A Travellerspoint blog

Week 17: The Tromsø Checklist

Because even students have to be tourists once in a while.

In the midst of my exam preparations, there were still a few hotspots to hit around Tromsø town. As I feel pretty safe that you would not enjoy a page-by-page account of the review I was undertaking of Plasma, Cosmic Geophysics, Satt/Rock, or Numerical Methods, I’ll try to keep things light and pleasant – in other word, unlike Möllers Tran:


Tran (cod liver oil) is a great source of Vitamin D, which Mørketid can’t quite provide. In the words of a great Canadian cough syrup: “It tastes awful, and it works.”

And boy does it taste awful. Really and truly.


Fresh off my first exam the day previous (a final round judge’s decision with Plasma Physics – luckily I came out on top), I hiked downtown for dinner at a little restaurant by the harbor for Linnea’s farewell party. The city had done its best to cheer up the dark time with Christmas lights:


and though I couldn’t quite capture it on film, the light show played by the office lights of the cube-like Rådhuset (City Hall) was fairly spectacular.

I nearly missed the place entirely, but after being waved in from the sidewalk I caught up with the gang at the restaurant:


Linnea had kept the booking small; along with her boyfriend Lionel, we were joined by Josh (Canada), Nina (Alaska – I know that’s technically U.S.A, but she didn’t feel nearly so “American”) and Grace (U.K.).

The conversation was fabulous, the food even moreso:


As none of us had much cash to spare, dining out was a true luxury – thankfully the Italian restaurant did not disappoint.

In the Christmas mood, we had a wee little gift exchange afterwards. For the most part, we traded little trinkets and treasures from home, giving each other little mementos to remember properly by. Once again, my gratitude is due to my parents, my fellow U of S rocketeers, and anyone else who was kind enough to send me a care package in Norway – my gifts were largely the packs of gum, maple sweets, t-shirts, pins, and of course, a marvelous string of Canadian Flags with which Josh could decorate his room for Vancouver 2010 in Term II.

In my mind still, there was one gift that stood out beyond the rest. The raven I had liberated from an escaping reveler at Linnea’s Hallowe’en party had been with me since that night, standing guard over my desk and adding a significant creep factor when the moonlight filtered in through the window. I’d elected to keep my rescue a secret, and Linnea was certain her raven was gone forever. Her reaction at my present?


I’d say positively beaming sums it up nicely.

On the way home, I caught a quiet evening drink with Alex & Raimo (and some Havana Club) at Prestvannet – again, one of those simple pleasures I’ve missed dearly since coming back to Canada.


Thursday brought the long-awaited and much-planned tour of Mack Brewery! Encouraged by Jamie and a few of the Germans to take on the tour, I managed to get a group of us together for the Thursday tour in English. We started off at Ølhallen (The Beer Hall), Tromsø’s oldest bar (and possibly the strangest – more on that later).


Across the picture, we have Jørgen, Alex, Vit, Ivana (Czech), and Linnea – Vidar being just a shade late for this picture. Just before the tour, Alex found himself in a rather sticky situation:


Oh, and as for that ridiculous getup he (and all of us) were wearing – the brewery is also responsible for Coca-Cola bottling and distribution. One of the few places in the world that doesn’t have to distill the water before using it in the Coke, the brewery nevertheless has to keep a strict level of cleanliness, which some of the Mack personnel feel unnecessary (some of the more traditional methods of brewing don’t quite meet that standard, and some creative workarounds needed to be designed).

To go along with Alex’s newfound intimacy with the isbjørn (ice-bear), Jørgen was quick to point out a retired Mack brew that he’d been fond of:


while Vit was more enthralled with the FruktSjimpanse (“fruit-chimpanzee”)


A great story about this one: originally called “fruit-champagne” and brewed by Mack many years before Coca-Cola made an appearance in Tromsø, the soft drink was the reason for a lawsuit from the Champagne (bubbly wine) collective in France. Apparently, the makers of champagne felt that a regional Arctic Norwegian soft drink marketed primarily at children posed a threat to their customer base. After trying a few different spellings of the word “champagne”, Mack converted the line to the current title, and added a new mascot: a funny-speaking, red & white toque-wearing, painter’s palette-bearing chimpanzee. Needless to say, it was a hit, and Fruit-Chimpanzee is as big a seller as ever.

(but way, way too sweet for my taste.)

On that sweetness note, Jørgen found himself some proof that should nicely refute the theory that soft drinks are anything resembling healthy:


To go with the pallets of sugar were plenty of pipes, conveyors, school-bus-size vats, and enough machinery to keep even Rube Goldberg entertained. One in particular caught my eye:


The picture doesn’t quite do it justice, but it’s a bottle de-capper. In Norway (as in much of Europe), the soft drink bottles are much thicker than in Canada, and they are re-used as they are instead of being melted down and re-formed. (Yes, they’re sterilized and checked first). I do wish I had brought one home, but they really were sturdy and it seemed that people were far more inclined to recycle the heavier bottles in the same way that people are often quicker to recycle glass then aluminum or plastic.

All in all, the tour was informative and enjoyable, and is highly recommended for anyone looking to go to Tromsø. Before receiving our pin and ceremonial “boot” shot glass, we posed for a final group shot (along with the two remaining members of our tour group – and no, I don’t remember who they are).


Before leaving, we stopped at Ølhallen for our complimentary pint. The interior really was unique – as the oldest brewery in town (1926 comes to mind, but I honestly can’t be certain) it had accumulated its fair share of trappings:


As I said earlier, this bar was unique in more than just décor. As the only bar in town that keeps “normal business hours” (open at 9, closed at 5), it attracts the more dedicated of the drinkers in town – you know, the kind that think nothing strange about a few pints and some fish-jerky for lunch:


A few of them were fairly entertaining – one even told Jørgen to pack his things and head for London’s West End, as he had a “face for the stage”. Despite a few invasions of personal space (Linnea’s bubble in particular) we were able to enjoy our pints in relative peace:


Full credit to Linnea for taking on her pint – a non-beer drinker, she was a great sport and found herself rather liking her Christmas beer (I have searched in vain for a Juløl in Canada – if anyone has any suggestions, I welcome them).

Final thought: in yet another blow to the cowboy in us all, Ølhallen once again demonstrated the Tromsø link between country music and, er, “seasoned drinker” bars. What a pity, what a pity.


Not exactly in the studying mood, Jørgen, Vidar, and I made plans to go on one last pubwalk in the evening of the brewery tour. (After a half-litre of the high-proof and heavy Juløl, we all needed a nap first.)

After hearing more about the Blå Rock burgers than any other meal in town, Jørgen and Vidar convinced me that as my time was running short, a test against the Canadian palate was in order.

After snapping a picture of my two Fadders met so long ago:


we settled in for the meal. Impressed by the burger selection (though a little dumfounded by some of the options – nachos and salsa really aren’t Norwegian, but they seem to put them in the strangest dishes – pizza and burgers), I ordered the Jack Daniel’s burger, to be smothered in a barbeque sauce flavoured with Jack’s finest.

And? Well, I received precisely what I ordered: a burger, a bun, and barbeque sauce. I prefer hamburgers with a garden variety of toppings, and so hijacked a fair portion of my salad to make myself a decent meal.

As I finished my last bite, my friends looked to me for the final Canadian verdict, the fate of Norwegian burger pride in the balance. My opinion? It was a standard restaurant burger. At about $25, it was certainly overpriced, but we were in Norway after all – the land of the 14-dollar Big Mac. With a smile, I told my friends that it may well be the best burger in Tromsø, but they were welcome to come to Canada any time at all to find out just where the beef was.

Oh, and in case I haven’t mentioned it before: Blå Rock is by far one of the better bars in Tromsø. They have an excellent beer selection, multiple levels and staircases, good live music, drink promotions (home of Blue Mondays, a standard for the international crowd) and a really funky set of decorations:



Bellies full, we set out to find new pubs (to me) to dock our pubwalk. For a city of 50,000 (give or take), Tromsø really had a ton of interesting pubs. I can’t for the life of me recall the name of this one:


but it’s relatively near the harbor only a block or two from the main cathedral. As you can tell, it had a naval theme, but (as always) there was a better story behind. Jørgen told me that for a long time, NRK ran a television show out of this pub – from what I gathered, it consisted of old men sitting around drinking beer and bullshooting. Makes me think I should film my next family reunion…

I was also treated to a little touch of home: the bar was home to a great collection of beer cans, and I spied the Pride of Nova Scotia hiding among the European brews. Alas that it was empty.

At some point (I can’t recall precisely when), Ivana caught up with us and we continued our adventures about town. After tickling the ivories at one of the nicer hotels by the water (the drinks were far, far too pricey for we students):


we settled in with a number of the international students for the Thursday night special (seven dollar beers, what a deal!) at Meieriet, or “The Dairy”.


(Vidar’s none too happy to be somewhat blocked in this shot – but as far as I’m concerned, Ivana’s more photogenic.)

Alas, the news from Tromsø is that Meieriet has filled its last glass – but to cheer the Apple fans out there, one last shot from the walk of “The Apple House”:



Saturday brought our last night at Driv, the student bar by the harbour. Alex kindly invited myself, Loes, Raimo, Vit, and Darcy (Boston) over to his Prestvannet flat for an excellent dinner of… actually, come to think of it I think we may have just been drinking. However, I should mention that it was in this very kitchen that Alex prepared the best burger I ever had in Tromsø – hands down the best cook at his age I’ve ever met.


One funny part of the conversation stands out in my mind: partway through the conversation, Raimo (who I considered quite adept at English) broke in with exasperation: “I just don’t understand. Adam, you speak English. Darcy, you speak English. But why is it that I can understand Adam in his sleep, while I have to watch Darcy with my full attention or else be lost completely!” The three others at the table nodded their agreement. With a chuckle, Darcy explained it was her “Bahston” dialect – that Raimo was finding it easier to understand the Canadian with his “looong voowellls”. Personally, I think my vowels just dandy – and if they help me understand and be understood, all the better.

After we’d had our fill at Prestvannet (with the ever-present ND duffel – what in the world was in there… Oh! I think we went skating beforehand – the gloves are a dead giveaway), we headed down to Driv. Alex, Loes, and Vit posed quickly in front of the giant Christmas tree in the main square:


And we headed in.

I still remember that night vividly. “Team Germany” was there in force, and I was able to catch a dance with them to the Black Eyed Peas’ smash hit “I Gotta Feeling”. (True story: I had no idea that song was a hit outside of Norway. I was a little broken when I arrived home and heard it everywhere.) I caught a beer with some of my Norwegian pals, drank goodbye to friends (Clemence from France below):


and caught one last dance with Anya from Russia as the lights came on.

The hundred metre climb to Elverhøy is pretty easy when you’re floating.


Shaking myself awake Sunday morning, I made my way via bus to the famous Arctic Cathedral:


The landmark building in Tromsdalen (the mainland across from Tromsø) is more properly known as Tromsdalen Kirke (Tromsdalen Church), as it is not technically a cathedral. However, the catchy name has stuck with beautiful building and is commonly used by English and Norwegian (Ishavskatedralen) speakers alike.

As it is a tourist attraction, a nominal admission fee is charged to those who wish to enter and explore. However, as with any church, Sunday admission is open to any and all who wish to enter – provided they don’t mind sitting through a baptism or four.

Needless to say, I had more than enough time to admire the architecture (mimicking the flowing aurora) and stunning pipe organ (complemented by an exceptional choir).


Thus we have my last week of touristing in Tromsø. Hope you learned a thing or two, and we’re coming right down to crunch time – see you next week!

Posted by adamvigs 11:44 Archived in Norway Comments (0)

Week 16: Welcome to North Riderville!

Population: As many Germans as we can convince.

That’s right: Grey Cup week! Last weekend, the green-blooded students at UiT listened with glee as our very own Riders punched their ticket to Calgary and a date with the Montreal Alouettes for the championship of the Canadian Football League. For the not-so-CFL-savvy, the Saskatchewan Roughriders have had a long history with three treasured championships – though every game is followed religiously, those years when we make it to the Grey Cup are particularly memorable.

The entire week was highlighted by the anticipation of the big game. We worked out spectator, travel, and sleeping arrangements (non-trivial when the game kicks off at 1 AM), scrounged for all things green (flags, shirts, underwear, bandannas) and doubled our section by soliciting a few of the Germans (“Football?” “Well… let’s go with that.”).

But I’m getting ahead of myself - there were a other few adventures this week...


Monday nigh-er, afternoon, I was pleased to note that the moon had finally returned! One of the nifty things about the polar night (which I believe we were formally in at this point) is that the moon also behaves erratically. Specifically, it adopts a two-week appearance cycle instead of the dawn-dusk standard at lower latitudes. It was certainly unique to watch the moon remain in the sky while it waxed to full then waned away.

However, my abilities to take moon-pictures are fairly limited, so you’ll have to be content with these instead:



After a thorough search, Raimo finally found himself a pair of skates that suited him. We took to Prestvannet in full force Monday night. He surprised us both with a decent bit of skill and was able to keep pace with the Canadian nicely. This was to be my last skate on the clean Prestvannet, and it was the best yet – the ice was slate-smooth, with that particular feel that only comes with natural ice. Raimo and I had a blast reaching our top speeds with acres of room to spare, and it was a welcome change from the studying that was quickly becoming the norm.


(The Northern Lights Observatory – Nordlysobservatoriet – NOBS – …nevermind)

As November wound down, so too did our lectures. It was bittersweet – it seemed to me only yesterday that I had begun these classes that had been a great joy and an excellent source of knowledge.

I may not have mentioned this yet, but three of my four upcoming finals were to be oral exams. I learned this is far more normal in Europe, particularly for small classes – however, this didn’t change the fact that I hadn’t the foggiest how an oral examination in Physics would proceed. (Answer: quite pleasantly if you know what you are doing, an hour of academic torture if not.)

Time would show that the exam took the simple form of a room, two professors, a student, and a chalkboard. By asking the student to demonstrate both theoretical knowledge and calculations/derivations on the board, the examiners could quickly (and in my opinion, accurately) gauge the student’s competency. Having sat three of these exams, I’m now of the opinion that they address many of the flaws of a written exam – but I don’t see myself influencing the U of S policy anytime soon.

Oh, and on that exam note: One of my tests was scheduled for the Monday morning AFTER Grey Cup (that was scheduled to run from 1 AM – 4 AM). With full knowledge that Plasma Physics would require all of my wits, I requested something unthinkable at the U of S: an exam time switch. Prof Garcia was more than willing to slot me in on Tuesday, but it wasn’t until I began to tell my friends about Grey Cup that it fully hit me:

With full university co-operation, I moved a final for the Riders.

In contrast, my former dormitory in Saskatoon issued noise complaints on that glorious night in November 2007.

Riderville North for the win.


As I mentioned in an earlier post, I had my parents send over eight proper chalkbrushes as thank-you gifts for my Norwegian professors. They were delighted to receive them (Odd-Egil of my Norskkurs was a bit delayed on his reaction, having been sidelined with a bad back for the last month of classes). Professor Brekke was particularly touched, as he remembered the brushes from his time in the United States. His smile grew even wider when I produced two of his entry-level science books on the aurora and asked for his autograph.

And much to my surprise a few days later, Professor Brekke tracked me down in the hallway and presented me with another signed copy of his books – this one a book of poetry and paintings of the aurora. With a heartfelt dedication in the front.

Without question one of my favourite pieces of Tromsø memorabilia. Thanks Professor!


  • By this time in November the walk down to downtown had become more than a little treacherous (I still remember the look on Tomek’s face as he teetered down the icy slope and swore at the Canadian sure-footedness). Seeking a shorter trip on Sunday mornings, I learned that Mass was held at the Carmelite convent just a few blocks away (on the way down to Åsgårdveien student residence / the scuba shop). The chapel had a fairly unique layout – as the nuns were cloistered, the church was very clearly split into a public main area with a private wing. But the most vivid memory of all? The singing. Absolutely divine, gives me a peaceful smile just to remember it.
  • On Thursday the American contingent at UiT kindly invited me to their Thanksgiving meal! A proper turkey and cranberry affair, it was a wonderful chance to catch up with Nina and a few of the more mature students in Tromsø (many of the Americans were Masters’ students: i.e. they were a lot better cooks than most of us and didn’t waste nearly so much money at Driv). A definite highlight was a tube of good old-fashioned American salami – proper coldcuts in Norway being rather scarce.
  • From the Julebord (this note moreso for my memory’s sake): I kept myself and the Norwegian science students entertained with Great Western poker dice and a wine-lasso with the table-beads – much to the delight of Eva the Med Student (delight only became apparent in after I gave her wine back – decided note of suspicion before that).


Friday was a great day.

First, I tidied up my Satt/Rock lecture in the comfortable Old Observatory Basement, my last lecture at UiT. As wonderful as an experience as the classes were, it’s always liberating to finish off a semester and I had quite the bounce in my step as I made my way back around the frozen Prestvannet to my dormitory.

Secondly, I had a beautiful little package waiting for me in my mailbox. Carefully wrapped and hand-lettered was a CD from Mr. Sean Boots, a gentleman and scholar from the Great White North. Among his many talents, Sean is a gifted and dedicated solo pianist, and the CD contained his latest set of recordings. The timing was perfect, as Sean’s music is among my favourite for studying, and his letter truly brought a ray of sunshine into the polar night.

(and Sean, if you still receive these posts on your phone, Salud from Mexico!)

Finally, after running my errands in town (running indeed - I miss the days when I did all my errands on foot), I went out to Stakkevollan (a comfortable set of dormitories on the north end of the island) to finally visit Raimo at his abode. I can’t quite recall why it was we went out there, but I do recall we had a great time. Also, I was entranced by a program on NRK (the national Norwegian television broadcaster) called Bergenbanen (The Bergen Rail). It was simply the view out the front of a locomotive as it traveled the rail line from Bergen to Oslo, “minutt for minutt”. Much like a roaring Yule log and Christmas carols, it was a pleasure to lose oneself in the scenery slipping by. Such a pity the rail lines don’t extend all the way to Tromsø.


The funny thing about a 1AM kickoff is that there is a full day to fill beforehand. For example:


…one can always take advantage of the fleeting “dawn” at midday by strapping on the blades. Loes and I joined a number of Tromsø locals:


as we once again took in the joy of the outdoor skate. Alas, a little blanket of snow did its best to slow us down, but we still managed to make the most of the few hours of light we had available to us.

(I don’t have many pictures of the rosy skies of noon during Mørketid (the dark time), but these should give you an idea of the beautiful colours we were treated to.)

Oh, and Loes was positively thrilled that her mother had sent her ice skates all the way from Holland:


Personally, they looked like they were lacking major ankle support to me, but she seemed much more at ease on them than with the plastic rentals she had at the oval a few weeks previous.


After hitting the books for my upcoming Plasma exam (blessedly NOT the following morning), I headed down to Jørgen’s flat near the bridge for a long-expected party. Tonight was the night that we had set to trap Vidar. What trap, you ask? Well, Vidar was proud to be the only student on Physics who had not seen Star Wars. Ever. Not even once. In Jørgen’s own words, it had even become a “thing” for Vidar, and it was time for us to act.

So, under the pretense of sharing some “hwis-kay” with the Canadian (for the record, it was a fine Scotch) and some Rock Band (also a lot of fun), we managed to get Vidar sitting down on the couch for a movie. Full credit to John Williams for that spectacular French Horn-led fanfare – the look on Vidar’s face was priceless. With only a little grumbling, we settled into the masterpiece that is Episode IV.

In addition to the cinematic spectacle, this was the perfect opportunity for Vidar to teach me a new word. He called Jørgen a quisling, a traitor of the most profound level. I may have already mentioned this tidbit, but Quisling was the puppet leader of Nazi-occupied Norway, betraying many of his countrymen in the process. He was swiftly dealt with after the war (by firing squad, I believe) – it was my sincere hope that Vidar did not have a similar plan in store for the two of us.

(And, as a gift that keeps on giving: in an episode of Corner Gas, one of my favourite Canadian TV shows and one filmed just miles from my hometown, one character (Wanda) calls another (Brent) a quisling, cementing the cleverness of that show.)


After watching the Death Star explode into wee littlie pieces, I caught the last bus to Julianna’s place at Stakkevollan for the biggest game the Riders had played all year. Along with the girls from the U of S (Julianna, Amanda, and Jamie):



we also rounded up a trio of German supporters. Sybille was looking sharp with my treasured Rider flag and a pom-pom improvised from the colour-coded garbage bags:


while Chris took on an expression much more fitting to the hour:


and Marc Stuppi rounding out our German contingent.

After negotiating the laptop into a position where all six of us could see it, we settled in for an exciting and nerve-wracking Grey Cup between the Als and our Riders. We laughed, we cried, we yawned:


we even made the last of my Kraft Dinner as our halftime snack (Marc the master chef):


but as the game neared its close (at approx. 4 AM local time), all eyes were glued to the laptop.

The game was a barn-burner, and as the clock wound down, our Riders were clinging to a slim lead. It hurts me still to write this, but a last-minute penalty proved to be the difference maker as Duval made good on a second field goal attempt to give the Alouettes the victory.

Sorry Nan.

And, as Rider Nation was holding its head in disbelief, the five of us who did NOT live at Julianna’s apartment were debating just how to get home. The buses didn’t start running for a few hours yet, and Julianna’s couch was only so big. Politely declining the floor that Chris and Marc took, I hiked my way over to Raimo’s (at four in the morning!) and collapsed mercifully onto his kindly offered living room couch.

Oh, and just for the record, Raimo’s university-provided flat (the same price as my sparsely-populated counterpart) was more than comfortable:


Thus it was that the week, which began with so much expectation, ended in the bleak hours of a Norwegian morning, the Grey Cup slipping out of the Riders’ grasp for another year. It is said that through any adversity, the sun still rises tomorrow – alas for the Polar Night. But, after a good sleep and a hot breakfast, I cheered up and turned my eyes to the next challenge – exam season.

Posted by adamvigs 19:13 Archived in Norway Comments (1)

Week 14b: The Rocket Range Diaries, Day 5

Even rocket campaigns must come to an end.

DAY 5: “Okay Adam, we know you’re excited, but SLOW DOWN!”

Oh, that quote? Well, you recall the signers, right? They were great sports and were able to make their way through extremely dense scientific lectures (see rocket-borne lidar), but every so often they were forced to ask the speaker to take the foot off the gas pedal. Or in my case, significantly more often than every so often. But full credit, they kept up with me pace for pace, and every request for a breath was given with a smile on their face.

(they also had little sayings and signals to help keep all of us separate for Marcus’ benefit – mine was something along the lines of “We can always hear Adam!”)

After taking care of a few final lectures on atmospheric radar (including SuperDARN – the pride of the U of s), the students began to present their results. David was ecstatic to report that his magnetometer measurements matched (and actually exceeded) those of the on-board magnetometer, and in general all instruments had functioned perfectly (thanks, of course, to the telemetry team’s bang-on data acquisition). Most intriguing was the spinning habits of the rocket – more specifically, the reversal of the spin three times. This wasn’t fully explained until simulations at Bristol the next summer. I could tell you the reason, but alas that I’ve lost the clearance I had to do so. Plus the Americans just might have to silence both of us – they can be a shifty lot when it comes to trade secrets.

And, to toot our own horn just a little more, the Telemetry team was able to liven up the somewhat boring topic of signal processing by employing the first-ever (to my knowledge) human flowchart – Dag Martin stepping in admirably as the parabolic dish receiver. If I can find that photo, I’ll be sure to post it.


Because I can’t seem to fit these anywhere else:

  • Last year (2008) the rocket payload included e. coli - wanted to see the effect of TWENTY-FIVE G'S on the little buggers. Will keep you posted if I ever track down the results.
  • This year, one of the Canadian participants with a nasty habit of sleep-talking/walking wandered out of bed at three in the morning, shook his roommate awake, and said, “Raimo, Raimo, wake up! The rocket told me that it's going to launch in 10 minutes and we have to get up now!!"

(and for those of you playing the home game – Raimo was my roommate. Luckily this sleep business has been funny every time it’s happened.)

  • This week marked the 50th wedding anniversary of John and Roseline Weisshaar, my third set of grandparents and our perennial next-door neighbours in Wilcox. Mom and Dad flew down in surprise for the celebration, and I was able to convince the Norwegian Post to send my postcard there on time. I was treated by a return phone call, and as long as I live I’ll remember the words of John when I finally and breathlessly finished my rocket stories:

“Not bad for a prairie boy, eh?”

“And I think it’s gonna be a long, long time…”

Alas, the time came to pack our things and bid the rocket range adieu. After the easiest course evaluation EVER and a final chance for Ashton to save the day (rescued hundreds of my photos for me as I was transferring them onto the Range computers), we picked up our free t-shirts and said our goodbyes to the range that had been such a marvelous home for the last five days.

On the plane ride home (between an engaging conversation with the Oslo students) and the last leg on the bus (again, spectacular service), the week that was began to sink in. It was incredible, but over the next few days I went through a bit of culture shock – I had so enjoyed the intense pace and great friends that coming back to Tromsø (as magnificent as it had been for the three months previous) was a bit of a let-down. And, it goes without saying that I was no longer provided with five squares a day; Alex summed it up best with the observation that he ate more meat in that single week at the range than in the rest of his time in Norway. However, this was short-lived, and I was soon ready for the next adventure Tromsø could provide.

Oh, and if I have one last thing to say about the rocket range: I’ll be back.

Posted by adamvigs 06:35 Archived in Norway Comments (0)

Week 14b: The Rocket Range Diaries, Day 4 [LAUNCH DAY!!]


DAY 4: “The Rocket Goes Fast Uphill”


In a word, wow. What a day. But before I get too far ahead of myself, perhaps I can tell you a little bit about the rocket. (Feel free to skip ahead to the beginning of the story below.)

During the summer of 2010 (AFTER Norway), I worked for a company located in Winnipeg, Canada by the name of Bristol Aerospace. Bristol has many nifty projects on the go, but one of their most successful is the CRV-7 (Canadian Rocket Vehicle) air-to-surface rocket. Available for both fixed-wing (i.e. planes) and rotary-wing (i.e. helicopters), it is the standard NATO rocket (excepting of course the United States) and is used all over the world.

The CRV-7 in turn can be powered by different rocket motors. A few years ago, the C-14 was replaced by the cleaner burning C-15, which was less dangerous to a pilot flying through the smoke. The C-14, now being an old model (much like a laptop the day after you buy it) was repurposed. Its “downfall” of a visible smoke trail was irrelevant when used as a sounding rocket - as a matter of fact, it makes for better pictures.

Now, let me restate that for full effect: not only did we launch a Canadian rocket in Arctic Norway, but it was built by my future employer. When Bristol’s rocket engineers learned this, they were quite intrigued, as they rarely fire one so high and long as to fully burn out the motor or to observe the projectile effect. If any of my readers care to hear more about these flight dynamics or the basic operation of the C-14 rocket, feel free to fire me an e-mail. For now, I think it’s high time we began the narrative proper:


Last November, two students from the University of Saskatchewan journeyed to the Andøya Rocket Range (ARR) in Arctic Norway. Along with an international team of undergraduate students, they were charged with the task of launching a scientific rocket into the polar atmosphere. This was to be the first launch of the CaNoRock program (Canada-Norway Rocket), a fresh new initiative in space education. CaNoRock's main goal: mission exposure - as early, often, and low-cost as possible.

Unknown to the majority of the Canadian contingent, a third U of S student was awaiting their arrival. On exchange to the University of Tromsø, one of the sponsoring institutions of CaNoRock, he had been selected for the launch as a part of his routine course of study. This is the story of the launch through his eyes.

12 NOVEMBER 2009


The snooze button is the last thing on my mind. Sitting up in my comfortable hotel bed, I look out my window with a smile as I spy the iconic ARR rocket at the gate. Towering nearly three stories high, it contrasts sharply with the craggy mountain wall behind. Not for the first time, it occurs to me that this hotel - attached to the launch complex itself - has provided me with the best vacation of my life.


After waking a few of my comrades from the University of Tromsø (UiT), we head to the cafeteria. Walking through the education and administration wing of the rocket range, we marvel again at the variety of programs and research performed here at ARR - from high school soda-can satellites to laser-radar probing of the atmosphere, from weather-balloons to NASA-sponsored rockets to the height of the International Space Station.

Arriving at the comfortable cafeteria, we help ourselves to the typical (arguably traditional) Norwegian public breakfast fare of cold sliced vegetables, hard crackers, and pickled fish. As a tip-of-the-hat to the North American visitors, the cafeteria has provided a small jar of peanut butter. While it pales in comparison to the two-kilogram behemoth I'd packed over with me from Canada, it is still a welcome addition.

Stomach full, I sit back and realize the room is buzzing with excitement.

Launch day has arrived.


We adjourn from the range “dining-room” to the “living-room” – the little touches of home here at ARR are intended to keep scientists and engineers comfortable over the course of lengthy rocket campaigns, and never cease to amaze.

As we run through the countdown procedure, it becomes clear that the casual attitude we’ve observed throughout the week has been set aside. The Range Safety Officer makes it clear that today’s launch will follow the same strict guidelines that govern every launch from Andøya, and that a successful launch will require precise teamwork.

Following the countdown outline, Alex, an Austrian PhD and a friend of mine from UiT, leads the presentation from Team A: Rocket, outlining the expected behaviour and flight pattern of the upcoming launch.

Finally, David (U of Alberta), the lone grad student on-site, presents his thesis magnetometer – an electronic device size of a business card yet capable of magnetic field measurement at a speed and resolution comparable with devices ten times its size. It is this magnetometer that sets our mission apart – more than a chance for undergraduates to experience a rocket campaign firsthand, we are performing real science.


As members of the Team D: Telemetry, James (U of Alberta) and I head to the Student Telemetry station (NAROM TM) in clear view of the launch pad. Telemetry is the art of remote measurement; as this rocket is being launched with no parachute and an Arctic splashdown some four kilometres offshore, the only way to retrieve our data is by radio communication. Throughout the week, we’ve tested and re-tested our setup: our tracking abilities enabled us to monitor a satellite pass, while rocket payload transmission/reception was demonstrated both in the workshop and during the all-important spin test for stability and durability.

NAROM TM is different from the main telemetry station (MAIN TM) as it’s equipped with a user-controlled Horn Antenna – and I do mean user-controlled. The direction of the antenna is controlled by two knobs – one controls the azimuth (heading), while the other controls the elevation (angle from horizon). For the last two days, James and I have been practising our rocket-tracking abilities. With one eye on the clock and the other on the calculated flightpath, James calls out the angles as I attempt to match his call, smoothly transitioning between headings second by second.


With a start, televisions around the range flicker to life and the countdown clock begins.

Right on schedule, Launch Control Support and the Balloon Team launch the first weather balloon to confirm that launch conditions are optimal. In addition, the range Public Address (manned by Vit from the Czech Republic, a fellow UiT student) informs us that Fire, Ambulance, and Air Traffic Control have all been notified of the impeding launch.

Personnel check. James and I confirm communications with launch control tower, and test our Go/No-Go light. These crucial switches are the most elementary form of override – without a lit bank, the launch tower will hold ignition and the countdown will need to be reset.


Radio Silence. All communications halted while rocket and payload are installed on launch pad with umbilical and firing lines connected. Tension rises as James and I realize we are passing one point of no return. Once the firing line is connected, the range staff will be hard-pressed to disassemble the live rocket motor.


Radio Silence lifted. With relief, James and I swing the antenna around to zero in on the rocket on-pad and confirm that we are in communication. Meanwhile, the results of the balloon launch are in, and the Weather Team gives the all-clear. It is now up to Payload Team to confirm that all instruments are functioning.

Payload Team gives the green light. We are go for launch.

This is unexpected.

Within seconds, our phone rings. After recovering from the shock of discovering we have a phone, I pick it up and speak to Main Telemetry, the antenna operated by the Rocket Range personnel.

It turns out that equipment designed to accurately detect the rocket’s distance from base is not calibrated properly. Startled, we provide them with our calculated telemetry settings. After a few tense minutes, a second call confirms that they will not be able to solve this problem, and are switching to the backup of a needle-on-reel paper chart recorder.

(Aside: this short experience served to highlight both of the two great lessons I learned at Andøya. First, when it comes to rocketry, there are no B+ or D- grades. There is simply complete and incomplete. Second, the space industry continues to rely upon tested and true technology rather than the cutting-edge that most expect. Why? Because it works.)

Apparently time can stop after all.

Countdown Resumes. Highway near range closed in both directions. All car engines prohibited from running until rocket impact. I can’t say exactly why this step was taken, but I’m not about to argue.

Radio Silence lifted. Payload is switched to external power, and once again begins transmitting. A few minutes later, the PA crackles to life and warns all personnel to seek ground cover in preparation for launch.

Launch Siren sounds.

The hairs on the back of my neck stand up as we begin recording data from the rocket. MAIN TM reports that the on-board oscillator signal has stabilized – used for range-finding, it is all the more critical given our present equipment failure.

We flick our Go/NoGo switch to green and await the tally with bated breath. Launch Control reports all systems go, and we let ourselves enjoy a small cheer. But the hard work is still to come.

Arm Payload

This is truly the point of no return. On our scientific rocket, “arming” involves burning out a fuse that irreversibly drains the payload power supply.

James and I take our places – I at the controls, and he just to my left with the co-ordinates ready.

The range echoes with the final seconds of the countdown: T-minus ten, nine...
We hold our breaths and prepare for the launch.
Three, two, one,

All that can be heard from our seats at NAROM TM is a sharp WHOOSH as the umbilicals disengage and the Canadian-built rocket soars into the stratosphere.

With practised precision, James marks off the seconds while I dial in the coordinates: T-plus one, two, three...

The next ninety seconds are a blur of numbers and dials. It was with some shock that James finally taps me on the shoulder with a big grin and reminds me that the rocket has now splashed down into the Arctic Ocean. NAROM TM erupts into cheers as we relish the moment, the unconstrained joy of a successful launch.

Our reverie is halted by a final crackle of the PA. Finding it difficult to keep the excitement out of his voice, Vit announces the highway is open, the launch-pad ready for inspection, and the details of the post-flight meeting.

CANOROCK 1 has been safely launched – we did it!


We soon discovered that the high of the launch permeated the whole of Andøya Rocket Range and lasted throughout the day. The postflight meeting, groupwork, and lectures to follow were lighthearted and joyous, and the evening celebration was given a little more spark by a beverage run by the author and a few of the more industrious students from the University of Oslo. The Canadians were also treated to a celebrity interview by the local press, reminding them of the sheer uniqueness of the occasion.

This was but one story, though one pair of eyes, from one launch in November 2009. In the years to come, more stories will be written as man strives ever towards the heavens. If you’re curious at all about the universe of opportunity ahead, please contact Adam, NSID acv928.


Pretty cool, eh?

I know that’s the main story, but I have a few more thoughts to close out the day:

  • I can’t exaggerate the tension pre-launch or the sheer jubilation post-launch – from students and range staff alike. What an absolute thrill.
  • If anyone knows of a Norwegian newspaper repository where I could scare up a copy of that article, please let me know.
  • Even post-launch, there was still learning to be done. We Tromsø boys had been mostly reviewing all week as we had an excellent grounding in rocketry, but today’s lecture on drag and the striking difference between unpowered and powered cases was exceptional.
  • Today was also the day when Prof. Hoppe (from UiT) gave his lecture. I was looking forward to learning more about his rocket-borne lidar experiments (actually), BUT the five students of Jøran Moen from Oslo convinced me to jump in the car with Dag-Martin and head into town for the great tradition that is a beer run. A few hurried texts later, and I made it back to the range for the meat of his lecture and with six half-litre cans cooling in the fridge.
  • I can’t believe the story has come this far and I haven’t yet mentioned Dag-Martin! He was the leader of the Telemetry team and an absolute riot. He put up with my incessant twiddling, handled Raimo’s bone-dry sense of humour with aplomb, managed to keep the adventurous Vårin interested, learned a few of the finer bits of electronics alongside James the Mechanical Engineer, and even kept Lise a full member of our group as she battled not-swine-flu. It was his first time as a group leader, and he performed marvelously – he made the week enjoyable and informative, and helped us learn more than we could have thought possible. This is even more impressive considering that none of us had selected Telemetry as our first choice and were all rather cross when we had been placed in it.
  • On the note of our group, we spent the early evening putting the finishing touches on our telemetry presentation, including an interpretation of the analog seismograph-style range record (a comparison of ground-based and rocket-borne oscillators; comparison of the relative difference gives approximate range).
  • The joyous mood of the range lasted long into the night, as we cracked a few brews (my Norwegian steadily improving with each Mack Juløl, or Christmas Beer), played some carols and piano (Ulf-Peter – I mean, Prof. Hoppe filling in the bass line admirably) and finishing off with an excellent game of Mafia.

A red-letter day indeed.

Posted by adamvigs 06:15 Archived in Norway Comments (0)

Week 14b: The Rocket Range Diaries, Day 3


And so it came to pass that the great H1N1 panic, which I blessedly avoided to great extent while in Norway, made its way to our tiny little rocket range on the wee island of Andøya. Lise, poor Lise, awoke with a few symptoms that prompted a swift quarantine order from the range staff. There was to be no fooling around in such a small environment – though I and a few of our groupmates made certain to have dinner and visit with her when we could. During dinner, Lise remarked that she felt the whole thing had been rather exaggerated, and time did tell her to be right – luckily she was cleared to resume participation the next day.

The day’s scientific programming was a blast. The telemetry group was kept busy learning the ins and outs of rocket communication for our crucial role on launch day. We began by using an exceptionally cool piece of software (Satellite Toolkit) to both analyze orbits and indentify which of the major European satellites were orbiting over Andøya Rocket Range at that moment. We then trotted over to the main telemetry station and were able to track these satellites as they passed by, using the very signal transmitted from the satellite. We even employed the quadrupole autotrack, a nifty tracking technique that automatically moves the antenna towards the quadrant with the strongest signal. Unfortunately, ESA was not kind enough to provide us with the signal decoder, so we weren’t able to download the satellite data.

Preparing for Launch

The afternoon was spent working with the other groups to prepare for the launch. This was our first taste of multi-team project dynamics, as we were forced to alter and adjust to fit other team schedules. The Experiment team and Payload team having jointly ensured that the rocket payload was functioning and mounted properly, they mounted it on one of the test benches for the all-important “spin test”. As the rocket would be spinning at a high rate for the duration of the flight (stability considerations, primarily), it was important to ensure that it could function under these forces AND that it was properly balanced.

Of course, one of the necessities of “functioning properly” was the transmit/receive capability. I may not have mentioned this explicitly, but our rocket was to be launched directly over and into the Arctic Ocean. There was no plan (and no hope) of recovery – thus, the only way to retrieve the data from our rocket was by radio. If the telemetry failed, all we had was a very expensive (and rather boring) firework.

Thanks to our exceptional Payload and Experiment team, the test went off without a hitch. And, to celebrate, the Rocket team showed us their day’s work – scale models of our launch in hobby-rocket form. As much as I would love to say that these were a roaring success, a few parachute malfunctions spoiled the landings – but as the Rocket team was quick to point out, the parachute was not a part of our mission proper and so was not of great concern. Plus, they were able to absolutely knock our socks off with the Hybrid Rocket demonstration later that evening.

Hmm… it seems to me I’ve forgotten to mention the fifth group of students involved in the launch. Latecomers to the party, Professor Jøran Moen and five of his upper-year atmospheric scientists formed the fifth group, the aptly-named Science group. It was their job to act as PI (Principal Investigator) for the mission, to give the formal go-ahead for “optimal science conditions” and to be ultimately responsible for the commissioning and results of the mission. Plus, they had the coolest room by far – in the same outbuilding as the Student Telemetry, but with way more monitors, much larger chairs, and a plush blue interior that was every bit as nice as Launch Control itself. It was a pleasure for the four of us from Tromsø to interact with a few other students who’d had some instruction in the ways of the Force-er, ways of the Rocket (the majority of the students from Oslo were in their first year), and they were a welcome addition to the range.

Everyone Loves Pizza

The cafeteria being booked for an ARR “Joint Chiefs of Staff” meeting (Prof. Brekke from Cosmic Geophysics among them), the students gathered back in the classroom for some pizza and merriment. For the life of me, I can’t remember what it was we did, but I know we had an absolute blast doing it. This was followed, of course, by more Crud – with some Canadian-imported Trail Mix to keep the stomachs full and the faces smiling.

On one final note, I would like to mention that today was Remembrance Day. Even an ocean away from home, the Canadians were able to take pause during the day and recall the sacrifices of our countrymen, both in the past and to this very day. In particular, I was able to give thanks that we Canadians and Norwegians could work alongside our Austrian and German colleagues with no animosity whatsoever. I was able to learn a fair bit of the Norwegian experience during the occupation in the Second World War, and it has further deepened my respect for their efforts and those of my countrymen. May we forever hold the torch high.


Posted by adamvigs 12:20 Archived in Norway Comments (0)

(Entries 6 - 10 of 44) « Page 1 [2] 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 »