Saturday, January 28, 2012

Late-Summer Field Work (sans HAL)

One of the aspects of the science support work down at Pole seems to be an increasingly lopsided distribution of site visits by various groups that make use of the technicians for on-site support. The trend seems to rapidly have become having most/nearly all of the projects down within roughly a 2-week window in late January. In about 2 days that window will close for me after a couple of somewhat challenging weeks supporting what was ultimately 4 different groups, with 3 of them overlapping for a day or so at one point.

One project had a lot of field work in the antenna field beyond ARO. It included the removal of two antennas put up the last summer I was here (2009-2010), and their replacement with the construction of a single radio mast nearly 40 feet tall.

Another antenna, actually located in the edge of the Clean Air Sector, required replacement of its preamplifier (buried in a plywood box at the base of the supporting structure) and the actual antenna wire itself.

All in all, things went pretty well with the site visits. That being said, we did find one camera dome shattered on the roof of the station (cause: TBD) for a different project, and another project had an instrument fail roughly 8 hours after the 3-person team that came to do the annual maintenance on it departed for McMurdo. Like I said, it was not too bad a summer site visit season, but it had its challenges. Repairs for the project that failed at ~8 hours reminded me of the AE-35 unit replacement in “2001: A Space Odyssey”, minus the murderous artificial intelligence, since I had to perform a swap of the AD-975 unit for the SQO SAU. Despite the harsh conditions of Antarctica, acronyms blossom in abundance.

Kinks with hiring and the new contractor continue to be ironed out, but the flow of information is pretty slow. I suppose any organization selected would have its fair share of challenges trying to take over operations down here. It will be interesting to see what contracts for the last 7.5 months of winter end up looking like after numerous assurances of a seamless turnover from the incumbent to the new contractor and subcontractors. How new contracts start developing for the 2012-13 summer will also be watched closely by many program participants, as may well be imagined.

The 27 January deadline for NASA astronaut applications has also now passed. At least I will have plenty to keep me busy while playing the waiting game to hear whether I make it to another step in that process. Ad astra per aspera.
“Although our intellect always longs for clarity and certainty, our nature often finds uncertainty fascinating.”
~Karl Von Clausewitz

Monday, January 23, 2012

Catching up with Scott

So, the ceremony at the geographical marker for the Scott centennial was nice and pretty low-key. Managers of various groups talked some about the significance of the expedition, as well as the spirit of exploration that lives on today (albeit in a much different form).

Later in the evening the station crew was welcome to visit the tourist camp, which was roughly half a mile upwind of the Elevated Station. They had tents for individuals, as well as the main building that was their commons area and galley. It was a nice change of scene, and gave a little different perspective on the little corner of the world we call home. Interestingly, the time zone used by these NGO folks is that of Chile, since that is how they access Antarctica. The USAP uses the New Zealand time zone for similar reasons, so what was late evening for us was the crack of dawn for the tourists. That did not seem to deter most of them from their revelry. It was a really nice evening to be outside, with clear skies and plenty of sunshine (of course).

Yesterday the first group of turnover management from the new companies, headed by Lockheed-Martin, arrived at Pole to start getting ready for taking over the reins of the program. I have not been specifically contacted in person about this winter, but did start filling out some application materials I received via email last week. This is all going to be pretty interesting, methinks.

“But if we have been willing to give our lives to this enterprise, which is for the honour of our country, I appeal to our countrymen to see that those who depend on us are properly cared for.”
~Robert Falcon Scott

Saturday, January 21, 2012


"No time for love, Dr. Jones!"
~Short Round, Temple of Doom

With a couple science groups here at Pole that I have to support, including a whole lot of work in the antenna field, I have not had a chance to do much besides work this past week. Eventually I will get some words and photos on from the Scott centennial, but things like rebuilding an antenna need to happen first.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Scott’s Arrival Centennial

Today, Jan. 17, is the centennial of Scott’s expedition arriving at the South Pole. Of course, it was to the sickening sight of the Norwegian flag deposited by Amundsen’s group over one month earlier.

This evening there will be a ceremony commemorating the event, and earlier in the afternoon there is to be a “science mixer”, where we can go talk to visitors about the research we do/support down here.

Last night a gentleman, Lt Col Henry Worsley of the Royal British Legion, who skied here along the route Amundsen followed, gave an interesting talk comparing the two expeditions and the two routes. Since he also did the route Scott (and earlier Shackleton) followed in 2008, it was very interesting to hear his thoughts on the contrasts of the paths taken. It really made me want to actually get to go see some other place-of which there are so many-on this remarkable continent. But, that is most definitely NOT in the cards for the remainder of this year.

Speaking of leaving, winter crew members have started taking their R&R trips to New Zealand. As this is the time of year my science groups start to arrive for their yearly visits (one got here yesterday and two groups arrive today), it would be pretty disadvantageous for everybody if I were to leave the station. There is also the whole deal how I do not get any days off here, unlike most people, but would still not get paid whilst on leave, which I really find to be inappropriate. Regardless, some folks probably can use the break more than others, and it is probably a good thing to let folks that have never done a winter, let alone a full year, have a chance to freshen themselves up before the long haul of winter begins.

Despite the fact there will be over 70 visitors here for the anniversary, I like how this one is a lot more low-key than the Amundsen one. All the business of the fancy parties, live TV broadcasts, and large contingents of people in the station seemed to distract from actually considering the event that was being commemorated. Sometimes less is considerably more.

“Every day some new fact comes to light - some new obstacle which threatens the gravest obstruction. I suppose this is the reason which makes the game so well worth playing.”
~Robert Falcon Scott

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

On the Fritz

Things seem to break in waves down here. The last several days we have had an LC-130 aircraft being repaired, which had serious problems upon landing (not sure exactly what happened). In addition to that, I have spent a good amount of time over the last couple days troubleshooting some issues with one of the interferometers I operate at the Atmospheric Research Observatory. The elevated in the Beer Can (“vertical tower” for those using official nomenclature, no matter how redundant) broke down yesterday, and there is no estimate as to when it might be operational again. I think I heard the drilling for the new Rodwell is making little progress, as well. Anyhow, it all is a good reminder of how challenging this environment can be on people and machinery. With all the social distractions a bustling summer season provides, I often think that fact gets forgotten. Winter is a different ballgame.

Like I wrote before, that switch has been flipped, and lots of folks are talking redeployment and travel post-Ice. I look forward to finding out what sort of travel options Lockheed will offer, as a chance to go see some really different parts of the world before heading home is a nice carrot at the end of the long stick of winter. Taking a little longer to get home also lets you get a bit more color to your skin, and allows one to recover some of the wits that have been dulled by the fatigue of 9-13 months on the Ice. I’ll probably start thinking about travel around mid-winter, if it turns out it will still be possible to do so like in the past.

I am getting toward the end of reading “A Game of Thrones”, which is the first volume in the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series by George R. R. Martin. It has been a good read thus far, and it is remarkable how much of the book the series on HBO managed to incorporate. With four more long books to read over the coming year, I look forward to whatever lays in store. Of course, as the words of House Stark go: Winter is coming. That saying has a certain resonance down here.

“Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape?. . .If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!”
~J.R.R. Tolkien

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Portal is Passed

Reaching the New Year always seems to bring a definitive change in the vibe of South Pole Station. Once January hits, you start hearing about travel plans, how super-tired people are, and the term “redeployment meeting” begins to increasingly proliferate in the day-to-day conversation of the station. Looking at the roughly 4-month-long summer season from the perspective of someone staying for the whole summer and winter, it really is just a speed bump on the way to the long haul of winter. At least the brief, but intense, span of the summer provides ample fodder for contrast to the mellower and more sustained vibes of winter. Summer is all about seeing lots of people you do not know and have no idea what they have come to the bottom of the planet to actually do. During winter you become intimately familiar with even the most subtle character traits of a lot of the crew. All that being said; the summer rages on unabated at Pole.

Yesterday we were supposed to have had the usual practice airdrop of supplies from the Air Force, but it got pushed back to today (Saturday) and then put off until Monday. To thank the food service crew for their extra work over Christmas, today is another Managers Cook Day. Though I’m not a manager, I have been volunteered (as always) to assist with lunch. Whilst working in the kitchen I’ll be sporting a pink pocket t-shirt that reaches back to my first real job back in high school at the Kingfisher’s Inn, which does not even exist anymore.

We have started to get a few details concerning the turnover to Lockheed and its bevy of subcontractors. It looks like in a little over 2 weeks there will be some transition team people down here to start the process of taking over the managerial reins (or at least figuring out how to do so), as well as getting their winter crew squared away. That’s the part I’m most immediately interested in, of course.

People still are commenting about the New Year’s music, which is nice. I gather the recording that was done off the mixing board turned out well, but the excellent gent who is generous enough to spend his personal time doing the mixing and editing is still working on it. It’s always fun to hear how you sounded as a group, since even hearing oneself on stage can sometimes be difficult if the monitors are not properly configured. If anything is posted online, I’ll pass along links when they’re available.

William Gibson just published a new book of essays titled “Distrust That Particular Flavor”, which I would not mind getting my grubby little paws on.
“Seasons change and so did I
You need not wonder why
You need not wonder why”

~The Guess Who, “No Time”