Monday, December 17, 2012

Still on hold

There isn't much new to report from here.  I've been keeping busy, and this weekend got to see a large portion of one half of my family at a holiday get together.  It was nice to see folks, and the first time in 7 years that I've been around to do so during this time of year.

Similarly, there isn't any new news on the astronaut candidate selection front.  I still feel pretty confident I am going to stay in the mix, but one never knows.  Nothing else is really materializing yet, but I have been holding off on submitting other applications to let the Big One run its course a bit.

I have enjoyed lifting weights since I got home, and hope to keep the edge on fitness-wise as a result.  With some nice (for December) weather, I will probably start in on the usual yard and pasture clean-up work I usually end up doing during my unemployed stints back home.

Of course, my heart goes out to all the families dealing with the recent loss of so many loved ones late last week.  I think our society has some big decisions to make about what our priorities are.
“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”
~Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird

Monday, November 26, 2012

and...I'm spent

So, the final pre-home stop of note was the Grand Canyon.  It felt strange to not go hiking down to the bottom, but it wasn't in the cards for this trip.  Neither was heading to Phoenix to hang with Mr. H's band (sorry).  

If you look closely, you can see a suspension bridge over the Colorado River.  I recall the grating on the bottom looked like it disappeared when I ran over it as a boy.
 This was quite the change of landscape from the Antarctic Plateau for a year without a break.
It wasn't all big empty spaces and tranquil quiet...
Eventually the sun set on our visit there and the shadows grew long upon the canyon.
On his moon landing:
“It’s like trying to describe what you feel when you're standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon or remembering your first love or the birth of your child. You have to be there to really know what it's like.”

~Jack Schmitt, Apollo 17 astronaut

Back in the US of A

Now for some pics from the domestic portion of the trip home from Pole this year.

The Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles.

The Angels Flight railway that was originally built to save the rich folks that lived on top of the hill from having to walk to do their shopping, or so I gathered from the volunteers at the Union Station information desk.

The Million Dollar Theater which was used briefly by the crew shooting Blade Runner.

Just across the street from the theater above, the atrium of the Bradbury Building, which figured large as a location for the filming of Blade Runner.

The skylight roof of the Bradbury Building atrium, sadly with no giant blimp sporting geisha video advertisements flying overhead.

The main hall in Union Station in Los Angeles, which coincidentally was another Blade Runner filming location.

One more post should take care of the trip home.
"I need ya, Decks. This is a bad one, the worst yet. I need the old blade runner, I need your magic."
~Bryant, Blade Runner

Taupo & Chch

{That title sounds like some cartoon character duo.}

Bungy jumping above the Waikato River in Taupo, NZ.

The rapids immediately above the falls on the Waikato River.  These aren't the rapids that will be used in The Hobbit; those are further downstream.

Huka Falls immediately below the previous rapids.

The new Cashel Mall in Christchurch, with all the shipping container stores that opened up in late 2011.  It seems like folks really gravitate to this area, not only for the social scene but also for views into the "red zone" of what used to be the central business district (CBD).
“The only real depression is a depression of individual ingenuity.”
~George Daynor

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Spice...I mean pics...must flow

I made it home in the wee hours of Thursday morning, getting off at the nearest Amtrak station I'd always wanted to actually use for travel.  The L.A. stop and Grand Canyon were both really nice, and the train proved to be a slow but much more comfortable way to travel than airplane (and definitely Greyhound).  Anyhow, I've gotten to see a nice chunk of my family thus far, not to mention eating two Thanksgiving dinners (one at home and one on the train in the dining car).  I'll do several posts now to share the photos from the extended trip home.

This was the ridiculous vehicle new to McMurdo since I was there last, which carried a planeload of us into town.  We still used Ivan the Terrabus to go back out to to the C-17 for the flight to Chch, so I'm not sure where the crimson beast was off to that day.

Rotorua's (NZ) geothermal pools were an olfactory experience, for sure. 

 And, if you watch TV, you've probably seen this place a bunch in recent weeks.  This is the Hobbiton set, with Bag End (the Baggins' hobbit hole) at the top of the hill to the left.

It's seen up close here, minus any "G" rune indicating a burglar lived there.

Any (little) body home?

The pond and bridge were much bigger than I expected.  The pictures probably look a little hazy due to the rain falling at that point of the tour.

And just because, another look back up to Bag End from the Water.

More photos to come, but that's it for now.
“Next to seeing land, there is no sight which makes one realize he is drawing near home, than to see the same heavens, under which he was born, shining at night over his head.”
~Richard Henry Dana, Two Years Before the Mast

Monday, November 19, 2012

not quite the same "longest day"

Yeah, this November 19 has not been quite as "long" a day as June 6, 1944, but it's certainly lasted a few hours more than normal.  We arrived in L.A. about the same time we left Christchurch earlier that "morning".  Though I only managed a few hours of fitful sleep, it still felt morning-ish upon arrival in California.  We got to Union Station and some good suggestions (and a map) and are enjoying downtown L.A., which is a lot different than expected.  This was posted using free wi-fi next to the Angels Flight little railroad/funicular, which is picturesque with its Halloween orange and black color scheme.  We've seen no stars, but have seen some much-filmed locations.  Last on the list is the Bradbury Building and Million Dollar Theater, which figured large in Blade Runner.  Anyhow, we've a few more hours to kill before getting seats and boarding the train this evening.
"A man who has never gone to school may steal from a freight car; but if he has a university education, he may steal the whole railroad."
~Theodore Roosevelt 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

penultimate Kiwi day

We're back in Chch after a nice day of travel down from Wellington yesterday.  Saw a couple movies and Prince Charles on Friday; Argo and Looper and he was just driving by with his motorcade (like when I saw his mum drive past in Oslo in "01).  Not much on the "agender" here today but eating some good food and enjoying the sunny (if windy) spring day.  There's lots of music down on the new Cashel Mall, as well as free Wifi.  Super Shuttle picks us up at an eye-wateringly early 3:50 tomorrow morning, so it will be an early bedtime this evening.  Trip chapter 2 to commence shortly, with the longest November 19 of my life crossing the date line headed east.
“Five hours' New York jet lag and Cayce Pollard wakes in Camden Town to the dire and ever-circling wolves of disrupted circadian rhythm."
~William Gibson, Pattern Recognition

Sunday, November 11, 2012

not working...and that's OK

So, a few days of liberty have really felt like a much longer respite from the status quo at NPX than they really should.  After some quality time with a maimed Chch and a day at the pools/spas (had a massage courtesy of a gift certificate), we flew to Rotorua yesterday and visited the Tolkien filming location of Hobbiton this morning.  They're still doing additions to the area as a result of the new Hobbit movies that wrapped filming there a year ago or so.  It's really pretty countryside, and the hobbit holes are pretty cute.  I stood at the front gate of BAG END!  Anyhow, pictures may or may not get forwarded depending upon the internet situation.  It's mostly been a pay as you go affair thus far, so some of the visuals may have to wait.

Bandwidth has been mostly spent trying to actually make reservations for the rest of the way home.  Thus far, we've lucked out with getting things when we want them.  But, Chch is pretty full this week for the Cup and Show horse race/drunken debauch (not sorry to miss most of that), and the last two nights before an early (6:30 AM) flight to Sydney en route to Los Angeles have yet to be acquired.  Once in LA, we'll be getting across town to Union Station and hopping on the Amtrak Southwest Chief train overnight to Williams, AZ.  From there it will be a quick trip to the Grand Canyon's south rim for the day-night-day, and then back to Williams and on another really early train (another SW Chief) the rest of the way home.  I've wanted to do the train from the coast for years, so this is striking while the iron is hot.  It was a big relief when USAP travel didn't mess around with us (fees, extra charges, etc.) and we got what we wanted.  Anyhow, it's a lot less exotic trip than 2 years ago, but there are things like school and job interviews (still pending word from Houston) that might be more necessary investments at this point. 

From Rotorua the road heads to Taupo for a day-night and then to Wellington for several days, where a catch-up with a cryogenics technician from a past year will hopefully come to pass.  It's then the ferry and bus back to Chch, and with luck there will be someplace to stay once there.
"This is no longer a vacation. It's a quest. It's a quest for fun."
~Clark Griswold, National Lampoon's Vacation

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

On the outside...there are living things

OK, so the world here in New Zealand is still livable and lovely.  We got in fairly late last night and spent the night at the hotel right by the Antarctic Center/CDC.  The last extraneous stuff has been shipped homeward and plane tickets for the big leap across the pond have been retrieved.  It's now for some internet booking for some of the remaining fun bits in NZ before heading back to the States on 11/19.  But, before all that excitement starts, it's a day to enjoy Chch and make a few more plans.

The general plan is for some fun on the south and north islands of NZ, which will be followed then by the flight across the pond, and then will be followed up with a little different means of getting from Los Angeles to home.  More as it develops.
"Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves. "
~Abraham Lincoln

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

"Pause" still depressed

We're just hanging out here in McMurdo still waiting for our C-17 to take off from Christchurch.  Tempting fate, plans have begun to be made for the trip home as of later last night, so we'll see whether that has any butterfly effect on provoking a response from NASA or a delay in this flight.  At least I haven't pulled the sheets from my bed yet.  Anyhow, it's pretty much stay calm and carry on until we get a transport time to the airfield.  Last night we did "bag drag" and checked the last of our gear, so we're traveling light with just carry-ons from now until we meet back up with the rest of our stuff in Chch.
"Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty."
~Thomas Jefferson

Monday, November 5, 2012

One step...complete

So, that plane did get to Pole and safely carried us north to McMurdo Station.  We rode to town on the new big red trailer vehicle thing they had to widen the road down to the sea ice to accommodate.  I have yet to freak out due to being around more people, and was more just annoyed in the galley last night with the lousy traffic flow in the food service area.  There have been a few familiar faces, but not loads.  I just had a shower and am getting ready to start getting down to brass tacks on figuring out how to get home, or at the very least where I'll stay Thursday night on.  The weather is nice here and it certainly feels warm.  A year where I was and you'd think it was too.
" steps get on the bus, baby steps down the aisle, baby steps... "
~Bob Wiley, What About Bob?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

SK11 mission P004

Yup, skier one-one mission papa zero-zero-four is headed this way after a 3-hour delay (mechanical) in McMurdo.  The weather is gorgeous here at Pole, so barring any further deterrents, it will make it here about 2pm.  This has been a busy morning with room cleaning and packing, laundering bedclothes, checking in on the projects at work, serving as an observer for the emergency response drill (SO glad to be at the end, not the beginning, of that experiential arc), assisting with moving more food into the station (food pull), and the last few miscellaneous errands before heading to the flight line.  Getting rid of my radio will be the last, but certainly will be a pleasant one after being on-call for over a year.

This all seems pretty routine.  It's funny how anticlimactic it is after such long labors.  The transitions are abrupt and come with little fanfare.  One morning you're at Pole and a couple hours you're back in the land of rock and soil and liquid water.  After a couple days of sleeping and trying not to get sick in McMurdo, you're thrust back into the green world in New Zealand and whole chapters of planetary options open up once you step out of your big noisy metal tube that carried you there.
"It isn't necessary to imagine the world ending in fire or ice. There are two other possibilities: one is paperwork, and the other is nostalgia."
~Frank Zappa

Saturday, November 3, 2012

another try tomorrow

With the flight canceled on Saturday, the last couple days have been busy here at Pole.  There has been some turnover for Team 2 and the ERT in general, but the drill was postponed until Monday morning.  Last I heard the LC-130 I (and a bunch of other folks) will leave on is planning on a 8:00 AM departure from McMurdo, which means it would likely arrive here-should weather and mechanical gods (Vulcan/Hephaestus?)-smile upon us.  Not leaving was OK with me; I'd rather be here on a weekend than McMurdo.  I also got to have a nice chat at brunch with an ex-NASA flight surgeon that is the next doctor here at Pole.
"Energy and persistence conquer all things."
~Benjamin Franklin

Friday, November 2, 2012

"Maybe" did not come to pass

Soooo, I guess the LC-130 that was supposed to come to Pole this morning had a mechanical problem, which extends the stay of 20-some winterovers (humble author included) until likely next week.  The wind is blowing pretty stiffly here this morning, which has our visibility down a fair bit.  There has not been any update about when we might depart, but I'm not sweating it.  I've filled my morning with the usual work, and have just been filling out new versions of cargo forms for some retrograde shipping of science media on DVDs and hard drives for a couple of my projects.  At some point I'll take my last bag of stuff and depart the station.  It will happen when it happens.  That's one upside to having zero travel plans: there's no sweating a deadline to get back to the World!
"Patience. Use the Force. Think." 
~Obi-Wan Kenobi

Thursday, November 1, 2012

(Maybe) penultimate day almost done

Today was one of those late-season turnover days that really take the stuffing out of a (summer-) winterover.  It seemed like I was running here and there all day long, with big additions to my schedule by other folks coming out of the blue.  Hopefully I'll be able to get my three boxes mailed without issue this evening and be rid of them until I get home.  I opted not to check any luggage, so skipped bag-dragging (and got called later by Cargo to verify I really didn't have any).  I just jammed the last of my stuff, minus some ECW bits and the despised Big Red parka in the one orange duffel bag I have left.  It actually all fit, which was a nice surprise.  I suppose what feels like a giant carry-on for me is par for a lot of other people.

And, no; no plans for travel home yet.

I don't feel too toasty, but I know I'm tired.  I'm sure it shows up some in my appearance and in conversation, but what's a guy on his 367th straight day of work to do?
"The only certain freedom's in departure."
~Robert Frost

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Still pluggin' away

Well, my voice is holding out after even more days of solid talking about how to do this job.  There has yet to be any emergency response turnover, which is a bit disconcerting, but I guess the priority is just to get winterovers turned over and out of here (and off the payroll).  Flights have been pretty sparse the last few days, but we’ve got a Herc scheduled to arrive at midnight tonight.  We’ll see… 

No plans yet, but I got a gift certificate for HanmerSprings last night at the winterover medal ceremony.  I also got my third lapel pin and the third winter silver bar device for the Antarctic Service Medal.  It was a pretty succinct affair, and roughly 25% of folks on the crew didn’t show up.  Three folks had already departed the station.
"You can't let praise or criticism get to you. It's a weakness to get caught up in either one."
~John Wooden

Monday, October 29, 2012

Puff pastry all day long

Yup, it's turnover time here at Pole.  We have not done a bit of emergency response turnover, but I have had a couple solid days of running through my science position with my new supervisor and the replacement technician.  I'm not scheduled to leave here on Nov. 3 (weather providing).  I have yet to package my boxes, since the post office has not been made available to process that for folks on my scheduled flight.  I still need to have my travel sorted out as well, but some of that is my fault as I haven't committed to a date to depart Chch yet.  All in all, it hasn't been that weird having new folks show up here.  I guess I knew what to expect.  Things feel a lot different with the station and program right now, and it will be interesting to see how the coming seasons go for folks still here/in the mix.

“We have no future because our present is too volatile. We have only risk management. The spinning of the given moment's scenarios. Pattern recognition.”
~William Gibson, Pattern Recognition

Friday, October 26, 2012

Beginning of the End (Take 3)

At last a skier (LC-130 aircraft) finally arrived at Pole with 29 passengers.  How would you feel if your community experienced an instantaneous 58% population increase?  None of the winter crew went out on this flight, and will have to wait until the next one…whenever that is (likely Tuesday). 

The conditions are supposed to deteriorate into a pretty nice storm for a few days, so who knows when exactly the weather gods will smile upon us again.  All we can do is ritually sacrifice a few FNGs and hope for the best.  Regardless, the pool of faces and voices will now be diluted from the pond of winter, and there will be plenty to do to get turnover completed and maybe actually start to figure out how much vacation-type travel will get done (if any) on the way home before I find myself in Christchurch.  This year certainly has been different than the others previous...
“Thick as autumnal leaves, or driving sand,
The moving squadrons blacken all the strand.”
~Homer, The Iliad 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Yup, it's the season to strain the equanimity of some of our more fragile denizens of South Pole.  All flights are now cancelled for today and that first Herc has already been cancelled for Pole tomorrow.  Flexibility and resilience of mind are certainly required to avoid losing "it" at the end of a (summer-) winter here.  I usually find it a pretty entertaining part of the season for just that reason.  Stay tuned!
"Too much sanity may be madness and the maddest of all, to see life as it is and not as it should be."
~Miguel de Cervantes

Maybe visitors tomorrow

Late-breaking word is the first Herc is to arrive tomorrow with (as I write this) 29 passengers.  I don't believe anybody is currently going to go out on that flight.  But, there is still time to win a ticket on the annual Plane of Shame!  Whether they actually arrive tomorrow will remain TBD, for me at least, until they're on the ground.

Cleaning house

That plane did arrive and take back off for McMurdo the other day (photo below).  In the time since then we have had a Twin Otter crew arrive, spend one night, and then take off for McMurdo.  We also have had a Basler here the last couple days that is waiting for weather to clear at the Davis Australian station before it heads there, with a planned departure early this afternoon.  If things go as planned, we will have another Basler/Twin Otter arrive here from Rothera today.  Weather is supposed to deteriorate at Pole for late today and the next several days, with higher winds/lower visibility, so it is uncertain whether station opening with the first LC-130 flight from McMurdo will happen on time.  No sweat on this end of things; it happens when it happens.
Cleaning has been eating up a lot of time the last several days.  Monday was the big station-wide MEGAMOUSE cleaning, though some cleaning had been going on the week previous.  I have been working on a lot of straightening up in the science lab, and finally spent some time cleaning my berthing room last night.  I currently do not have to change rooms to make space for an incoming summer person, which is different than years previous, but I wanted to have only touch-up cleaning to do since I will have to wait until the last minute with packing since I will need some of my stuff right up until the post office opens for winterover outgoing package mail.  I prefer to carry as little with me on the (however circuitous) long road home.  Some of the cleaning of public spaces always has to be done right before folks arrive, since those areas easily look dirty with minimal traffic.

I'm still hanging in there on the whole "what's next" on the travel and career (including astronaut candidate selection) fronts.  Patience is definitely a virtuous skill I've been forced to hone doing this sort of deployment, and I think it is probably a good skill to have with how uncertain life is in general so much of the time.  I'm not really beset by any uncontrollable cravings for food, as usual, but there are definitely some movies I'd like to see from the past year (dollar theater, here I come) and yet to open.  It will be interesting to see what seems remarkable or different in the world once I return yet again.  The

“Finally, there is this to be said for seasonal work of any kind.  Whenever the hours tend to drag, the customers become tiresome, you have that most wonderful event of all to look forward to and comfort yourself with: termination day.  End of the season.  Out of work again at last and free to starve or thrive, as you make it, in your own style."
~Edward Abbey, Cactus Country

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Up in the air

With short notice I got pulled into Comms here at Pole to support flight communications early this morning.  A Kiwi Herc and C-17 intended to go to McMurdo were both delayed due to weather.  But, there is currently a Basler on its way here from Rothera Station on the peninsula.  By the time I'd left we had yet to establish radio contact with the aircraft.  There was also supposed to be a Twin Otter arriving today here at Pole, but it has delayed departure for at least a day due to weather concerns.  Things a starting to look a lot like summer will be here shortly.  I'm definitely ready to get new people here, do turnover, and leave.  Greater adventures await elsewhere.

“Inveniam viam aut faciam” / “I shall find a way or make one.”

Sunday, October 14, 2012

TCOB...It's alright.

So, assignments are now out for the MEGA MOUSE house mouse cleaning done in and around the station.  Unfortunately, I don’t get to just clean my work centers like some, but am on a team tasked to clean the recycling room, laundry, and computer lab.  It probably won’t be too terribly bad, but it definitely will take some time to finish properly.  I’m pretty much squared away and ready to begin turnover, with a couple reports just being held back until I find out some final details about things.  In general, I seem to be in a good position with all the final extra issues to attend to on top of the usual 7-days-per-week tasking.

One thing I’m not spending much time on this year is travel planning.  There are all the usual uncertainties about when Pole will open and I will have completed turnover and actually be back in the World once again.  On top of that is the ongoing (awesome, no really!) waiting game regarding the astronaut candidate selection process.  I just found out that the selection dates from here on out have been slipped by a month.  That is, all the dates up to and including the now-June announcement of the people that get the few positions being hired for the new class of AsCans.  The start of work date for them (us) is still set for sometime in August 2013.

Wednesday we are scheduled to get a couple small aircraft in from Rothera Station on their way to McMurdo.  The weather forecast is looking unfavorable for that to happen, but we shall see what we shall see.  It is certainly the time of year for Polies to demonstrate whether they have learned their lessons in patience and resilience.
“I do not think there can be any life so demonstrative of character as that which we had on these expeditions.  One sees a remarkable re-assortment of values.  Under ordinary conditions it can be so easy to carry a point with a little bounce.  Self-assertion is a mask which covers many a weakness.  As a rule, we have neither the time nor the desire to look beneath it, and so it is that commonly we accept people on their own valuation.  Here the outward shows nothing.  It is the inward purpose that counts.  So, the gods dwindle and the humble supplant them.  Pretense is useless.”
~Robert Falcon Scott, Terra Nova Journals

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Swept Away

We’ve got a variety of janitor closets here in the elevated station.  They are where one usually finds most of the implements and cleaning products for house mouse cleaning duties or whatever mess needs to be addressed.

You have your “dry” closets where trash bags and such are kept, which are part of a pair of closets at the upwind end of the A1 and A4 berthing wings.  {Note: Those brooms shed more straw than the stuff they actually sweep up off the floor.}

Their counterparts are the “wet” closets right across the berthing vestibule from the previous closets.  These have a mop sink and sometimes even a mop bucket and mops.  Score!

The B1 berthing wing has the smallest and least ergonomic closets, which sport a mop sink and inward swinging doors (not so convenient, as you have to hold the door open with your posterior while filling/emptying mop buckets).

The B2 wing has two other closets, both with mop sinks.  The one on the first level is pretty basic.

However, the one on the second level is the Pole version of a Presidential Suite janitor closet with a mop sink, wash basin, and one of the highest toilets off the floor in the station.  This is also where we’re supposed to hose down people that might have gotten injured with nasty stuff on them, so we don’t take them to the clinic and contaminate our healthcare facility.  How’s that for station trivia?

"...Free my hands and I'll varnish this floor with your brains!"
~CONAN, The Scarlet Citadel by Robert E. Howard,

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Station’s Dirty Laundry

We do get to do one load of laundry per week here at Pole, though I personally get by easily doing it every second week.  This winter there were new high-efficiency washers that were installed.  We have the same old dryers, with only 4 of 6 units available in the laundry room that actually work.  That is the way it has been as long as I have been coming down here, so I’m not entirely sure what is faulty with the inoperable two, but I’ve heard it rumored they run too hot.

So, there is the view when you enter from the level one hallway here in the elevated station.

And, there is the view looking back toward the door.

And, for you really curious cats, here is the view behind the dryers for the sake of completeness.

Like I mentioned, we are allowed one load per week, but there are no controls on whether that rule is adhered to.  The same goes for two 2-minute showers per week, which I think is a stricture that is likely more routinely disregarded.  I prefer one shower of approximately 2 minutes in duration per week, and just use my other 2 minutes “credit” as a buffer if I need to run a slight bit long.
“The proximity of a desirable thing tempts one to overindulgence. On that path lies danger.”
~Frank Herbert

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Holding Pattern…Engage!

I extend my apologies for the lapse in posting.  There really has not been much of note to go on lately besides the usual rigmarole of work.  The push for station opening tasks has begun, but temperatures have still been a bit below the mark for machine operation a good deal of the time.  This still doesn’t keep us robust humans from working outside, so I have done a few extra chores outside including some snow removal from the station roof (look out below!) and tracking down some cargo for next summer out on the berms (long piles of stuff cryptically arrayed in long lines downwind of the station and variously buried under drifted snow).  McMurdo Station opened its summer season with some flights this week, so we (Pole) have had to provide some back-up communications support for that.

The sun is now bright in the grid west window of the gym during my morning workouts.  It sure is nice to be able to skip the harsh fluorescent lighting at long last.   Hopefully the pacific calm of the 4:45-5:45 AM time in there will survive station opening.
“I begin to think that we are too comfortable in the hut, and hope it will not make us slack...”
~Robert Falcon Scott, Terra Nova Journals

Monday, September 24, 2012

Photons flowing freely

NOTE: This was written to have gone up here on our local Sunday, but this site was acting bizarrely.  It's now clear again on Tuesday after an overcast Monday.

The sun allegedly rose yesterday here at Pole, but it was mostly shrouded by clouds all day.  That seems to be the standard meteorological condition for this time of year, so no surprise there.  It cleared up today, and it is indeed quite bright outside with that big ball of fusion now visibly above the horizon. The delay of a day was not really that big a deal, because what is another day or so when you have not seen the sun for six months already?

We had some nice winds for a couple days late this week that kicked around a fair amount of drifting ice crystals.  It is about time we got some wind, since this has been such a tempest-free winter.  Trust us here at Ethan’s Vivifying Adventures to report the truth and don’t let other sensationalist blogs or posts to social media sites fool you.  It was not that bad a storm.  You could still see ARO from the station and vice versa.  Actual bad weather is not being able to see the next flag 10-12 feet away and having to navigate to it with hearing while keeping the same heading with respect to wind direction like when sailing.

I got word from NASA that my physical exam done by the doctor here at Pole is acceptable, which was a nice bit of news to receive.  It still is not an invitation to interview in Houston, but it just is not yet time for those invites to be sent.  That my availability (or immediate lack thereof) is not really an issue with this particular job application is a welcome change of pace.  So many times that is a big deal breaker for folks trying to line up future employment from down here during the winter.  Still in the mix!
“It is the opening of day in the sky-fields.”
Ghan-buri-Ghan, Lord of the Rings

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

on the brink

So, here are some views outside right now.  It's getting windier, with forecasts of gusts topping 40 knots, so we may miss the actual sunrise when it happens.  But, that's nothing new for this time of year here at Pole.

Refraction in effect, making it look like a sliver has already risen:

Glad to see the radio tower we put up last summer is still standing:

Some before and after views of the drift from the ARO steps.  A profile photo would probably show the evolution more effectively:

The station and associated lawn ornaments, with some nice pastel colors opposite the sun on the horizon:

It looks like November 2 is the pretend redeployment date that will be what I'm working toward this year.  Whether weather and all that other jazz mentioned in the earlier post have something contradictory to say about that is probably fairly likely.  I'm still in waiting mode regarding the astronaut candidate selection, and from what I have read they typically only give a couple weeks notice anyway, so mid-October will probably be the earliest I'd hear anything.
“I think we're going to the moon because it's in the nature of the human being to face challenges. It's by the nature of his deep inner soul... we're required to do these things just as salmon swim upstream.”
~Neil Armstrong

Friday, September 14, 2012

Stormy, as ever

It always seems like around sunrise and station opening here at Pole that we get a bit more energetic inclement weather.  Though our temperatures are a bit warmer, the wind has increased and the visibility decreased the last couple days.  It always has to happen, probably due to uneven solar heating of the atmosphere over the continent emerging from the winter night, but also to keep the Tripod of Flight Delays on its feet and functioning for the early season.  What might the three legs of said Tripod be?  Here they are:
1)      Weather delays (due to weather here and/or McMurdo)
2)      Mechanical issues with the planes
3)      Crew rest cycle conflict
 It seems usually there will be a period during early summer when these three issues randomly and cyclically occur, which can have a deleterious effect on the unprepared/unseasoned winterovers’ peace of mind/sanity.  To me it feels like the end of winter, and delays will undoubtedly happen as a matter of course.  It’s a while yet until planes start winging their way Poleward, but it is certainly beginning to look a lot like that time of year here.

No other news regarding that very cool topic of several weeks ago.  I gather only ~2 weeks of notice are generally given, or have been given in the past, before scheduled to go interview.  So, I’ve got a month or so before some contact could legitimately be expected for the earliest interview group.

“For over a long period of time there’s little in life so disheartening as constant cold-not deep enough to kill, mayhap, but always there, stealing your energy and your will and your body-fat, an ounce at a time, I’m afraid we’re in for a very hard stretch.  You’ll see.”
~Roland Deschain, “The Dark Tower”

Thursday, September 6, 2012

More photon flux

The red end of the spectrum returns to the lives and eyes of 50 souls at Pole:

I finally was able to give the OK for station window covers to be removed today.  Honestly, some folks have been agitating for that since mid-winter.  Though that got pretty old pretty fast, I guess I didn't mind it as much as the folks that decided to ignore the light restrictions on a routine basis.

"I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody."
~Bill Cosby

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

That old sun keeps creeping closer to the horizon, but we still won't see it for another couple weeks.  Weather forecasts have us tagging the century mark again as soon as tomorrow.  I've had an extension to some instruments' observing season due to a geomagnetic storm that started several days ago, but otherwise most things are mostly business as usual.  There isn't any good word from NASA yet, but I'm confident I will have some lovely news to report in relatively short order.  I feel it in the Force!

“If you are of any account, stay at home and make your way by faithful diligence; but if you are “no account,” go away from home, and then you will have to work, whether you want to or not.  Thus you become a blessing to your friends by ceasing to be a nuisance to them-if the people you go among suffer by the operation.”
~Mark Twain, “Roughing It”

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Cameras in transition

So, all the aurora cameras are now off for the daylight months.  I think they had a generally good observing season, and there seemed to be way more auroras on a daily basis than when I was here last time (2010).  That shouldn’t come as a surprise given the run-up to another solar maximum.

With the sun and temperatures coming back up, so has the NOAA camera out at ARO.  Take a look at that and you’ll be able to see the landscaping changes that have happened over the course of the winter night.  You also might catch the odd person headed to/from work there, as well.
“History is Philosophy teaching by examples.”

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Not to forget the details

Here are my mittens I've been using all year.  The left one blew out the palm while doing field work back at the end of summer.  The tape does a decent job, but it does get pretty stiff and slick in the cold.

I've got others I could use, but for some reason I just like seeing how worn out gear can get with a full year's work put on it.  That reminds me that this past Monday was my 300th consecutive day of work.  Having weekends* is going to feel strange after all these contracts at Pole.  Somehow, I think I'll manage to adapt...

*That would be weekends once I'm-way down the road-done flying in space, braving polar climes, excavating lost civilizations, or whatever else I might get myself into on this crazy journey that is life.

Life as usual at 90°S

We’ve still got a big moon, as well as some (currently cloud-shrouded) twilight lighting things up outside.  The pressure altitude has been below the 11,000-foot equivalent, which has been nice the last several days.  I think I’ve had some very nice sleeps as a result.  Work continues apace, with all of my only-active-in-winter projects transitioning to calibration or dormant modes by the end of next week.  I continue to work on doing the usual documentation, as well as the annual updates or creation of new documentation to wrap up the year’s efforts in science support and firefighting.

For fun, I continue to exercise in the early morning 6 days per week.  Mondays and Thursdays I lift weights.  Tuesdays and Fridays I do circuit workout.  Wednesdays and Saturdays I do some cardio.  I have begun my annual spin through Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings”, which is always very enjoyable.  I find I really spend a lot of mental time imagining the landscapes he describes so well, which isn’t a surprise given how limited the terrain palette of my last year has been (again).  “From the Earth to the Moon” has been on the viewing docket for evenings the last few days, which definitely has been interesting given the events of recent weeks.

Speaking of which, my medical exam report has been sent north for forwarding to Houston, so we’ll see what the United States Postal Service and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration get back to me with in the coming weeks or months.  I still feel confident about that whole situation, and look forward to whatever may come.  It certainly has been an interesting experience thus far.
“Man, I've been doing this for... listen, man. I've been in this game a long time. I'm not in it for a record, I'll tell you that. I'm not in it for a ring. That's when people get hurt. If we don't win the last game of the Series, they'll dismiss us.”
~Billy Beane, “Moneyball”

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Still here, still cranking away

Yeah, so it has been a busy couple of weeks.  The big push to the end has certainly arrived, with all the usual extra tasking in addition to what I’ve been doing all along (with some extra-extra stuff along with that, thanks to it being the contract turnover year-yea!).  With clear skies, the twilight ratchets a bit brighter each day.  There is now some very definite red starting to band in with the more blue/white tones on the horizon, but it still has a long way to go before the molten explosion of near-sunrise.  Most folks on station had the usual monthly distraction from the usual grind with our emergency response drill yesterday.  I think my fire brigade did quite well today, even with a trainee team leader at the helm.

There is not really any update to be made about the astronaut candidate situation, which (naturally) looms large in my mind these days.  We’re still doing “i” and “t” dotting to make sure my situation here at Pole is explained as clearly as possible.  I’m probably a little nervous about it, but not very much.  I think being sequestered here will not end up being a detraction or impediment in the least bit; in fact quite the opposite.  Confidence is the word these days!  Only time will tell, as it does in so many aspects of life.

McMurdo Station finally received its first of 6 scheduled flights for winfly (winter fly in) last night after days of delays due to some atrocious weather conditions.  I happened to be working our back-up comms here during the first attempt that had to boomerang back to Christchurch after making it essentially all the way to McMurdo.  This is totally normal for this time of year, and anybody that gets their little heart set on a concrete date for going from point A to point B will normally end up disappointed.  Even German and Swiss railways couldn’t maintain their timetables here in the often uncooperative vastness of Antarctica.

Here are a lot of details on the rack of electronics for a bunch of projects I support in the elevated station’s science lab.  I figure I can catch up on the deficit as a result of my reduced (blog) posting rate as of late with this one.

“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.”
~Dwight D. Eisenhower

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tunnel end lights coming up brilliantly

You have my apologies for not posting in so long a time.  Since I last wrote, the glow from the sun has been waxing, and there is definitely a discernible amount of illumination it provides whilst working outside. 

I also got an interesting, if murky (no tripod and holding breath while standing in the wind wearing bulky clothes), shot of some auroras over ARO.

There has been plenty of work to do, and I have had some extracurricular distractions (more on that below).  We still have no details about our redeployment flights, but it seems to be becoming pretty clear we probably will not be dealt with by the travel department until probably sometime in October, or until the main body folks for summer are all booked.  So, that definitely puts a damper on making plans for any sort of vacation/travel after finishing here.

Now I will address that previously-mentioned extracurricular distraction.  A week ago on Tuesday I got word from home that NASA had requested I get a physical exam done as a prerequisite for consideration to be selected for an interview.  It is specifically stated that doing the physical is not a guarantee for inclusion in the interview process, but I feel pretty confident about my chances of selection.  As I understand it, this interview is quite the week of interviews and medical/psychological tests and a general massive influx of information whilst meeting lots of people at Johnson Space Center that work there or (like me) hope to work there.  So, today I got my physical done by our doctor here at South Pole, and we will be forwarding the report/paperwork on ASAP.  Come what may, I will already have made it deeper into the process than my previous application, and having this to look forward to certainly has changed the timbre of my thoughts for the pending termination of employment once this contract is finished.  I will naturally keep you up to speed on what WILL be one of those (like the title of my blog) vivifying adventures I’ve been working on for…oh…23 years or so, now.
"To know a thing well, know its limits. Only when pushed beyond its tolerances will true nature be seen."
~The Amtal Rule, "Chapter House: Dune" by Frank Herbert

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Spectrum of Opinion

Last Saturday evening we had another session of bingo.  The theme this time was superheroes, and I threw together a basic costume for Cyclops from the X-Men, though I doubt Cyclops has ever been depicted with a bad mustache and skin quite so pasty as mine currently is (I’m hitting the transparent epidermal threshold after being without sunshine for so long now).
 The moon is up now, and folks are talking of being able to see some faint sign of sunlight once it’s down again.  The cart (end of season/redeployment) has been put before the horse (the remainder of winter) so long ago that I think a lot of our newbies are going to have a bit of a tough time swallowing how long we really have to go.  Of course, with no real details or movement on our redeployment travel yet received, it’s not like we can really consider ourselves to be going anywhere yet at all, even once the station opens in Oct./Nov.  Of course, to some the winter will have seemed to flown by and they don’t want it to end, while for others it has probably dragged and seemed like an eternity.  Points of view are probably going to vary wildly for this season’s success, but that is probably the case with each and every one.
“Man is the measure.”
~”The Machine Stops”, E.M. Forster