SkyQuest began as a crazy dream and ended up becoming a reality; ups, downs, research, failures, uncertainty, joy and success all mixed together dented into the name and a sense of completion, excitement, triumph.
Almost a year later the team gathered around again and started thinking of how to replicate the project using what they had learned, but this time there was something different, even more challenging: this time they had a week not only to assemble everything but to coach a group of students at ITESM during semana-i… Simplifying it they had roughly a couple of days to explain and train, another two to put everything together and then, Friday, launch it and recover it.
Sure, let’s crack this!
Foot: Yes, this is how a bunch of engineers working actually looks like.
Preparations had to be made prior to this week, we couldn’t wait for components to arrive late, time was a luxury we didn’t have. Paloma, Ingrid, Hugo, Anabel, Ernesto, Arnulfo, Adriana, Fernando, Adrian and myself contributed in our areas of expertise to get everything settled prior to that week; workshops, materials, media coverage and such.
The time was right and everything set at last, semana-i started without any setbacks. Students learnt from our team how to build all of this in two days, what a brilliant and passionate lot they are. Got to share with them giggles, tips, pizza, m&m’s and some of the rush they were feeling. Predictions we ran over that time span showed Museo del Desierto to be the most suitable place to launch the balloons and be able to recover them, so we decided to do it there.
The day finally arrived and we were all set to go, we couldn’t work according to schedule but nothing would stop us from reaching the stratosphere that day! A couple of miles, retail store stops and PTFE tape later, we were ready to launch Russell team’s balloon; systems working as expected and everyone was truly excited. Black Burger team’s balloon was set to launch shortly after; joy, hugs and a hint of success perfumed the air around us.
This was now a task for the rangers!!!!! …………
Here’s where my story stopped being happy, let me explain:
I am and have always been an indoorsy person, meaning besides the animals at the zoo my contact with nature is non-existent (lucky for me, even my dog is an indoorsy guy). Never had I anticipated this, actually I didn’t sign in for the ranger experience, it kind of chased me down.
Most of Tec students went back to Monterrey on a bus, and it was then when suddenly I realized I was there, with part of the rangers and I was their ride. I didn’t panic, having worked on the predictions earlier with the team I was expecting the balloons to land on spots very near to the highway, so it had to be a nice trip where I’d wait in the car for my super fantastic troop of highly experienced mates to come back. Really, never been out on the road folks, don’t mock me - turns out google maps distances looked shorter in my head… way shorter.
Professor Ricardo Salgado had volunteered as a ranger himself with a group of students too, we met to have lunch on a Taqueria in Saltillo before setting off to the quest; he insisted to pay for the team’s lunch. Quite a nice guy, he was probably the most anxious to make this happen and I was still thinking to myself why hadn’t I brought enough bug repellent.
While we were there we got intel from the Head Quarters at Tec, both balloons were already going down and they had the coordinates to start looking for the boxes:
Team Russell Box: 25.27527264, -101.14951827
Black Burger Box: 25.28756798, -101.04199775
So close and yet so far.
Ernesto, Paloma, Hugo, Alex and Fabian, went to recover the first box. While Anabel, Rosalinda, Raul, Arnie and I were deciding which team to chase - we had the cameras and such - a distant voice played from Ana’s phone with dark news. Fernando (former military, part of the IPS crew and first SkyQuest project) called us from Maryland to tell us to focus on the Russell box, Black Burger had to be left behind, we didn’t have enough daylight to waste nor the appropriate equipment to get to it. He also indicated us to get water, food and flashlights.
Unfortunately for Professor Salgado, they went to rescue that balloon, and wind changing as it always does, the coordinates had went a little different from those anticipated by the predictions, little enough for it to be 5 km away from the highway, but on top of Sierra Hermosa… not good. Ingrid was there, I felt a little gloomy when they couldn’t get to it.
Then we called Paloma and made our choice, we met near the target and started driving a little off-road. I like driving off-road as I discovered then, it was pretty fun. We were following a sort of trail that took us around a manufacturing facility and then led us around a small area surrounded by barbed wire with a couple of not so friendly dogs barking at us. We decided to stop there since the road started getting rougher and it seemed to be close enough to the landing.
- Who’s volunteering?
- Yeah Hugo, Ernesto and Alex should go.
- Need to cover up man, cover your heads, sun is up.
- Carry some extra water.
- We’ll report every 5 mins
- Look! Rain clouds are coming, we better rush!
I felt anxious, to me watching them slowly getting out of sight between the vegetation, it felt like they were going to the totally unknown, the not yet discovered, the wilderness, then they went out of sight.
The dogs were out chasing us!
I thought of running, we froze a little and from inside the barbed wire fence came a man riding a donkey, he called the dogs to him and waved “Buenas tardes!” in the most warming way I ever expected, “Buenas Don”, we replied. And just like that he headed into the not yet discovered wilderness riding his donkey, leading his dogs… Turns out our fellow brave mates were not so lost into the wilderness after all and I felt a little relief.
They sent status reporting everything was good, then they sent this pic:
Alive and with the box in their hands, they were heading back to us. After a while we thought they were taking too long and the mood was a little tense, turns out they detoured a little and that took longer than expected. Then, out of nowhere something was moving in the distance, we yelped in excitement… Our fellow donkey rider was back leading a pack of cows, he waved, we waved back while splitting our sides with laughter.
Never mind, they’ll be here any second, when we finally saw them we felt more than relief; this was it, the success of the entire project! Not only had it hit the stratosphere we had the box back with us and Russell was alive. This video speaks for itself. https://www.facebook.com/ipointsystems/videos/883594591773103/
Before the rain came, after 10 hours of rushing, in one piece and having successfully rescued the box, we headed home exhausted and with a smile on our faces.
Little did we know that our protector from above (Fernando, from Maryland) was already setting up a team to recover Black Burger box, but that’s a story for another day.