Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Fiber Optic Facials

Yesterday’s dive intended to send a test signal from Jason’s bellybutton to Makaha was cut short by a decision to remain on the safe side. Though the electronics from the umbilical cord were all wired through the connector in front of Jason, there was a worry that the connector itself was not suitably prepared to make the connection.  The connectors used throughout the observatory, J-box and termination frame are designed to be able to connect electronics underwater by gates and an oil-filled chamber. If the connector was not properly filled with oil, then seawater may be able to weasel its way in. The incompatibility between water and electronic equipment could have damaged the cable termination – a problem which would be bigger than any we’ve yet to face. Proceeding with caution, it was decided not use the bellybutton just bring the J-box back up for another period of pampering.

As with tasks in the past, what sounded like a simple motion – J-box up – sprouted difficulties left and right.  Firstly, Jason needed to coil up the cable that had extended from the J-box to the termination frame and place it securely on the J-box frame. We all watched from the lab television as Scott, Jason’s puppeteer on watch, coaxed the stiff orange cable into figure eights.  It was like watching Jason try to line up her kindergartners after recess. Each loop was constantly avoiding Jason’s grip and once he did get control of them, he had to keep a hand on them an all times or they’d duck under his arms and escape. Once he had the kindergartners remarkably well behaved, Scott had to strap them in with bungees attached to the frame by carabineers.   As you could imagine, the kindergartners wanted none of that. Difficulties ensued with carabineers clipping themselves where they’re not suppose to and handles breaking until the biggest battle of the watch: closing the shackle. Jason has no problem unscrewing a shackle with the extended handle. Perfectly lining the bolt up with the shackle’s holes is a different story that took about 20 minutes to tell.  As with Jason’s successes grabbing rocks, his fans in the lab cheered when the winding bolt came out the other side.

While Jason and the J-box were on their way up, there was work to be done in the staging bay to prepare for the AMM, or the orange bird perch, deployment late the next evening.  The weights, which will assist the AMM in its free fall to almost 5000 m, were at risk of harming the oxygen sensors mounted above them when Jason removed their bungees. To give a safe distance between ultra sensitive sensors and insensate metal hulks, Cammy, Jefrey and I relocated the instruments a foot higher. After unscrewing and retightening of bolts, clipping and re-zipping of ties and a bit of pampering, the bird perch is ready to take the plunge.

Jason just missed dinner, arriving on deck at 0700 or so.  Now it was the J-box’s turn for a bit of pampering. The treatment began with a freshwater bath – lemon and cucumber scented, of course, – followed by a towel pat down.  Then one of the metal cylinders resting on the bottom of the frame was carefully unbolted and slid open to reveal the colorful cables and foreign shapes that make up the fiber optic communications junction.  For a while, we all stood peering over Bruce’s shoulder as Bruce peered into the dark tunnel. Over the course of the night, this mysterious tunnel of wires became clearer to me but I will not be accepting questions at this time for my comprehension hangs by delicate strings.  Any prolonged pondering many detach me entirely.

What needed to be done was check the quality of the fiber optic cables in the tunnel and then reconfigure the cables.  For the first task, Scott looked at the end of the cable through a microscope shaped like a hiking flask.  The first cable looked fine, he said. The second showed signs of minor damage, which they let me look at through the microscope.  The fiber in the cable that communicates signal is no wider than a human hair so in the microscope I saw a thick exterior surrounding a tiny dark circle with streak marks across the screen -- scratches or residue to be removed.  To continue the spa treatment was a fiber optic facial. Scott brought out a sheet of very fine sand paper and drew figure eights on it with the cable tip. He repeated this exfoliation with three other sheets until both he and Bruce seemed satisfied with the result.

With the facial complete, the cables were reconnected to new pins. There are six pins in the tunnel from which to choose because the repeater on the J-box has the capability to send signals through six cables. The AT&T cable that extends from Station Aloha to Makaha has the capability to transmit on only four, narrowing down the pin choice in the tunnel by two.  This leaves two cables – one to receive and one to transmit – and four pins forming twelve possible configurations of how to connect the cables. Two have already been tried by the first and second J-box installments. The pin configuration chosen this time is the same one that had been successful in the hydrophone installation in 2007. 

At the same time that I was glued to Bruce’s shoulder watching him test the loss of attenuators and wipe the surface of cables, Grant and Roger were preparing Jason’s bellybutton for testing. They dissected the whole connector and laid out each part on the bench, looking for which pockets contained oil and which contained water. I was too sleepy to wait up for the tests once they closed back up the connector but I knew that I would find out soon – too soon as 0400 was approaching and my sleep window narrowing. 

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