Moai on Easter Island

Moai on Easter Island

Friday, January 11, 2013

Still at the South Pole

The South Pole Station came alive around 9:30 tonight.  Snow machines were buzzing around and large forklifts were moving pallets of outbound cargo closer to the snowy runway.   Inside the station about a dozen people in big red jackets were glued to the windows waiting for the plane to come out of the clouds.  This was their flight home.  Some were sad to leave for the season and others could not wait to get the hell out of this middle of nowhere dot on the map.  The LC-130 that was supposed to arrive two days ago was delayed until 8pm today and then delayed again until 10pm. 

LC-130 (Ski-equipped Hercules) on the runway at the South Pole
Flights are scheduled to come into Pole almost every day or at least every other day.  But this flight was carrying a few special items that we have been anticipating…one we’ve been waiting on for weeks.   Flights are also supposed to go between McMurdo and Christchurch every day.  But mechanical issues and more recently a melting runway have thwarted many of these flights throughout the continent this year.  The Pegasus “Ice Runway” in McMurdo is a slushy mess on the Ross Ice Shelf.  With temps in McMurdo as high as 40*F the runway is hardly usable.  Many flights have been canceled and the flights that do run are reduced to a minuscule payload.  The normal one-hour drive to the runway has turned into a three-hour adventure where vans are put on “magic carpets” (giant plastic mats) and then pulled by large tracked vehicles across the slushy lake that used to be an ice road. 

The research group that I am out here working with is going to replace a radio telescope high on the Antarctica Plateau.  For weeks this telescope has been sitting in Christchurch waiting to get on a plane.  Luckily in the last few days it has made it onto the continent and just arrived at the South Pole two hours ago.   We’ve been delayed for almost two weeks and now things can finally get moving forward.  We may be able to put in our field camp at a location called Ridge A at 13,300 feet in one of the most remote places on earth in just a few days.  What a big relief for this whole group.  Most the crew is asleep and will wake up to a nice surprise in the morning.

Taking off over the rows of cargo and supplies at the South pole
Another thing that arrived on this flight was a bit of mail for me.  I just opened some delayed Christmas gifts from my family at the South Pole!  As you can imagine there isn’t much to do here, so this was a great surprise and made my week. 

The last long awaited thing coming in on this flight was a psychologist….Why the hell am I so excited for a psychologist to be here?

To winter-over in Antarctica I had to do some more blood tests and a chest X-ray and go through a psychological exam.  I took the written portion of this exam a few weeks ago when I was still in McMurdo.  It was roughly 500 questions asking if I hear voices in my head and whether or not I avoid the cracks in the sidewalk.  The last portion is a 1 on 1 interview with the psychologist.  It is a good thing the telescope has been delayed for so long otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to be here for this interview and therefore wouldn’t have been able to spend the winter at McMurdo.  Sometime tomorrow I’ll do this final interview.

Wish me luck!

Yep, still here...

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