June 14th, 2011

storyteller doll

Alaska

I haven't been posting for a good reason. I was in Alaska.

This was actually a business trip, mostly. The Small Payload Rideshare Conference is an activity I've been involved in for a while, since things like hosted payloads and optimizing launch opportunities for operationally responsive space have been well within my job jar. There was a kerfuffle with my government boss over my going to Anchorage this time, largely because she doesn't quite understand how travel funding for non-government employees works. (It is built into our cost, not part of her travel budget.) But I talked about it with the person who directs the space access area (which is complicated because that person is leaving at the end of this week and I am leaving at the end of the month) and decided it was worth going. And, while I won't write much about the conference itself, I do think I learned some valuable things out of it.

Since it takes nearly an entire day to get from here to there, I arranged the flights to spend more time in Anchorage. Going out, I was routed through San Francisco and Seattle. The flight to San Francisco was delayed by about 2 1/2 hours (due to weather there) but, as I had a 4 hour layover, I was okay. The flight to Seattle ended up being about a half hour late, as the crew arrived late (again, due to the weather). I still ended up getting to Anchorage pretty much on time - some 21 hours after leaving my house. (That does count the time driving to Dulles and waiting there, of course.)

I'd booked two nights at the Courtyard by Marriott near the Anchorage airport. This was perfectly comfortable and convenient, with a reasonably efficient airport shuttle service. I didn't have time to get a lot of sleep the first night, as I'd booked flights to and from Juneau to check off another state capital. I took a taxi downtown and found the starting point for the Juneau volksmarch. The route went past the architecturally unimpressive capitol building, before climbing up above downtown on quite a steep route to Basin Road, where it leveled off and let me catch my breath. That road proved to be a lovely walk up to the foot of the Perseverance Trail and Last Chance Mining Museum. It started raining as I was walking back down, which was okay as I had brought a rain jacket along. The rest of the route went over to Douglas and through more of downtown. I spent some time in the state museum, which had an interesting exhibit on headgear in Alaskan culture. Then I had time for browsing shops and eating a leisurely meal before heading back to the airport and back to Anchorage.

I changed hotels to the Hilton downtown (here the conference was held) the next day. I spent some time working but did get out to walk around downtown for a while. The Hilton could use a big investment in sound proofing by the way. Between train whistles from the station a couple of blocks away and assorted people noises from neighboring rooms, I slept poorly there.

Then came two days of conference presentations (plus working on other things at night - not exactly a relaxing week). Next was the conference highlight - a day trip to the Kodiak Launch Complex. We left the Hilton by bus at 5 a.m. and were all boarded on the plane when we discovered we'd be delayed due to weather on Kodiak. We eventually left a little over two hours late and arrived even later since the pilot had two missed landings and had to go around another way to get us on the ground. But we did get there and then had an hour bus ride to the launch range at Narrow Cape. Along the way, we saw a couple of eagles, one deer, and a lot of the local ranch animals (horses, cattle, bison) - but no bears. Fortunately, we'd found out our return flight would also be delayed, so we were still able to get the full tour of the range. We did have to walk up eight flights of stairs at the launch pad, as the elevator was not working, so I also got my exercise for the day. Most significantly, we saw the Minotaur IV rocket in the integration facility and the satellite it is going to launch later this year. Overall, I was favorably impressed with their facilities.

Before we left, they fed us a late barbecue lunch - with a choice of tri-tip steak, chicken or halibut, along with various salads. We finally made it back to Anchorage at about 7:30 p.m. and to the Hilton about 45 minutes later, as there had been some confusion over where our buses were waiting. A few people were flying out that night and I hope they made their flights.

I still had to get up early on Friday morning as I was taking a day trip to Seward, with a cruise to Kenai Fjords National Park. The Alaska Railroad people say to be at the train station an hour before the train, which is not really necessary. Still, I managed to check out of the Hilton, store my bags there, and walk down to the station to be there in plenty of time to not only get my ticket (and cruise voucher) but get coffee and a muffin. The train was comfortable enough and provides tour guide commentary along the way, with the guides pointing out lots of wildlife (dall sheep, moose, an eagle feeding her eaglets, even a couple of black bears). The cruise I took was on Major Marine and proved to be excellent. We saw porpoises, orcas, humpback whales, a sea otter, harbor seals, stellar sea lions, and lots of birds (including a few puffins). I was also impressed by our time at the Holgate Glacier, watching and listening to it calving icebergs. The connection to the train back was uncomfortably tight, but we did make it. No moose on the way back, but there were more bears. Overall, it was quite a nice day.

I retrieved my bags from the Hilton and walked a short half block to the Historic Anchorage Hotel. (It is easier to keep the business and personal travel separately if you switch hotels.) This was nicer than the Hilton and much much quieter. I did a downtown Anchorage volksmarch in the morning, then checked out the weekend marketplace (a mix of farmer's market, crafts market, and tacky souvenirs) before checking out and heading to the airport. My flight to San Francisco was a little late, but not a big deal as I had a long enough layover there before the red eye home. Fortunately, I was upgraded on both legs, so did get some sleep. I was also reasonably lucky with my luggage coming fairly quickly and the shuttle bus to the parking lot coming right away.

I spent Sunday napping and doing a few errandy things. About 1 a.m. the inevitable side effect of a sleep deprivation hit and I started coughing badly. So I've been home yesterday and today with a cold. Sigh.