can be worked on and protected from the elements during transit.
Todd designed and built Hercules. He gave me a tour of Hercules before yesterday’s dive. A little background info as we begin:

Hercules was built in 2002, was tested and finished in 2003, and his first mission took place in summer 2003 on the R/V Knorr. He can dive up to 4000 meters (13,124 ft) deep. He is 2.3 meters (7.5 ft) high by 1.8 meters (6 ft) wide by 3.4 meters (11 ft) long. He weighs 5500 pounds (or more, depending on the scientific equipment added to him), but because of the foam that has been added to him,  he has about 30-50 pounds of positive buoyancy, adjusted each dive based on equipment (with lead blocks).

Hercules can descend and ascend at a rate of 30 meters per minute. His maximum transit speed is 1 meter/second (2 knots), and his maximum on-bottom transit speed is 0.5 meters/second (1 Knot), with no sampling occurring.

Hercules is outfitted with all kinds of interesting technology and equipment. It’s a bewildering array, until Todd explained some of it. This is the high definition camera. It is able to zoom in and out, and it has a series of lenses to correct for the index of refraction of the water. It produces very high-quality images, which is important, as community members and scientists around the world are fascinated by the footage, and it is used as a part of scientific research regularly.

Hercules is able to collect samples and manipulate various scientific equipment using his Predator arm. It is quite a versatile piece of equipment, as it does both heavy lifting and performs delicate maneuvers to manipulate instruments and collect samples. It is controlled by a multijointed joystick in the control van. Some of the actions on the joystick give force feedback to the operator, meaning he or she can actually feel resistance when trying to lift or maneuver heavy objects. For very light objects, such as the clams that Todd collected on the dive last night, he cannot feel this feedback, and so he has to be very careful not to crush the specimen.

This is Mongo, the work horse arm that serves as a backup, and is used for positioning big and heavy equipment so that the Predator arm can interact with it. Being that Mongo is big and clumsy, it is not the preferred arm for collecting samples.

These sample boxes are a recent addition. Once samples have been added, they can be sealed off so that they are kept at nearly the same temperature in which they were collected, even as the ROV ascends through warmer water. This is especially helpful when biological specimens are needed to be kept alive. They are made of a really thick plastic that helps to insulate the water inside, and there is a rubber ring along the top rim that seals in the water once the box has been closed up. As samples are collected and deposited inside the box, scientists and data loggers in the control van make notes as to the type of sample collected and whether it was placed in the left or right hand side box. Samples collected at different locations are not intermingled in the same box, if at all possible. There is another box along Hercules’s right (starboard) flank. The black coating on top of the box was added just recently, as the bright white plastic caused too much light reflection off its top, decreasing the quality of the image produced by the cameras on Herc and Argus.

This is a fiber optic north-seeking gyrocompass. It measures very small differences in the speed of light due to the Earth's rotation and whether the vehicle is turning with or against that rotation. The reason why a magnetic compass that seeks magnetic north is not used is because if Herc is diving on a shipwreck or another object that has a lot of metal in it, that metal could be magnetized and could throw off the compass. This compass has miles of fiber optic cable in it, and the science behind its function is possible due to Einstein’s theory of relativity (E=mc2). Todd and even Larry, one of the scientists aboard the ship, could explain the basics to me, but both were quick to admit that they did not know enough about physics to deliver a truly great lesson. (And I have to admit that even if they had, I might not have been able to follow.)

There are 6 thrusters aboard Hercules to help him move. He can move up and down and side to side, but he does not have the ability to pitch or yaw. The top thruster pictured here (black) makes Herc move up and down. The bottom one in the photo (with the yellow grate in front of it) moves the ROV from side to side.

The "brains" of Herc are contained within this titanium tube. The tube alone, just in terms of material and engineering, is worth about $50,000! All of the wires emerging from the brains are contained within the yellow hoses you see here. The wires go out to all of the sensors and cameras and lights throughout the vehicle. But first, they are split into two portions, each of which goes to a junction box on one side or the other of the ROV (next photo).

The wires that you saw emerging from the “brains” in the last photo are routed to two different junction boxes, one on each side of the ROV. This photo shows the starboard side junction box, containing half of the wires that have come out from the brain. It is filled with oil (no air bubbles whatsoever), to protect the components from water pressure. The oil compresses very little when Herc is under pressure.

These instruments are a temperature probe, very helpful when you are studying hydrothermal vents, as we are, and a scooper for collecting samples. They are held in place with magnets to the "front porch" of the ROV.

This is a "slurp gun", for sampling from the sea floor. It can be used to collect samples of small organisms, for example, that are too delicate to be handled by Herc’s Predator arm.  This piece of equipment is due to be upgraded in the next couple of days, with a more robust model that has greater sampling pressure.

This is the other junction box, the one on the port side of Herc.

These are Niskin bottles for sampling water. Scientists wanting to know more about the environment may want to study the composition of the water itself, for information like the dissolved oxygen content, salinity, and other chemicals in the water. Sometimes, they are used for biological purposes as well: for example for determining the amount of plankton or bacteria in a particular sample of water from a particular place. These are already in their “ready” positions. They can be triggered remotely to close, sealing the water present in the bottle at that time up tight. These will be used to collect water samples at some point in the Galapagos for a visiting scientist from Ecuador, Rafael, who is studying the chemosynthetic bacteria that live in the water around hydrothermal vents.

This titanium tube contains the brain behind the mapping and camera sensors mounted on the rear of the vehicle (as the team was starting to ramp up to get ready for the dive, our tour was cut a little short, so I do not have pictures of those included in this posting).

The top portion of the vehicle is made up of syntactic foam, which is silica-based, and in its raw form resembles a multitude of bubbles cast in glass. This provides the buoyancy for the vehicle (it weighs about 5500 pounds in air, but is neutrally, or just barely positively buoyant, in water). This gives Herc greater maneuverability in the water, and also provides a mechanism for Herc to ascend to the surface if for some reason his tether were to be broken.

One of the pieces of equipment added on to Herc for the upcoming dive was a MAPR (miniature autonomous plume recorder), seen here being attached to the frame. This piece of equipment will "sniff" the water and record data needed to help us find and study the hydrothermal vents.

An identical MAPR was also attached to Argus.

 The team is running through the last checks needed before we launch in about 3 hours. Here, members of the Corps of Exploration are wrapping the tether and recovery line together into a "daisy chain" to make recovery of the vehicle easier later.

One last and important addition to Hercules is Tiki. Tiki was bolted to Herc 11 years ago during the Titanic expedition on the NOAA ship Ron Brown. They were having issues with the ROV, and Bruce Cowden, the ship's bosun, carved Tiki out of a piece of driftwood and told the ROV team to mount it on the robot to help dispel the bad energy that was plaguing the little vehicle. It worked, and Tiki has been attached ever since. Bruce insisted that Tiki be anointed in oil before each dive, a practice that continues to this day.

Skip to the next blog post by Melissa: Headed for Home

This is part of a multi-part series . Melissa Baffa, Vice President of Program and Volunteer Services for GSCCC, is part of the Corps of Exploration aboard the E/V Nautilus this year on the adventure of a lifetime. This blog series will chronicle her dive into the Unknown.

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Sunday, June 14, 2015

Dive Alert!

Tonight we will perform another dive, with both ROVs (Argus & Hercules). We will be diving near the "East of Eden 3" site, and other targets that we identified as being potential active hydrothermal vents during our reconnaissance dive a few days ago.

We will be studying the geological features, looking for interesting biological features (including crabs, tube worms, clams, and more), and taking water samples.

I will be standing the watch tonight, for six to seven hours, in the times between descent and ascent of the vehicles. We are scheduled to hit the water around 3pm, PST (but remember that this may shift slightly). I should be on watch in the control van by around 5 or 5:30 pm, PST. Visit us at and send me questions!Remember to include your first name and troop number if you'd like me to do a shout-out!

Skip to the next blog post by Melissa: Meet Hercules

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Meet Socktopus

Today, I am happy to share a special blog post from my friend and travel companion Socktopus. Enjoy!   

Me with other members of my family.

Nice to meet you! My name’s Socktopus. I was inspired by a craft that was done at this year’s Kaleidoscope. I was born back in Ventura, along with a brother and a sister, shortly before this journey to Panama and the Galápagos. Our family helps my human family stay connected in a special way while Melissa and I are away aboard Nautilus.

I started life as a humble pair of knee socks purchased at the local Target store. With the addition of some batting and a hair tie, some buttons or beads for eyes, and a few snips, our little family of socktopods were born.

Waiting for our flight out of LAX.
At the shipyard in Panama. I wanted to go swimming so badly!
I’ve enjoyed this adventure greatly so far. We have shared a variety of meals and we have posed for selfies in various locations, including at the airport, at the hotel, and in various places around the ship.  We got some funny looks posing for photos, but Melissa did not care. 

Back at home, Melissa's kids Jack and Aiden were sending her photos of their adventures too. My brother and sister got to go to school, go roller skating, play in the mud, and even participate in a ukelele lesson! Lucky 'pods!

Ukelele lesson. My sis got to go to Camp Arnaz, because they were doing a test for the live interaction.
Sis got to go roller skating. But Aiden had to carry her, because they did not have eight tiny skates for sis.

Mmmm, wind through my tentacles.
I really liked sitting up on the top deck during the long transit from Panama to the Galápagos. The water was really calm and it was pretty awesome looking out over the horizon, reclining in the sun, feeling the wind through my tentacles. Good thing Melissa brought SPF 50 sunscreen!

One day, I helped Melissa with her laundry. 

(I don't want to talk about it.)

We passed our safety inspection, although I did not have a hat.
Whenever we get a new group of people on board (we call them onsigners), we do a safety briefing and a drill. I don't like the loud alarm bell, but I think I look great in orange, don't I?
Answering questions that come through the internet. You Girl Scouts have some really great questions!

Chillin' in the control van.
I also sat with Melissa during long watches in the control van. I was at her side when we spotted our first hydrothermal vent octopus. I oohed and aahed over how pretty the little white octopus was.  I’m not sure who was more excited – Melissa or me!

We saw this pretty little octopus when we were diving. Is it me, or is she blushing? Maybe she knew I was watching her!
But one of my favorite moments so far was joining Melissa on a live interaction with her daughter’s kindergarten class. The kids asked if we had seen any sharks. I hid behind Melissa’s back at that question, because I am terrified of sharks (So fast! All those teeth!). The kids, who had met Aiden’s Socktopus, were delighted to see me. I even got my own headset to match Melissa’s. I liked getting in on the action.

The before shot with the cup.
I also lent a hand (or maybe eight of them) in providing scale for the Styrofoam cups we shrank aboard Argus. The before and after pictures show, quite dramatically, the effect of all that deep-sea pressure on the Styrofoam. (After all, they went about 8,000 feet underneath the ocean! At that depth, they were subject to over 3,500 pounds of pressure per square inch!)

The after shot.
I like hanging out with Bob. He's a cool dude.
Today, I got to spend some time with Dr. Ballard himself. I was a little miffed that the other night’s menu included some calamari, but I decided not to give Dr. Ballard a hard time about it. I was a little star-struck to pose with him.  My arms, all eight of them, got a little clammy.

With Melissa in her cabin. I am glad we snagged a bottom bunk!
I would really like to go down with one of the ROVs to see the ocean first-hand, but the ROV team tells me we have to be careful about endangering the ROV (we wouldn’t want my tentacles to get entangled with the machinery!). If somehow I should get the chance, I will make sure that Melissa shares it with you.

Melissa has been posting pictures from the trip, including pictures of me all over the place, on her Facebook page. If you want to see more pics of me and of the journey, be sure to check it out.
Melissa got some cool swag. I tried to claim it, but she won't share with me!

Check 1-2. Bro is making sure the sound is good for the live interaction at the Arnaz Program Center.

I love wandering around the ship with Melissa. This is near the stack for the engine exhaust.

Skip to the next blog post by Melissa: Dive Alert!
This is part of a multi-part series . Melissa Baffa, Vice President of Program and Volunteer Services for GSCCC, is part of the Corps of Exploration aboard the E/V Nautilus this year on the adventure of a lifetime. This blog series will chronicle her dive into the Unknown.

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Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Robots Do Our Bidding

In honor of the dives yesterday and today on the historic hydrothermal vent sites near the Galapagos Islands, today I am posting a poem that I wrote about the ROVs (remotely operated vehicles) that we use for exploration.


The Robots Do Our Bidding

They creep and crawl, they swim and sway;
Stuff countless samples in the tray,
Descend to hell and back again,
Venture in the place of men.

With eyes of glass, 
And heart of steel,
Their fingers grasp, 
But cannot feel.

Their "brains" reside
A mile above,
They cannot laugh.
They cannot love.

And they explore 
the salty deep,
Work tirelessly,
No need for sleep.

They bring to light 
The mysteries
Hidden in 
Our deepest seas.

Resistant to the cold and pressure,
Undaunted by the darkest fissure,
Not handicapped by flesh or fear.
(In fact, they kind of like it here.)

Our robot friends, they venture onward,
Sturdy, strong, and ever stalwart.
Not hindered by a need for air,
Not frightened by the darkness there.

Unblinking eyes inspect and share:
A world awaits to spot the rare
And celebrate what they discover
And in it all, we find - each other?

The robot's in the deepest seas,
It's also deep in you and me -
For we have found, upon reflection,
That therein lies a strong connection.

Without the seas, there is no life.
From coral reefs to polar ice:
The role they play is essential
This exploration monumental.

Three quarters
Nearly out of reach,
Once you head
Beyond the beach.

The robots go there in our stead,
Where pressure makes it hard to tread.
Where it is so dark and cold,
The robots can be brave and bold.

With eyes of glass
And hearts of steel
The robots do not
Think or feel.

But they allow us to explore
In places never seen before.
And we're allowed to gasp and dream
Of wonders that can now be seen.


 Girl Scouts: We would love to see your illustrations to accompany this poem! Please use the template provided in an earlier GS email, and submit your illustrations with the subject line Galapagos Poem to

Skip to the next blog post by Melissa: Meet Socktopus
This is part of a multi-part series . Melissa Baffa, Vice President of Program and Volunteer Services for GSCCC, is part of the Corps of Exploration aboard the E/V Nautilus this year on the adventure of a lifetime. This blog series will chronicle her dive into the Unknown.

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