Thursday, November 27, 2003
It's getting better all the time
Not a bad day all round: we made progress on lots of fronts. The day actually started rather badly, however, when we arrived at the AASTINO and found we had forgotten to bring the list of magic incantations we need to get the computer to talk to us. So, rather than confront the multiple persona of Bill, Henry and Alice throwing their usual two-year-old tantrums, we did non-computer things instead.
I did the job I had been dreading: disassembling Sid's exhaust system to see if was blocked with crud, leading to poor airflow and his current dismal performance. As it turned out the job was not as bad as I had feared (a lot of life is like that) and apart from getting fibreglass everywhere, cutting myself on the aluminium tape, twisting my back trying to reach behind the engines and getting a sticky, irremovable and no doubt carcinogenic black goo all over my hands, I had quite a good time.
Best of all, Sid's exhaust was as clean as a whistle, and the amount of crud that had accumulated over winter in our specially designed crud trap was negligible.
Anna did a big tidy-up of the AASTINO, fixed the Ikea drawers that had fallen apart and screwed back the cable rack that had come unglued. She even found a place to put the big orange tool rack I brought down last year because I knew it would be terribly useful, but which defied rational placement and so spent last year outside in the snow. Anna's solution was ingenious but involved first sawing a block of wood in half. This required me to reveal our formidable stash of power tools - "Omigawd" were, I think, her exact words. I'm not sure why we brought so much mechanised overkill with us last year, but we're certainly well set up now to do considerable damage to anything that needs modifying.
Anna selected a power jigsaw with teeth like a piranha and made short work of the piece of wood. Using any of the power tools requires turning off the heaters, because we're limited to 15 Amps from the Station. (It's actually quite interesting to be forced to confront how you use electrical power. It's something we all take for granted at home. You plug in a power saw - even one of the size of the ones in the AASTINO, and just assume that someone, somewhere, is cranking up their power station just a little bit more to answer your needs. But I digress.)
Anna also labelled everything with our nifty little labeller, though this posed more of a challenge than might be expected. How do you describe the contents of a drawer which, in truth, consist of "those things that just happen to fit nicely in this drawer"?
After lunch I did more engine things (I'm in engine mode now), while Anna pulled the webcam apart and fixed the intermittent power supply problem we've been having, soldered a new connector onto it, and set it going for a another series of tests.
Later in the day we set up a pole some 40 metres from the AASTINO, carefully placed where we can see it through a small telescope we've bolted to one of the fuel tanks. The purpose of this may not be immediately obvious to the casual observer, but it's so we can measure the vibration of the fuel tank when the engines are running. This is important because out new instrument, MASS, will ultimately be bolted to the same fuel tank (although MASS will look at stars rather than poles).
The pleasant outcome of this experiment is that the tank vibrates not a jot, and indeed moves very little even when you engage it in a friendly punch-up. (It is, let's face it, a big tank. Probably 300 kg empty, then gaining another tonne of Jet-A1, it is well endowed with what used to be called "inertia" before the term was appropriated by the Public Service.)
Perhaps of more concern is that the French flag we erected outside the AASTINO a few days ago is in direct line of sight of our carefully calibrated pole. Today is unusually windy, and the flag was a pest, so I've temporarily wrapped it around the flagpole. I hope this doesn't upset our hosts - if we find a guillotine being erected beside the AASTINO tomorrow I'll know I've committed a diplomatic faux pas.
Attentive readers will have noticed that we've gone rather quiet on the subject of why the AASTINO stopped last July. Well, we're thinking... We'll let you know when we have a plausible answer.