Thursday, July 31, 2008

Walls closing in...

And the ceiling too, for that matter. On Wednesday we had a pretty cool emergency response drill here practicing the extraction of a patient from a confined space. One group went down into the ice tunnels and "rescued" a simulated patient from those chilly, sub-ice passages. I was in the other team that went into the sub-floor beneath the music room and gymnasium and pulled out another simulated patient on a back board, like he'd had some sort of spinal injury. It was neat getting to see a different bit of the station, but boy was there a lot of dust (mostly from gypsum board, I think) to inhale as all those folks scooted around.

I've still no word back from Belgium about the ISS Ops Engineer job. Hopefully something (good or not so good) will come winging down the ether into my inbox before close of business tomorrow, which will still be Friday back in European time zones.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Extraterrestrial visitor

Wow! Walking back from ARO this afternoon I saw a beautiful meteor (or piece of space junk) streak its way across the sky. It was a brilliant green color, and didn't just wink out really quickly. I actually got to watch its progress across the field of stars. It was very lucky that the wind had died down from last night/this morning and that the clouds had dissipated so that I could see this event take place.

There's no word from Belgium yet about the ISS Ops Engineer job, but it's still early in the week. It's also still Monday night in that part of the world, so that has undoubtedly got something to do with it.

I definitely am thinking a lot about this crossroads at which I find myself. I have been pretty down that it seems like there is little chance for me to be able to continue chasing my dream of becoming an astronaut as well as continue to come down to this remarkable continent at world's end. I find myself doing what Frodo did in the Shire before setting out on his quest do dispose of the One Ring. Is this the last time I shall see the aurora? Is this the last time I will stand and listen to the sound of nothing on the Antarctic Plateau? Is this the last conversation I will have with this person? Both paths have their ups and downs, but it's a shame it feels like they have to mutually exclusive.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Run for the jungle

Well, I got to see a new (as in I'd never seen it before, not illegally downloaded) movie last night. The Sunday Select Cinema showing was of Mel Gibson's gorgeous flick Apocalypto. The scenery and costumes were really top-notch. It's amazing how alien that jungle landscape looks after this much time in a nearly sterile landscape here at South Pole. Yesterday on my walk out to ARO I stopped and listened, and since the breeze was really low there was essentially not a sound to be heard, nothing alive, but beautiful nonetheless. I even recognized some of the Mayan words from a trip in 2002 to visit some friends down in Belize where they were living in a Mayan village. Somebody told somebody else to go kill that dog, and they used the word "peck", which I recalled from my time in the village. So, that was pretty cool, and a nice indicator that my memory isn't being too adversely affected by my time here in stir at the Pole.

So far this week things are pretty routine here. I just spent a couple hours sorting electronic cables of different sorts, which was different. People keep talking about travel and their next jobs, and I have one friend that bounces at least one new idea for a trip off me every day. I'm still in holding pattern, but will hopefully have some light shed on one option (in Belgium) this week if the company notifies me like they said last week. In researching Belgium I came across this Kattenfestival (Festival of the Cats) where fake cats are flung from the belfry of a church in Ypres. Now that sounds like one happenin' festival!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Weekend nigh

Well, the last few days have been pretty peaceful here at Pole. Today we actually have scalding temperatures up in the -40s Fahrenheit range, so that's nice for a change.

I've begun the process of updating procedures and documentation for the various projects on which I work, so that should hopefully be out of the way before I have to start to really think about how I'm going to facilitate turn-over to my replacement in October/November.

NASA has been potentially going to take our satellite passes on the TDRSS birds for the last couple days, but-evidenced by my posting here-that has not yet come to pass. They are doing upgrades and tests to the ground system, as I understand it, to help ensure mission success for the next and final trip the Shuttle will make to the Hubble Space Telescope here in the next few weeks.

I've been practicing music for both the bands quite a bit, and just last night one of the other guys and I had a vocals-only practice to go over the harmony parts we'll be singing in some of our set list. It's going to be a real challenge to get my hands and voice to work at different things at the same time and have it still sound good, but I think the harmony will add a lot to the overall performance.

So, all's well here at the bottom of the world. Folks are definitely thinking and talking about plans for After a lot these days, despite the months we still have to go before redeployment.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Rude awakening, sort of

Well, I got to do a middle-of-the-night check of all my projects equipment last night because we had a brief power outage here at Pole. All my projects were working properly, and it is nice to see that the UPS systems here actually can function properly. I generally don't trust these systems for some reason. Anyhow, it wasn't all that bad, and I was thankful that it wasn't much worse. The wind was really blowing on my way to ARO, and boy is there nothing quite like an Antarctic breeze blowing right through the vents in your goggles to wake you up.

The moon is down again, and it's like somebody turned the light switch off for the great outdoors. We don't really have all that long, just a couple weeks, until the sun starts glowing a bit on the horizon. I'll probably miss the night, as there is so much more to see in the sky without that pesky ball of fusion blotting it out with its glare.

The details of our redeployment off the Ice are plastic to the extreme. The latest dish is that we might all be delayed one extra week (weather dependent). I'm sure loads of us will take that poorly, but for me-whatever. I do want to make sure I have enough time to hang out and travel with friends in New Zealand before they and I separate paths. It will be nice to be able to put down the radio, get off-call, and just relax.

Here's to a future day without work!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Let's get pedagogical!

Well, Sunday night was a busy one for me. In addition to running my Sunday Select Cinema (showing The Last Samurai), I first had to give my much-belabored science lecture titled Three Remarkable Spacecraft: SOHO, Mercury MESSENGER, and Mars Phoenix Lander. It went pretty well, despite the video not working on one of the computers I was using with a projector, but the other computer worked and folks could see everything on the big flat-screen TVs in the galley. The length actually came out to be just right, with plenty of time left at the end for the few questions people had to pose. It's a bit of a relief having that behind me, but I'm glad I did it. It was interesting getting to research some missions I didn't know a whole lot about, as well as present information about the spacecraft I have worked on for the longest period of time (SOHO).

Last night the band practice The Doors' "L.A. Woman" in earnest for the first time, and boy is it a fun one to play. I think our sets for the band (soon to be formerly) known as Re-Tardis and the Irish band (yet to be formally named) are going to be a whole lot of fun. I'm now just a bit worried about getting all my parts memorized and polished up, as well as simply being able to carry the key in which I have to sing Prince's song "Kiss". Talk about reaching for the stars...

Friday, July 18, 2008

Saturday afternoon

Well, most of the station is off right now for "safety stand-down", but I'm still here-as always-plugging away. It's actually really nice outside right now. The temperature is in the -50s F and the wind isn't blowing all that hard. Call me crazy, but it almost felt balmy. I can only imagine what the World will feel like once I redeploy from the Ice.

I've started thinking about what sort of travel I might like to do once I leave, and sailing has been looming extremely largely in my head. It still feels like a waste of time doing this research online, since I have no idea what sort of job offer might come along and trump everything else. Still, it would be nice to catch up on the time off I've missed while being down here on-call and working ever day.

Here are a couple pics of 1) outside and 2) my rack of science electronics with the lights in the lab turned off.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

another week, another dollar

Well, I don't have much to report about work down here this week. It's pretty much the same thing every day, with little variations here and there. Yesterday was one of my days to work in the "dish pit", which was the scene of most of my SP experience last year as a substitute Dining Attendant down here. I had to take care of my other duties as Research Associate in addition to getting the dishes, pot, pans, silverware, and general cleaning taken care of.

I've also been incorporated into another band here at SP. I'm now playing guitar, harmonica, and singing for an Irish band, which has been loads of fun so far. I know The Pogues is one of the groups we're playing at least one song from, and man is it different from plain old rock 'n roll like we're playing with Re-Tardis. After hearing me sing a song by Nirvana at practice on Saturday night, I got asked if I'd like to give the Irish stuff a shot. I guess my voice is getting stronger as I sing more, because there's this totally different voice that I can turn on and sing with confidence for these more aggressive songs. I guarantee you folks that know me in person (and remember my voice, despite my lengthy absence from The World) are going to get a real kick out of it. Anyhow, music is continuing to play a huge role in my winter here at the South Pole.

I've also unveiled my "Host" character I'm going to incorporate into advertising and the preview roll we have before the Sunday Select Cinema movie showing I've orchestrated on Sunday nights here. It's amazing what two paper towels wadded up and stuffed into one's cheeks can do for your looks... Doing that reminded me of one of the costumes Peter Sellers donned for "Revenge of the Pink Panther".

"Haul away your rolling king,
Heave away, haul away!
Haul away, oh hear me sing
We're bound for South Australia!"

Friday, July 11, 2008

Some thing, time, job, place...

Well, we've got another breezy day here at SP. The winds aren't as high as that day just past, but there is enough to kick up a good deal of snow into the air. I would venture the high winds got a bunch loosened up, so now there is more free to be moved about by lesser airs. I spotted a dark spot along the trail coming back from ARO today, which turned out to be a tape measure that somebody had dropped. Strangely, the first thought that went through my head was something like "It's a cluster munition. Don't touch it!" Yeah, that was bizarre.

Things are pretty quiet here. It seems like the rumor mill has been working overtime around events concerning our redeployment after the station opens for summer. I pretty much expect the station will open at some date, and I will fly out some time after that on some airplane. I'll do some travel once I get back to the world, and I'll find something to do with the next however many years of what will constitute some of my life. Things are really plastic here, to say the least.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

I see Pole moon a risin'

Well, true to form and orbital parameters, the moon absolutely vaulted into the sky yesterday. It's amazing just how much difference that silvery orb can make. We'll have it around for around two weeks then it will disappear once more. I think we may only have one more dark period before the sun's light begins to appear on the horizon. Just like when the sun went down, the sunrise period takes quite a while. I guess the amount of light can really depend upon how the weather is, whether we have lots of storms or if it is clear. It definitely will be interesting to see that fiery disk after these months of night.

There isn't a whole lot exciting going on right now at work. I've been practicing my vocal parts for the next Re-Tardis set quite a lot. Some of the songs are pretty difficult, but if I can get them down it should be a lot of fun. The 300 and yoga continue to be a good way to relax and de-stress after work six days a week. I did have an uncomfortable coughing fit at yoga yesterday, which really doesn't feel good when you have your torso all twisted up. I'm a little sore from that today.

Some folks are starting to make travel plans and figure out their next mode of employment. I tried to call United Space Alliance today, but just missed their HR business hours. The satellite doesn't quite come up in time to call there very early in the day yet. I want to check in on this job I applied for a few weeks ago to become an EVA (i.e. space walk) trainer for astronauts, having not heard anything back in those intervening weeks. It would be great if something would come through or everything would fall through. That way I could either have some cool job to look forward to, or I could just make serious travel plans and hare off into the world once I redeploy. This ambiguity is getting a little old already.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Lost Horizon

Yesterday the winds were kicking up over 20 knots, which meant there was a bunch of snow blowing around. Couple that with no moon in the sky and it made for a murky blackness that was quite a challenge to easy navigation around the Antarctic Plateau. I took over 20 minutes to make it the quarter mile to ARO, and ended up having to navigate mostly by ear. The bamboo poles that mark our pathways and hazards here all have flags attached to their top end, and it was by the flapping noises of the flags that I did most of my navigation. I even walked into a couple flagpoles because I couldn't discern them from the inky background. I couldn't even see the station until I was about 30 yards from it, and the station isn't any small object to be easily obscured. I thankfully did make it back to the "Shangri La" of the station after taking a business call on my radio whilst en route.

When I was checking in that I'd arrived at ARO with a person in the station I made a remark that it was a "real Antarctic experience". It definitely was different than any conditions I've encountered thus far in my time at Pole. Whiteout conditions during the summer didn't seem as intense for some reason. Anyhow, it was quite memorable. I guess we've been long overdue for such weather.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Low-key weekend

Well, it is another 2-day weekend for most of the station, and this morning at South Pole Station is remarkably quiet. Since I work every day I just get up at the same time (6am) every day to help avoid fatigue by keeping the same sleep schedule. I've only seen about 3 other people so far in the 4.5 hours since I got up this morning. It is kind of nice being up without anybody else around.

The science lab doesn't get all that much foot traffic, but with nobody else around I can practice singing songs for Re-Tardis' new set and concentrate on getting big projects done at my desk. Today I've been working a lot on the section of my science lecture covering the Phoenix lander that is currently operating in the Arctic plains of the planet Mars. I'm also going to talk about SOHO (on which I worked) and the Mercury MESSENGER spacecraft. I might talk about the International Space Station, but I've already got a lot of slides and need to keep the lecture to an hour's length, with time for questions included.

Anyhow, there isn't much to report from this end of things today.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The hunt continues

Well, I'm thick in the fray of sending out feelers for future job opportunities right now. I contacted a few folks about possibly working at Palmer Station or on the research vessels yesterday, and heard back that between it being too early to see if positions are open and budget woes for RPSC that they couldn't tell me more than keep checking in as the year progresses to see what might come up. With the passing of July 1, I can now start really wondering whether applying from the South Pole will grab NASA's attention enough to make me stand out amidst all the other applications they have received for the next class of astronaut candidates. I'll keep looking for the jobs, but if nothing turns up I may have to just start making some travel plans and be a bum about the planet for a while. What a burden that would be!

This weekend is naturally the U.S.'s Independence Day, but I'm not entirely sure what festivities will go on here. Most of the celebrations that we have back in the U.S. would break both the Antarctic Treaty and station SOPs for activities outside here at Pole.

This Sunday I am going to show Last of the Mohicans as part of my Sunday Select Cinema recreation event. I put up a poster on the station's information "scroll" with a beautiful picture of one of the places that they filmed the movie. It is a picture in the fall of Hickory Nut Falls in Chimney Rock Park, North Carolina. It's funny how some people have reacted to seeing such a now-alien landscape. I've gotten comments from simply remarking about how beautiful it is to lambasting me for putting something like that up in the middle of winter when we can't go right out and hike around in a similar environment. It's funny how different people's minds work.

Listen for the voice of Killdeer ringing in the hollows...