Up into the sky

The Cosmic Ray Energetics And Mass (CREAM VI) experiment

During this time of the year the Sun never sets below the horizon. It goes round and round skimming the mountain tops. Some call this the bottom of the Earth, but I call it majestic Antarctica.

At four in the morning I joined the engineering crew to start up the helium pumps. We had a 14-million cubic foot balloon to fill with that “lighter than air” gas. Sixteen acres of light weight polyethylene fabric was outstretched on the frozen landscape. The wind had subsided to less to that 5 mph and the weather forecasters still held to their prediction of diminishing winds. So today was launch day.

Polyethylene was discovered by Reginald Gibson and Eric Fawcett in 1933. It’s much better than latex for balloons, because it’s less porous and fewer helium atoms escape through the membrane.

As a balloon rises it expands due to the lessening of atmospheric pressure on it. If a balloon is over filled, it will reach a burst altitude. Our calculation of 14-million cubic feet will prevent that from occurring.

I am a graduate student at the University of Maryland. We built and designed the Cosmic Ray Energetic and Mass (CREAM VI) experiment. Our partners from NASA assembled the launch apparatus and handled the logistics. Hopefully our experiment would soon be floating 126,000 feet above the Antarctic landscape. Many hours of planning and construction went into today’s realization of dreams.

I first became interested in space engineering during an introductory high school physics class. When I studied physics I felt awe and marvel, at both the complexity and inherent simplicity of the Universe. As big as the biggest and as small as the smallest, it seemed that everything danced in orderly fashion to the music of natural laws.

My name is Sing and I come from the town of Visakhapatnam, India, that beautiful port city on the Indian southeast coast. My parents are of moderate means as my father is a sales merchant. But somehow he managed to send me and my sisters to good schools. Our family follows the teachings of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism.

Guru Nanak (1469-1539) began his life as a young poet and spiritual thinker. He studied both Islam and Hinduism. He refused to follow the Hindu tradition that stratifies the population by cast. Instead he insisted that all people are equal, irrespective of cast, vocation, or gender. He expressed that people should be known by the things that they do and their individual qualities. Guru Nanak said that spiritual pilgrimages and penance were far less important than spiritual practice to develop ones soul. He showed that spiritual growth was through meditation and that by living in harmony with nature the divine would shine in every person.

I practice our form of Kundalini yoga and meditation every day.

By six in the morning the balloon, while still on the ground, was starting to take a shape. I retired to my room for a break while the next crew monitored the helium flow.

Early flight

It seems that the human race has always been mystified and enthralled by the prospect of flight.

On November 21, 1783, Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier and the Marquis d’Arlandes made the first free-flight ascent in a balloon to over 500 feet in Paris. We’ve come a long way since then, as modern day balloons can fly to an altitude of at least 26 miles (42 kilometers).

Two weeks ago while packing my bags for this trip my brother’s young daughter asked me how many balloons would it take to lift her high up into the sky. She had just seen the movie “Up” and was captivated by that portrayed sense of adventure.

Although the calculations can be quite detailed taking into account – the size of the balloons, the weight and composition of the balloon material (plastic sheet, latex, polyethylene film), the lifting agent used (helium or other), the surface atmospheric pressure and back pressure imposed during flight, but in all …

… it requires approximately 450 cubic liters of helium to lift 1-lb (0.453 kg) off the ground.

So that means you need about 1,900 balloons (at 15-cm radius) in order to lift my niece 30 kg (66 lbs) up into the wild blue yonder.

So you don’t need to be concerned when you go to the carnival or circus, about your child being swept away by a handful of balloons.

One day while practicing my Kundalini yoga I realized that over the past several months the thoughts that came up during meditation seemed to be less distinct and clear. It was like I was experiencing thoughts in a more refined or delicate essence. Then it clicked in my head about what my teacher had once told me; during meditation the mind travels inward to experience more subtle levels of thinking. It’s a natural process. Once it’s started its kind of like diving; taking the correct angle and then just letting go. Gravity does the rest. In meditation it’s the natural tendency of the mind to experience more and more happiness, that effortlessly propels it to finer values of thought.

That’s like when an inflated balloon rests on the ground it’s still rather small. As it rises up into the sky it expands and gets bigger and bigger. Like that, a thought starts out as subtle and non-concrete. It’s just a little push of intelligence and energy. As it rises up through more concrete layers of creation it solidifies more and more. When it finally “bursts’ onto our awareness and it dawns as a thought, it is fully developed and seeks to provide an impetus for further thought or action.

As human beings we have various needs, requirements and desires. Once the basics are fulfilled, we expand our footprint in the world and seek greater understanding and fulfillment.

The Hierarchy of human desire:
• shelter – food – sex
• wealth – so we don’t have to worry about individual existential needs (the prior group)
• power – political empire and control of job
• knowledge – art, science, religion (belief and prayer), and imagination to dare the impossible for humanity
• self actualization
• meditation – to realize who we really are and what our relationship with the universe is.
• enlightenment – the dissolution of the ego establishes us beyond time and space, as part and parcel of the infinite eternal.

Guru Nanak Dev

The teachings of Guru Nanak Dev and Sikhism center on:
• Equality of all humans
• Equality of women
• Universal message for all people

The Mul Mantra, found in the Adi Granth religious text, expounds the essence of Sikhism:

“One Creator. Truth is His name. Doer of everything. Fearless, revenge less, undying, unborn, Self illumined, The Guru’s gift, Meditate! True in the beginning. True through all the ages. True even now. Oh Nanak it is forever true.”

It has been said that the Mul Mantra removes negative influences and can change every person’s destiny toward happiness.


Remember to practice meditation every day. As we live and work in this world seek to experience the source of all that is.

This entry was posted on Sunday, July 22nd, 2012 at 3:10 pm and is filed under Principles for better living. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


Comments are closed.