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Travel report from Hawaii by the Puli-sponsored HungaroBots team, winner of MoonBots 2012

The Hungarobots team won the 2012 Google Lunar X PRIZE LEGO Mindstorms Challenge and was awarded with a trip to Hawaii and a guided tour at the PISCES testing facility. They have told us about their adventures and experiences at the islands: here is the first part.

It's never easy to write a travel report, especially in such informal way. The first question: what to emphasize? The actual purpose of the trip or the things that got us the most? They often but not always are the same. Then there is the problem of significance. If you wonder at every bit and everything is fantastic, how could you present the truly phenomenal? And then, should we follow the chronology or try to find leads in the story?

Its been almost two months since we have arrived from the island of Hawaii but only now has everything we had seen started to settle. One of the worlds leading astronomical observatory on the tallest volcano on the planet (measured from the oceanic base), among definitely the most friendly people of the world. A few geniuses from LEGO and of course the NASA-affiliated PISCES, our host and their duty: testing real spacecrafts in Earth-like conditions. It would be a lie to say that we only dealt with hard space business during this week. Six 17-year old chaps, a parent and myself found much more than „pure” space science at this exotic location.

Given the abundance of events, it seems best to follow the chronology just for thre sake of simplicity. We cannot guarantee that we will stick to the hard, dry fact-telling. If there is one thing we learned then it is that Hawaii – or the „Big Island”, officially – is definitely one the most peculiar place of the Earth. The travel and the week there was so intense and full of experiences that its really hard to summarize them. But let's give it a try anyway!

We saw right on arrival that this would not be a ordinary adventure. After the good 52 hours of travel, John Hamilton one of the leaders of PISCES (Pacific International Center for Space Exploration Systems), our host and guide awaited us with to assistants: Hope, a local (and a microbiologist), dressed in Hawaiian, greeting everybody with leis (flower garlands) and hugs, and Mark who directed us to our hotel at the shoreline. After a quick shower we wanted to discuss our plans so we headed out to eat something. (That, unsurprisingly, turned out to be a burger and we learned that „local food” basically means burger with pineapples – we were in the US after all.)

The next morning, after a long rest, we immediately started to plan our first – basically free – day. We began to feel that though we are in Hawaii, beach and swimming will have a minor role during the week. Targets of the first day were chosen to be Akaka Falls and Laupahoehoe, a rain forest state park on the side of Mauna Kea that features numerous waterfalls and a small peninsula extending into the ocean. As these weren't official programs, we limit ourselves to short factoids, both for longevity reasons and that we don't want to turn a space-themed website into a travel guide.

We rented a car and after a good hour drive arrived to the small park, situated about 500 m above sea level. The view was magnificent. Rain forest, waterfalls, basalt under the vegetation occasionally popping out – and as we ventured deeper, it got even better. Words fail to describe what we saw so we don't even try – take a look at the pictures instead. Laupahoehoe was another half hour drive away and it was equally magnificent, and for good measure, we saw whales, swimming with their offsprings this time of the year, for the first time. To summarize the day, we all arrived back to the hotel satisfied, sorting the views so far only encountered in documentaries in our heads. Not that we would have had so much time for that, as we had to prepare for the coming, much more official day.

The first program that day was a presentation at the „Space Science” lecture of our host, John, at the Physics and Astronomy Department of the University of Hawaii located in Hilo – but only after a pizza lunch ordered to the University. Our presentation lasted one and a half hours before the quite populous, mostly student audience: in one hour we covered the brief history of the space era and introduced the GLXP and the Puli, and in the last half hour we talked abut the Moonbots competition and the Hungarobots team. We must tell that both the Puli and the Hungarobots enjoyed a great success. The American audience wondered at the story of the Puli and had a hard time to grasp how could the funding be such a huge problem and why was the first (still not governmental) Hungarian satellite launched only last year. We didn't have time for Q&A after the lecture, unfortunately, as we had to hurry to the start of the bonus program: a 2-hour screening in Imiloa, one of the most advanced planetariums in the world. Beside the 3D planetarium shows and the museum we had the opportunity to watch the following video as an appetizer about the observatory complex on top of Manua Kea we will have visited a few days later: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibxmRdn7_BI

The third day was about geology. The target was Kilauea, one the most active contemporary volcanoes - where the geology is very similar both to the lunar and martian rocks. Unfortunately we didn't see any active eruptions – we were a few days late – but what we experienced was fascinating indeed. The most astounding for me was this further proof of the forces of nature. The road below was submerged in lava in a single minute a few years ago. This type of lava field extended to about 10 km, too far away to get to the other side where we would have had a live view of lava flowing right into the ocean.

Our view of the crater...

... and the same area a week earlier.

We spent the rest of the day with volcano visits. A crater here, a crater there, fuming pits, only a few months old basalts. We tried to imagine what was it like for the inhabitants in ancient times to live in the shadow of a huge, active volcano – maybe its not a coincidence that they respected Pelée the capricious goddess of volcanoes and fire the most.

We headed towards her most sacred mountain, Mauna Kea the following day...


Márton Deák, László Molnár

Last Updated (Sunday, 16 June 2013 11:56)

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