Turns out telescope hardware is built in some beautiful places. For my project in particular (the LSST), the telescope mount assembly, or TMA (i.e. the part of the telescope that tilts and rotates while holding the camera and the mirrors) was built in a little town called Avilés, in northern Spain.

The purpose of the trip was to work out some interfaces between the camera refrigeration system and the TMA, but if we’re being honest it was also just freakin’ cool to see the giant 3-story structure in person.

For reference, the tiny yellow bit to the right-ish bottom-ish of the photo is a surrogate mass for the real camera, which is about the size of a small car
It’s super big.
Like, super duper big.

I probably should have been better prepared for this, but Spaniards have quite a different work schedule. After arriving at the factory at 9am, we worked straight through until 2pm with rumbling tummies before breaking for lunch. And by lunch, I mean a 2-hour 3-course meal during which drinking wine was totally normal and, in fact, encouraged.

We then were expected to work again without falling asleep until 6 or 7pm, at which time we retired to the hotel for a siesta before wandering out for dinner around 9pm. Restaurants literally don’t set up tables until at least 8:30pm, because who would ever want dinner before that time?! Me. My stomach wanted dinner before that time. Also to go to bed. It was a confusing time.

After surviving a week of factory life, my coworker Diane and I spent the weekend gallivanting about northern Spain, which was definitely the highlight of the trip. I also got to practice my Spanish, which is coming along nicely but I still have plenty of those awkward “ummm, sorry? repetirlo por favor?” moments. Over the course of the weekend, we:

  • Toured a cider brewery (specialty in northern Spain) near Gijón with a friend of mine and his family


  • Learned how to properly pour said cider


  • Made friends with some goats


  • Visited Dragonstone, one of the castles in Game of Thrones. For the television show, the castle itself is all CGI, but the island that the castle is on is a real place (Gaztelugatxe, Spain) with real steps. A whole bunch of them.


  • Took touristy pictures of pretty places


  • Hiked 20 miles through the Picos de Europa on the Ruta del Cares and took a side quest up a canyon and confirmed it was off the beaten path when the only other people I saw for over an hour were two leathery old Spaniards
  • Recovered with my feet in the stream in a little mountain town


  • Visited the coolest art museum I’ve ever been to, the Guggenheim in Bilbao


  • Learned how to drive on European roads, including pumping gas which apparently you do before you pay inside and there are zero signs to tell you this

All in all, ’twas a lovely trip, and I’m super lucky that my boss couldn’t go so I was able to take his place. We got a lot of work done, but there’s always time for play. And dragons.