South Pole Diary 2000    

   

5th January

From Jessica.....

Hello everyone!

We checked-in for the flight to the Pole at 6:30am, and I must have looked so bleary-eyed that one guy wandered straight up to me and offered me some Sudafed. God bless his cotton socks! It certainly made the day more bearable. The woman who was to drive us to the Herc apologised and said that the flight wasn't actually leaving till 8:30 so we could cool our heels for a while. We finally got out there at around 7:30 - very bumpy ride out to Williams field - and we watched the plane do all sorts of interesting things, the propellers went on, then off, then some guys ran around the wings with brooms, yes BROOMS, you know the straw ones, and then jumped up and down on the wings for a little while. At the end of about three quarters of an hour watching this, I wasn't too sure if I wanted these strange men flying anything I was on! Finally we were told that there was ice on the wings and they were getting it off. Oh. Well that's all right then. 

We hopped on at about 8. The plane made all the right noises, things started getting bumpy, and I lay back and dozed as we taxied. After a little while, a thought intruded into my sleep. Gee, we've been taxying for an awfully long time. A little more awake, I decided that the pilot had decided flying was too hard, and was going to ski us all the way to the Pole. Must have been the sudafed. Then I turned and looked out the windows - we weren't going anywhere! Next thing several airforce guys hop out the door with shovels, then hop back in, and we try the whole thing again. Turns out, the skis were bogged in snow, and the guys with shovels were trying to dig us out. They tried this three times before finally telling us we were all too heavy, and would have to get out while they tried it again.

The short story is that we didn't get off the ground until 12:30pm, but the flight was OK once we finally got into the sky. I admit I was pretty nervous about landing at the Pole. I wasn't feeling the best, and didn't really want to keel over in the door of the Herc if it turned out that I couldn't breathe! As it was, I was worrying over nothing. We landed on the stillest, clearest day, and if I did stop in the doorway it was to take in the view. I've never seen anything like it in my life. The glowing white expanse seemed to go on forever. The air was icy, but bearable, on my skin ( a warm -32.5C), and I could feel the dryness straight away, but I didn't find the air too thin really. I was perhaps a little light headed for the first hour, but that may have been due to lugging 30kg of bags and one 30kg SODAR around to my sleeping quarters!

As we drove in to the Dome we went past the ceremonial South Pole - I had seen it in so many photos and now it was only metres away. It is just amazing to be here. There is also an incredible ice sculpture near the Pole, it's huge! I can't really describe it - an Aztec or indonesian style face. I'll take lots of photos of it! After a briefing I dragged all my stuff to my sleeping quarters, a Hypertat called Betty (there are four: Betty, Barney, Fred and Wilma).

Hypertats are these semi-cylindrical fibreglass tents - with a little more room than the Jamesways, and incredibly warm! Unfortunately, the bathroom is about ten metres from the building, so you *really* have to decide if you want to get out of bed and go to the bathroom or not! There is so much construction going on here! Half the time I don't know if I'm walking in restricted areas or not. I am being careful, and no one has yelled at me yet, so I guess I'm doing alright so far. I am not feeling any effects of the altitude, really. I am slightly more out of breath after walking somewhere , especially uphill, and I feel a bit "thicker" than normal, ( I am really having to fink about how to spell fings and the ketters on the leyboard geep metting upmixed), but no dizziness or nausea.

The SODAR seems to have arrived with me intact. It might have got a little cold waiting outside the Hypertat for me, but it is all rugged up in my room now, so hopefully that will turn out OK. Apparently Andre is due in in about an hour, so I can probably start being useful when he gets settled in. I have not run into Rodney as yet, I keep looking for beards and dreadlocks, but they seem to be pretty popular here, so it hasn't really narrowed it down.

I am still a little sick, but the doctor here, "Robo", is a really cool guy and he gave me some sudafedy-kinda things, so hopefully it'll clear up soon. I am keeping in the habit of having at least one glass of water every hour or so, sometimes more, and my skin feels like paper it is so dry. When I unpacked, all of my things were pretty frosty, and I didn't even think when I put some moisturiser on my face - Oil of Ulan at 2 degrees celsius an invigorating experience! But even this paled into insignificance in comparison to horror and the anguish of the absent-minded application of near frozen roll-on deodorant. Oh, the horror...

I am really still just sussing the place out, which is probably obvious to everyone here. The most common phrase directed at me, sympathetically seems to be "new here, huh?" But everyone is very friendly, and helpful, which is good. I'll chat more tomorrow, hopefully with the added excitement of an Eskimo wrapped Andre!

smiles,

Jess :)

6th January:

From Jessica:

Hello all,

firstly, thanks to everyone who has sent mail - please keep it up, it's great to read! I've discovered this really neat trick. If I walk outside for a little while and then pinch my nose, my nostrils stick together, and make me look kind of like a synchronised swimmer, only without the nose-plug. It's pretty gross. I'm sure your lives are all enriched after that little tidbit of information.

Andre turned up around lunch time yesterday, which was great, and we trudged out to see the AASTO yesterday evening. Bob Spotz has done an amazing job cleaning the place up, but the place is still needing a bit of work, not to mention carpet. The good news is that I have retrieved the semi-mythical Remtech SODAR manual!!! Unfortunately, it has been somewhat converted to a mixture of paper-fluoride/ paper-chloride, but I plan to make several copies of the thing, a couple of which will return with me to Oz.

We achieved a critical mass of Australians around the dinner table last night with two of the AMANDA guys, Darren somethingorother (the AMANDA winteroverer) a Queenslander, and Gary thingamagig, from ADELAIDE!!! AND he's a Crows fan!!!! He even had the 1997 premiership t-shirt on. We played a game of pool after that with Adelaide rules (the yanks have some strange rules), which I lost quite dismally. As a physicist, I have no excuse for being as bad at pool as I am.

We are running around this morning trying to get paint, carpet and a number of other things. Brett says our conduit should be here, but we have yet to locate it. I am looking forward to getting out to the AASTO, and having a look at the new shafts drilled for the AMANDA project. They are deploying the detectors into them today - the shafts are two kilometres deep! That would be something to see. They are the deepest ice shafts in the world apparently.

I accidentally sat with the cargo guys at lunch yesterday. That is, I sat down, and then they came and sat with me. My nickname is now "Australia". Oh, the thought processes that went into that one. I suggested that Jess was probably easier, as it only had one syllable, but this didn't get through. They are really going to be stuffed when Jill gets here. They're friendly though, and have been good with the cargo, so I won't pull out the electric cattle prod just yet.

Andre is having problems with his laptop at the moment, and is pestering a poor computer girl to death next to me. So he has told me to pass on any other news. Andre is thinking that the AASTO has sunk to concerning levels, and we might want to think about having it hoisted up a foot or two, as well as excavating a little snow from the front side of it. The webcam looks to have gone offline when Bob Spotz put the heaters in, and Andre will bring it back on line today, if he can. Today, we will list things to do, as well as an inventory of AASTO parts and components. We might even start to splash some paint around. The AASTO floor is a little dangerous, with only sticky underlay down. If you stand in one place for too long and then go to move, you list forward without your feet moving, like in one of those black-and-white comedy movies. When you do peel the soles of your boots off, the floor makes this "ssschlruurp" sound, like mushy velcro.

I'm going to go and chop off my nose because it's driving me bonkers.

Smiles,

Jess ( aka. Australia) :)

7th January: The Big Chill

From Jessica:

hi peoples,

I got cold for the first time yesterday. I know it sounds funny, me standing here at -32C, but it's actually not very easy to do unless you're a real bonehead... oh. You get piled with tonnes of cold weather gear and no matter what they say you think, "there's no way I can get all of that on without removing one of my limbs.....". Up until now, I have been wearing most of it, and , ok, you walk outside and might be prompted to comment on the fresh brisk weather we're having, but nothing life threatening.

However, I don't know what was different today, but walking out to the AASTO with Andre, the chill started in my legs and fingers. It was *icy*. By the time we got there, my neck gaiter was frozen to my nose, and I couldn't feel my chin. It took about half an hour in the AASTO warmth to feel even a little warm. It shocked me a little. It is deceptively beautiful here. As you stare out to the horizon, the far ice looks like a glistening inland sea, and I noticed for the first time today, as you look into the sun, the tiny snow particles, diamond dust, shimmers in the air wherever you look. In the long night, I am told the aurora are so bright you can read a book by them. And yet you can be dumb for just five minutes, and in serious trouble.

But on a much more sensible note, I participated in some very important science this afternoon. After a few necessary drinks required to perfect our scientific method, we assisted in a film being shot from a weather balloon held fifty feet in the air. Very important science. While the camera stared down, thirty of us lay on the snow and formed the letters 90S ( as in, 90 degrees south - someone was even the degree symbol) and then 2000. Everyone then piled into the small hut, and watched it on replay. It looked pretty good. However, I was much warmer, as I had gone back to my room in the meantime and put another layer of clothing on. Very toasty now.

After scrounging up some bits and pieces for the AASTO, Andre and I plan to start assembling the SODAR again. After arduously copying the manual ( the process took about an hour and a half), Andre informs me that it has been rediscovered in Sydney, so there is no need. Ah. Anyway, we'll attempt to have it hooting either today or tomorrow, all going well. (for those who don't know the SODAR is an acoustic radar, which pipes out cute, if rather repetitive tunes up into the sky and works out the atmospheric conditions from the echoes it gets back).

Andre also plans to retrieve SPIREX bits and pieces which seem to have been abandoned to the elements. Ok, that's probably all for todayl. Oh, wait, I've learned something else new . A girl I had met at dinner one night bumped into me outside, and without even looking at my nametag said, "it's Jess, isn't it?" I was amazed, and asked her how she knew. She replied that she recognised the bottom half of my face (which was all that was visible.) I now find myself memorising people's chins when I meet them. Very weird culture that this place inspires. I can just see the new set of compliments that this engenders. "I love the way the ice in your beard glimmers in the moonlight...." or "Your lips turn the most beautiful shade of blue in this weather...."

Enough silliness. Back to work. Chat soon,

Smiles,

Jess :)

8th January: Hooters, big cars and rock concerts

From Jessica:

Hi y'all!!

We had a *huge* day yesterday. It started off with a lot of running around with sleds, scrounging for bits and pieces required for the AASTO. I think I'm mostly acclimatized. I was out of breath lot yesterday, but that could have been due to the sixty kilos of instruments that I hauled over a km out to the AASTO and then a second trip I did with some boxes and other bits. New motto: "look as pitiful as you can, and some big handsome macho man will come and help you". The feminists are screaming I'm sure, but they weren't at the South Pole trying to haul this stuff. 

I had just collected some empty boxes for the AASTO, and had got a bit carried away ( there were about seven), and no possible arrangement was going to allow me to carry them all. Solution: I threw one on the ground and kicked it in front of me as I walked. It might sound crazy but was actually reasonably efficient and fun - I got the giggles half way when I noticed the box I was kicking, in fact the very words on it that I was kicking said " Delicate instrument - do not drop!"

I had not gone five metres before this *huge* truck pulls up in front of me. Two guys hop out, said something along the lines of "let me help you with that, little lady", and piled me in the van, along with all my boxes. I was very embarrassed to tell them that they only had to drive me about thirty metres.

Success yesterday. The SODAR is tooting its little hooters off! As Andre and I were jumping about outside, listening to its first hoots in a year, the Russian buggy crew drove past us heading for the Pole. Russian buggy crew? They are this troop of four buggys that the Russians have crammed with paying tourists from all around the world, and have driven them across the continent to the Pole Actually there were originally eight, but alarmingly four broke down half way, and are still sitting ( including passengers) somewhere out on the ice! These buggys are incredible. The are designed to be super lightweight, and have these huge wheels that are just like overgrown inner tubes that you usually float on. When they turn corners the wheels list out almost a forty five degrees as if they're going to fall off! To show how light they are, they had five station people lie down, and the buggy drove over them. The lead Russian guy looks incredible. He has this huge hat made of Siberian dog (poor dog). The things we do.

I was super tired after all the sled hauling, but popped over to the summer camp lounge on invitation to listen to a jen-YU-ine bluegrass band wrangle out a few toons. One banjo, a geetar and a fiddle, and the next thing there was some reall toe-tappin', knee-slappin' fun a happnin' right here at pole! They were very good, and they were more than willing to introduce an ignorant ausee ( I hate the way they say it!) to "god's own music".

Cheers to all. Hope it's sunny, and toasty!

smiles,

Jess :)

9th January: Ice cream trucks, hot sauce and Mel Gibson

From Jessica:

G'day, hope everyone had a lovely weekend in sunny Oz weather.

The SODAR seems to be pretty happy, and as I type Andre is about to talk to Mike Ashley about the Supervisor computer, so hopefully we can get network connections happy and cheery today. As Andre said, the SODAR is returning mostly "9999"'s, which does not surprise me as the weather in the last couple of days has been amazingly still and calm. There is not even any diamond dust in the air. It would be nice for perhaps one or two blustery days just to see some real numbers though. Interesting responses from station people about the noise. Some of the CARA guys said that it sounded "way too happy" to be a genuine scientific instrument. I told him that if I could get it to play the funeral dirge, I'd try. Another girl says it makes her hungry because it reminds her of an ice-cream truck. I had no reply to this.

Yesterday, Andre and I grabbed a radio and a torch and hiked out to the end of the runway to see a buried Hercules plane which crashed there a number of years ago. It is now buried in a couple of metres of snow, but people have created quite a chamber of tunnels down into it, which is incredible to look at. Andre said it was only a couple of kilometres. No problem. Interest got me the first third of the way. Bravado the second. I have no idea what propelled me for the final part of the way, but I remember thinking this plane better have first class in flight meals to be worth this walk. Admittedly it was pretty cool to look at. We didn't go down into the main chamber as the entrance ( about three metres directly down, looked quite risky with only two of us there), but it was interesting nevertheless. We struggled back to the AASTO, and sat down, gasping.  Turns out we had been on the road for over three hours! Andre had six minutes to get back to the dome for a haircut by the visiting McMurdo hairdresser. The walk kind of stuffed us, and  only sat in the summer camp lounge for about an hour before crashing. 

I did have enough time to have a chat to a few of the construction crew about stuff. The fist, and most astute question I was asked: "So, like, is Mel Gibson the the most popular guy in, like, Australia?" I told him Mel was a bit past it, but Barry Manilow was still very popular. Nearly everyone from the US here associates Australia with the TV series "The Crocodile Hunter" which is a huge hit over there.

There are fifteen different brands of hot sauce in the galley. These guys are mad over it. In fact sauce in general has a complement of about fifty bottles in various states of use. Most of them have names like "Old Yeller's Genuine Homestyle Spit-flavoured Strawberry, Peanut Butter and Chilli Sauce (created from freshly made preservatives)"

smiles,

Jess :)

10th January: Trench warfare

From Jessica:

Hi everybody, for the first time since I've been here there was a 9 knot wind up. It has been incredibly still up until now. Ohhhh, it makes a difference! Though it was only -31C, the dodgy and subjective wind chill factor put it at about -47C. It didn't feel quite that bad but my eyebrows and ponytail frosted over, and you definitely don't want to stand still.

I lay in bed the last night and could hear the SODAR from my bed! I should have known something was wrong when I couldn't hear it in the morning. My first thought when I realised it wasn't going was that some irate scientist had taken to the poor thing with an icepick and blowtorch, but Andre was already neck deep in electronics when I got out there, and I realised it was far more dire. Over the next few hours I was privileged to witness the best piece of electronic detective work I've ever seen. Andre would NOT be stopped! Quite frankly I was doing too much of an impression of the abominable snowperson (I *hate* political correctness!!!), to focus on exactly what magic he was concocting, but in short what started out as one of the deepest electronic mysteries of the universe ended up as a brilliant solution and the SODAR hooting again before dinner.

Why the abominable snowperson? Well, one of the jobs we have to do is dig out the one remaining buried cable trailing from the tower where we will put our new telescope and mount, back to the AASTO, and dig a new trench for some pipes which will hold all the new cables. Piece of cake says me. The snow is called sugar snow, because it clumps just like ....well, you know, sugar. Ahem, (oh her wondrous descriptive powers), anyway, it isn't hard stuff to dig. The fact that about three seconds standing still made you an iceberg didn't help. So I dug to find this cable. It was only laid last year, and on top of the snow, so it shouldn't be too far down, I think. I found it when I was waist deep. That gives you an idea of about how much the snow rises at the Pole each year. I dug at least a metre before this cable showed it's frozen little cords to me. Andre has nicknamed me "Digger" Dempsey, and I think it's because I've made the AASTO look like the Russian front from world war 2. There's even a very nasty booby trap. I have a rope and a line of soft snow across where the new trench will be, and if you trip over this, it will send you stumbling just the right distance into my deep trench. If I don't write tomorrow, you know what has occurred.

We are getting carpet in the AASTO as I type! Yay! The place will look civilised soon. Not much else to tell. More digging awaits me. The nazi's will never get me now. An interesting little coda to that was when the Russian buggies rocked into town the other day. I just remembered what the US comms chick actually said over the intercom. It must be the first time in the history of the human race that the Americans have cried "The Russians are coming!" and actually looked forward to the event.

chat soon,

smiles,

Jess "Digger" Dempsey :)

13th January:

From Jessica:

Dear all,

We had our first day of *bad* weather yesterday. In the half hour of lunch (or maybe it was an hour), the sky went from blue to blistering white, and the wind chill temp dropped to nearly -60C at one point, and blowing snow made visibility limited. It is so much like a desert in this weather. The snow is rippled just like sand dunes , and in this blowing weather you understand why. If anything, it was more blindingly white with the sun hidden, and the snow whipping across the ground looks just like a white dust storm. And enough sun glances through the clouds to make the sheets of diamond dust glimmer. It is beautiful.

Saw the most amazing ice halo yesterday also. Even with the sun hidden, this huge circle appeared around the sun, dipping to the horizon, and upwards half way to the zenith. Above that, a circular rainbow appeared, and to the left and right of the sun, on the big circle, these two bright spots, shimmering with colour, sat for an hour. These sundogs were spectacular, and for a little while, in a line through these sundogs, a line went entirely around the sky. I will try to get some photos if it occurs again, but the ones I have seen in photos don't quite capture the hidden colour in the white arcs, but I shall attempt it.

Very productive day yesterday despite the weather. We packed up the fried DCU for the TEG, and it is ready to be shipped back to the land of Oz. Andre has done the most amazing job with the racks. When we got here they were green, rust brown and black, and parts of them oozed. 

We also disconnected the propane from the AAST0, which sounds easy, since we assumed that the propane had been switched off at the tanks. A few lungfulls of propane disabused us of this concept. We spent the next hour degassing the pipes, and alternating between choking on stinking fumes and freezing when we held the door open to let the gas out. But we didn't die, surprisingly. I mentioned to a passing GA that if the AASTO did explode our last wish would be that the burning wreckage fuelled quite appropriately by burning propane, should be used to cook up one hell of a barbie.

A fellow also popped in yesterday and mentioned that they were coming in to remove about three feet of snow from around the AASTO. Bye bye trench. I am going to take some photos of it today. Devastated. Life goes on. Andre redid the second lots of racks last night, hopefully in the same lovely shade.

Oh, and some good news. I have two extra days at the pole!!! After some lobbying and campaigning by several wonderful fellows here, I am now not leaving until the 17th instead of tomorrow. woo hoo! Which means I will catch up with both Jill and John, which I am pleased about. Ok, this satellite has dropped out five times since starting this email, so I am going to cut my losses. Thanks to all those Australians telling me how hot is is up there. I am glad someone has beach weather.

Ok, enough from me, lovely to hear from all, keep it up,

smiles,

Jess :)

14th January:

From Jessica: War of attrition

G'day from the south, wow what a great day we had yesterday! Between finally beginning to set up the beautifully remade AASTO, the day culminated in the forklifting of the g-mount, adorned with the gorgeous ADIMM and AFOS, to the base of the G-tower. Earlier that morning Andre., Brett and I repositioned the primary mirror and mounted the AFOS on the mount with only a bit of fidddling. I would have liked to have seen hands larger than mine get the screws in place though.

So it looks *beautiful*!!! I stood on the G-tower and got some historical photos, and also a few of a herc taking off. What an amazing site! When the sky is grey, as it was, the snow it kicks up causes the dome and all the rest of Pole civilisation to disappear and blend into the sky - it looks like it's not there at all! 

I came down when my chin went numb. Then we were fortunate enough to have Gary who runs the AMANDA neutrino project, give us the gold-plated tour around the facility. It was enormous. Thousands of metres of cables, millions of dollars worth of optical fibres and these OM's (optical modules), these spherical detector units that look like more complicated versions of the finder drones in Star Wars. Very cool. We watched the fifth of six holes being drilled (2000 metres deep, though they were currently at 1000m), and the guy told me to lean over the hole and look in. So I did. It was about 100m down to the water level and kind of terrifying. Just as I did, though, all of the drive noises shut down, and something went "clunk!". I jumped up and staggered back from the hole crying "I didn't touch anything!!!" I was convinced I had just broken a million dollar experiment.  The guy supervising the hole had merely turned off the blower heater that was keeping him warm, to scare the living daylights out of me. Very funny.

We had a CARA meeting tonight, and not only us, but everyone seems to be having a good run with their telescopes this season. 

smiles,

Jess :)

 

From Jill: Christchurch ---> McMurdo

My first Herc flight! It wasn't nearly as bad as I was expecting, after hearing all the horror stories about flights getting half-way, turning around and sitting squashed up against 2 other people with your knees touching the "chair" of the person across from you. I think I was fairly lucky, I got a seat up the back where I could put my feet up on luggage. I was a little concerned about the flight, but once we got on and into the air I was feeling much better. I was just hoping that we would get to McMurdo and not return to Christchurch!

All my worries were soon forgotten when we eventually arrived at McMurdo (after an 8 hour flight). Stepping off the plane was amazing. It wasn't really that cold (I think it was about 5C), although I did have half my gear on. I guess the best description would be "crisp and fresh"! The sun was shining brightly, not a cloud in the sky. This made the white of the ice even brighter in contrast to the sky. It was great just to stand there and look around. It was white as far as you could see, with Mt Erebus just behind the runway. Well when I say "just behind", I really mean a long way away, but the air is so clear in Antarctica that distances are deceiving. What looks close by is really quite a way away - this is very disconcerting! I saw 'diamond dust' here for the very first time also. This occurs when sun-light reflects off ice crystals in the air. It looks like little sparkles everywhere!

We didn't really see a lot of McMurdo. As soon as we arrived we ate, found our rooms and then were very keen and hiked up 'Observation Hill'. This is a big, very vertical 'mountain' on the edge of McMurdo. It was a little enthusiastic considering the early rise, the long flight, and the heavy gear we were wearing. Regardless, John Storey, two German guys and myself did it anyway. I was tired before we even got 1/4 of the way! 

We (I mean I) made it eventually and it was certainly worth it! The view was just magnificent! In one direction there was the buildings of McMurdo, then behind you the white ice of Antarctic continent and then in the other direction sea ice and the ocean. It was incredible. I was absolutely amazed to be standing there. Even stranger was the fact it was 10:30pm and the sun was not only up, but felt like mid afternoon - this was going to take some getting used to! After our marathon hike I crashed into bed in preparation for our early flight to the Pole the next morning.

Jill :)

15th January:

From Jessica

Today is going to be a thrill as we are getting the crane to lift the G-mount onto the tower! The weather is gorgeous, about -29C and a gentle breeze. I was running around without my jacket on yesterday. I will give you a big letter tomorrow after John and Jill arrive, and the G-mount is hoisted.

Thanks for the emails! I will reply individually when I get back to MacMurdo and have some time on my hands!

love to all,

smiles,

Jess :)

 

From John:

Jill and I are now safely at the South Pole, having arrived just before lunch.  On the plane were a group of US Senators (distinguished visitors), so as soon as the Herc. landed a van arrived to whisk them away. We sort of hung around for a bit passing the time of day, but it gradually became clear we'd been forgotten about.  This wouldn't have been so bad except that they've moved the arrival pad so we didn't know where we were, and carefully hidden the Dome behind a big of pile of snow so no-one could find it.  Fortunately we stumbled across some friendly natives who showed us the way.

After lunch we got the usual briefing about being good and not fighting and drinking lots of water and not walking in front of Hercules or under bulldozers and not going to Old Pole where the aliens live.  Then we got assigned to our beds and this was fine except mine had a big hairy bloke in it. I pointed this out to the accommodation people who were vaguely amused by this and have promised to find me somewhere else.  I'm not sure how hard they are trying: one of the questions they asked was "Is he cute?"

However, these minor disasters pale into insignificance compared to the Gmount Foibles of January 15.  In the past few days the G-mount has been carefully readied for lifting to the top of the G-tower, a process that requires the use of a not inconsequential crane.  Admittedly the G-mount only weighs half a ton, but the only available station crane is a monster of a thing.  Half a ton is barely enough to straighten the kinks in its cable.  This is the sort of crane they use for shifting houses around. Anyway, this gigantic beast rumbled up on its caterpillar tracks, plucked the G-mount into the sky and lowered it ever so gently into position. After a few minutes with Brett and the dogman (I think that's what they're called) up on the Gtower (the dogman making those strange dogman hand signals and Brett making more classic Australian gesticulations), it became clear that the Gmount simply didn't fit.

With the Gmount back on the ground an impromptu conference was called. Short of sending the Gmount back to Canberra or the Gtower back to Chicago, an innovative solution was required. Bob had arrived just in time!  As I type, Andre and Jess are raiding the storage container for some 4-inch aluminium bar to make some 6-inch long standoffs from, and Bob, trusty CARA machinist, is rolling up his sleeves and dusting off the lathe.

Andre and Jess have done a fabulous job cleaning up the AASTO, and the electronics racks now look like new.  It's been a depressing experience over the past three years to have the AASTO reduced to a toxic waste dump, and every steel part it corroded and rusted.  This year there was also apparently a slimy goo on all of the cables.  It's great to be able to walk in and hardly find any sign of the damage.

John

 

From Jill: McMurdo ---> South Pole

During the flight we crossed the trans-antarctic mountains. It was a spectacular view from the cockpit. The seemly little mountains were spread across in front of us. After a much shorter flight (only three hours this time - a breeze!) we landed at the South Pole.

While the Herc was taxiing on the runway in to ....the place where it stops (the regular airport lounge was closed), we all got dressed into our full cold weather gear. I could hardly believe that I had made it. After all the medical stuff, the millions of forms we had to fill out and especially the wisdom teeth experience - I was finally at the South Pole. I was very excited, nervous about what to expect and a little worried about the altitude all at the same time. This felt very weird, but good! We piled off the plane to see an expanse of white. It was beautiful. The weather was excellent again, so you could really see for miles. It was noticeably colder than McMurdo but not uncomfortable. The temp was about -20C. I just stood there for a minute or two and took in the view - almost unable to move. I was just magnificent. We had travelled with a US senator and several other 'distinguished visitors' so the shuttle bus came out to the runway to pick them up.

After several minutes we realised they had forgotten about us, so we had to hike it to the dome. This only took a couple of minutes, but we were a little worried at first as John was a bit disorientated with the new runway and construction, so we were a little unsure about which way to go! We soon found out that the dome was just hidden behind a big pile of ice!

We then went out to the AASTO (the little building where all our instruments are) to watch our telescope be lifted onto the top of a tower. Seeing that we had just arrived and I was feeling tired and a little overwhelmed, Jess called her friends the 'Cargo boys' to skidoo us out there. This was excellent! I didn't mind so much being tired if it meant a ride on the skidoo. I think the smile was frozen on my face for about an hour afterwards! We watched the telescope get lifted onto the tower only to find that the telescope mount was round, while the tower had a triangular hole! The old square peg in the round hole trick! Needless to say, the telescope was returned to the ice, while we piled inside to resolve the problem (I might add not before John Storey threw himself flat onto the ice!).

The rest of my day was spent taking it easy and listening to the talented 'Bluegrass' players. For those who are not educated when it comes to Bluegrass, it is 'toe-tapping knee-slapping' kind of music and much better than the images that description brings to mind!

Jill :)

From Jessica:

Since beginning this email, the satellite has been just plain stupid. It is now 5am, Tuesday morning my time...

Hello all, sorry that I didn't get around to writing yesterday, but had a wee bit of a sleep in and when I got up the satellite was down. I have had a few emails from people who have read the stuff on the web, which is great, and I will attempt to answer questions when I have a little more time.

Saturday 15th January: 

Interesting day. John and Jill arrived around lunch. In our attempt to cross the skiway to meet them, Andre and I got caught on the other side (there are lights which flash, to tell us that a plane is incoming) so we milled around aimlessly on the other side, until I got a bit bored. This process took approximately ten seconds. So I drew a hopscotch board and invited Andre to play. I was going to cream this old bloke, thinks me. Five minutes later, I was promptly, as the yanks would call it, getting my butt well and truly whipped. Andre sneakily admitted that a six year old daughter was an added advantage. We abandoned the game to get over to meet the new crew, who rocked in, graciously accompanied by a US Senator, who was the day's DV (distinguished visitor), and had a *small* entourage of twelve. From all reports the guy was a typical politician. Infer what you will...

It was great to see John and Jill. John looked raring to go despite the tiring flight, and we wandered out to the AASTO to see the G-mount + telescopes loaded onto the G-tower. I climbed onto the roof of the AS/TRO building adjacent to get some better photos, which is why the next few minutes were quite strange. The crane lifted the mount. I took a photo. It raised it to the tower. I snapped off another shot. It lingered. I peered nervously over the rim of the camera. It teetered. Strange muffled gestures were being made by Brett on the top of the tower. To my horror, the mount then lifted again and was set back down on the ground. I waved and gestured frantically to John. "What the hell is going on?" He waved and gestured helpfully back: "Nff,  mrff, (arm lift), grnf (sweeping gesture), sumptfm, (urgent flailing of arms)". I sent him back a bunch of gestures I had seen the coaches at US baseball matches use. Then, eloquent as always, John summed up the problem. He pointed at the G-tower, and then tucked his feet up and threw himself down sideways on the snow, feet and arms sticking up in the air. "It's stuffed". Oh. Turns out it was the square peg in the round hole problem. Or more correctly the round peg in the triangular hole. The bottom of the mount was an inch too wide for the triangular support on the tower. Unbelievable. While the engineers amongst us frantically worked on solutions, I gave Tony Press a beginning of a tour of MAPO.  Also got the chance to see the AS/TRO submillimter tipper ( the sister instrument to the one I am working on in Sydney) with a guy named Ethan who helped design the things. We stuffed around with it for a while, and I realised that all the problems I had with the instrument were not isolated, and actually are succinctly and generously shared by each and every edition of the damned thing. At least I'm not alone in the world.

Saturday night saw another bluegrass showing, which was great again, and a great way to relax after a busy day. I have now tried all types of skidoo-ing, including the standing sled ride (which is terrifying and a real thrill) and the exhilarating sitting sled cruise when you sit with your face a few inches from the speeding snow. The things we do to get from one place to another.

Sunday 16th January: 

From Jessica:

*amazing* day, and definitely got the biggest thrill since being here. I arose a little late, and got out to the AASTO and began pottering, but we were of course a little set back by the failed G-tower thing. Then we hear: the famous astronaut Jim Lovell, captain of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission and first man to circumnavigate the moon on Apollo 8 was ariving at the Pole for a special visit in a DC3 aircraft. At 3:30pm everyone gathered to hear him speak and hopefully get and autograph or two. To top it off a second astronaut Owein... oh bugger, Owein... Owein Whatsamecallit, the scientist on board the SkyLab shuttle, would also be there. WE gathered, and I was quite surprised at what Jim looked like. The first thing he said is "I'm sure you were all expecting Tom Hanks!", but he was actually a healthy and distinguished looking gentleman in his early seventies. He was a wonderful speaker. He chatted about first Apollo 8, which was amazing in itself, but then of course about the more famous mission 13. As he spoke I leaned against the wall in amazement. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this guy has always been a bit of a hero to me. Certainly, in astronaut terms, I have much more respect for this guy than the guys who first walked on the moon. It is inconceivable to imagine the peril that this man had escaped through only his calm and ingenuity. I kept thinking "This is *the* guy, the real guy...!" His matter-of-factness only served to highlight the amazing tale.  I will not go into detail of what he said (because if you've seen Apollo 13 you get the general idea), and if you want me to, write and I'll chat to you specifically. 

Owein Thingamagig was also excellent and fascinating. Then there was a time when they graciously consented to autographs. The entire station was there. I have both of their autographs, and I'm going to frame the things,. Jim wrote "To Jessica, Jim Lovell. Apollo 13" I then, in my most charming Australian accent, requested a photo with him, which I got someone to take. OH GOD I hope it works out!!!!

It is the best namedropping story in the world. Next opportunity to mention the famous people we've met, nothing can top, "oh yeah, I once met Jim Lovell at the South Pole..."!  True highlight of my stay. I have since chatted with both Jim and Owein and have only served to increase my admiration. Jim is also lefthanded, just like me. Which of course means, that I can be an astronaut when I grow up.  

Jessica :)

 

From Jill:

Sunday 16th :- Taking it easy, but guess who I met!

Today I just took it easy. I don't think that the altitude has affected me much more than making me sleepy and gasping for air if I do things too quickly. The best and most memorable thing that happened today was meeting Captain James Lovell (astronaut from Apollo 8 and Apollo 13). He spoke briefly about his missions; on Apollo 8 he was one of the first people to see the dark side of the moon and Apollo 13, well I think everyone knows that story!

I think most people from the station were in the galley to hear him and were mesmerized when he was describing the Apollo13 mission and what went wrong. Ok, maybe that was a slight exaggeration, I'm not sure if everyone was mesmerized, I know I was! I got an autograph and photo with him which certainly made my day. It was amazing to think Jim Lovell was standing right in front of me. It was fantastic. I can't believe I am here and that this is happening.

Jill :)

17th January

From John:

Andre has been working hard getting the new web camera to work, and this has generated considerable interest around the station. Halfway through the afternoon we got a call from the journalists accompanying Jim Lovell on his visit to the Pole. They wanted to do a live interview via Iridium satellite phone, and wondered if they could use streaming video from our web camera to accompany the voice! Quick on his feet as ever, Andre explained how difficult it would be to set the webcam up somewhere else and that perhaps they'd all like to come out to the AASTO.

So next thing we get a visit from the Fox TV folk who scope out the AASTO and recognise instantly that it is the ideal outside broadcasting studio. The Iridium phone didn't work particularly well inside, so we sent Jess up on the roof with an external satellite antenna. Unfortunately we forgot to turn the acoustic radar off first, so Jess only got halfway up the ladder before her ears starting smoking. We turned it off as soon as we could but now we can only communicate with her by shouting very loudly or waving our arms around. We think she'll recover eventually.

So, with Iridium link in place and the webcam running, Lovell and his crew arrived at the AASTO at around 4 am. The interview went well, and should have gone live to the entire Fox and Sky networks. That's publicity!

As a souvenir of the event, Lovell signed one wall of the AASTO:

The astronauts were only supposed to stay a few hours at Pole, but it has been snowed in at their destination (Patriot Hills) for the past few days. It's been great having them around. They come along to meals with us and are more than happy to chat about their experiences.

Check out the Fox news website: http://www.foxnews.com  to see the article on Lovell and also perhaps the interview I did about the AASTO. Actually I just checked it out myself and there's a dramatic article "Stranded at the South Pole" which makes good reading.

This year the Iridium phone system has been working well, and many people on the station are using them. Out in the "Dark Sector" where we are, the only warm shelter (apart from the AASTO itself!) is the solar heated dunny. On several occasions I've gone in there to find someone leaning against the wall using their Iridium phone. I like the irony: for years phone booths in the less salubrious parts of town have been used as impromptu dunnies; this must be the first case of a dunny being regularly used as a phone booth!

While Iridium has been good the rest of the satellite links have been awful, and we're struggling under the worst communications we have had for years. I'm in the process of shifting to an early morning schedule (starting around 3 am Sydney time) to take advantage of the best links. I finally started to do some science today, working with Andre to get the various computers in the AASTO talking to each other. I first had to get poodle (my laptop) linked into the South Pole network, and of course they've changed the sub-mask and all those incomprehensible things since I was here last. Fortunately the station computer person (who appears to be known, with some justification, as "the lovely Jenny") came out with the Fox people to sus out the webcam, and she fixed it all on the spot.

Jill has settled in well and is already starting to help sort through the things we'll be sending back ("retro" in Antarctic parlance). Jess appears to have been having a fabulous time and may have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the Hercules tomorrow. The weather has been beautiful the past few days---cloudless skies, the temperature hovering between -26 and -28 C, and just enough wind to remind you how cold it is without being really unpleasant.

John

From Jessica:

Since beginning this email, the satellite has been just plain stupid. It is now 5am, Tuesday morning my time...

Hello all, sorry that I didn't get around to writing yesterday, but had a wee bit of a sleep in and when I got up the satellite was down. I have had a few emails from people who have read the stuff on the web, which is great, and I will attempt to answer questions when I have a little more time.

As you will have noticed from the email, I have managed to wrangle another day at the Pole. Tee hee. I leave this morning about 11:30. I will hopefully be in MacMurdo until Jill comes out and we fly back to Christchurch on the 24th. I think I've realised what I really love about this place. It's the people. Now that I'm in the swing of it, it is inconceivable *not* to say hi to everyone you pass in the halls or outdoors. Everyone who is here has excellent people skills because you just can't survive here without them. In Sydney you don't talk to the person next to you on the bus. If they chatted to you you'd wonder what the hell they were out to get, and what was wrong with them. It's a very unhealthy state of mind to live in for a long time. A lot of my natural cynicism has been put on the backshelf while I'm here. It seems out of place. Ungrateful. The mix of people is so unusual and yet it works. People remember your name. And ask how you're doing today and, wait for it, *mean* it. They actually want to know. You couldn't keep me away from this place. I am going to find every means possible to winter here sometime soon. I don't even mind the cold. I was running around in the dome (at -30C) in a t-shirt yesterday. Bonza weather!

I am now packed and ready to go at least physically. I have not had time to really sum up my thoughts so I'll give you my final Pole email once I arrive in McMurdo. I will also be able to write personal emails once I get there (as I'll have time on my hands) so please keep up the questions. And the g'days, and I'll be able to respond directly.

smiles,

Jess :)

Tuesday 18th January:

From Jessica:

Dear hardy Polar trekkers,

Amazing stuff on Monday night! The astronauts have been stranded here at Pole for two days due to bad weather at Patriot hills which is their destination. This has been great for us, as we have had numerous opportunities to chat with them at meals and so on. They are great guys.

However, we have been lamenting that we could not get them to come and look at the AASTO. Fiddling around with the webcam yesterday, no wait the day before, and we get a phone call from the publicity people along for the ride with Jim Lovell. The fox news team wants to do an interview with Lovell and could they use our webcam to get a live updated video image of Jim? Quick as a flash, Andre replied that it would be our pleasure but the webcam (which weighs about 200grams and has been bumped and bashed all the way to the Pole) was unwieldy and delicate and they would *have* to do the interview from the inside of the AASTO.

So they did! At about 3am our time! Poor Jim. John witnessed the entire thing, and got Jim to sign the wall of the AASTO: 

James Lovell. Apollo 13.

1/18/00. 

Wow, wow, wow. 

All done in our wee little AASTO! With an inflatable kangaroo in the background. Yeah, sorry about that, my fault. I had to go up on the roof the day before the interview and put up an antenna for the iridum phone they use for the link. However, we forgot about the SODAR. The acoustic radar is incredibly directional, in that, if you are under it, in the AASTO, it is barely louder than a phone ringing. Remember though, that pointing upwards it has to be loud enough to reach 600m in the air and get an echo back. So I got about half way up to the ladder and the beam swung around. it was so loud it felt like my ears imploded. I yelled down at John to turn it off. And threw myself on the AASTO roof and clamped my hands on my ears. Every third note was at just the wrong frequency and I could feel my ear vibrate. Ouch. Someone finally pulled out a plug and there was blessed silence. My ear rang for about five hours afterwards.

I ran around on Monday night and Tuesday morning and got a lot of photos of people. I can't believe how many people I have made friends with n two weeks. John took our "hero" shots at the South Pole, Jill and I standing there with a UNSW crest which we had to chase half the time due to the gusting wind. I was getting more and more down as the day went on and I knew I was going to leave. I can't say that I was all down though. I suppose it is reasonably safe to say now that from various people I have met here, it is now almost definite that I will be wintering over here at South Pole next year. [Mum, I really hope you are sitting down]. 

It took me about a week to be sure, and my final day to realise that there is no way I could go on with the rest of my life without returning here. The current, and tentative plan is to begin my PhD with john Storey, and then suspend this for a year to winter at the Pole. The details, the important ones, are yet to be worked out, but I have no intention of letting this opportunity go. One way or another, I will be back.

I am in McMurdo now. I flew out yesterday and arrived here about dinnertime. I will spend six days here, which is great, just chilling out, and hopefully go out with Jill to NZ on the 24th. I have a nice room, and the girl I share with is lovely. And you don't have to walk outside to go to the bathroom!! It has an ensuite and a sauna on the bottom floor. I think I'll investigate that one tonight. McMurdo is so diferent. The place itself is not much to look at, but you gaze past the buildings to the broken pan ice on the bay, and the blackrock, snowcovered mountains behind it. Ice can be so many different colours and when the light catches the blue shelves of broken ice on the water, every imaginable colour of blue dances in your vision. The weather is much warmer, but the winds, which have been apparently nonexistent until just before we got here, are very strong.

I will sign off after the next mail. If anyone wants to hear further, give me a yell and I will reply personally. I have a little time on my hands for the next few days. yay! It is wonderful to hear from the people who have read my mails on the web. I would be happy to answer any questions from anyone.  Thanks to everyone who has mailed and kept me company on this amazing trip. Your support and electronic smiles have been uplifting. I will see most of you when I return to Sydney and maybe Adelaide, or Darwin or any of the half dozen other places you guys are. The ends of the earth are never as far away with friends and family such as I am lucky enough to have. I will finish off with my favorite South Pole quote, from an American chick I talked to in Christchurch, and asked me where I was going. I told her. 

This has to be imagined in a broad Texan accent: "The South Pole, huh? Is that anywhere near the North Pole?"

love, and many warm smiles from the frosty southern land,

Jess :)

 

Jessica's final diary entry:

I stood near the runway. My head was muddled. I had missed the official shuttle to the plane, and I wonder whether my subconscious had blocked out the announcement, sensing the reluctance to leave which enveloped me. So I had bolted to a second shuttle, and now stood, chest heaving in the rare Antarctic air, watching the plane. I vaguely remember waving to John, Andre and Jill near the Dome. I didn't watch them stride out to the AASTO. I had stared down at my bag. And now we waited, ten anonymous, sexless travellers in identical coats and faceless goggles and gaiters, as the cargo was loaded onto the Hercules. The ice crystals whipped around the propellers and the tracks of the forklift that hoisted our bags onto the flight. My feet felt set in concrete. I loved it here. I didn't want to go anywhere. For a few minutes I could not recall John's assurances. I would be back. I may winterover. I would have plenty of time to enjoy it. All of that faded as I gazed across the white silence of the Plateau, away from the churning plane, and watched the dance of the ice clouds on the horizon. A heavy hand tapped me on the shoulder. It was Juan, a Mexican-American guy with a huge curly grey and black beard, who ran the cargo facility and had spent three winters and five summers on the ice. He was a great guy. He tapped again and then pointed into the sky.

My breath caught. I had attempted in previous emails to describe the ice halos I had seen, but everyone I had spoke to said they had only been mediocre. Not this one. The mist of ice rolled back from the sun and even in my goggles, hurt my eyes. Two sun dogs, bright in brilliant rainbow colour ran along the sides of the burning star, and a huge glowing circle dipped all the way to the horizon. On top of the circle a swirling twist of light glowed brilliant white in contrast to the rainbows of the circle. And above that again, a circular rainbow, almost complete, adorned the actual zenith of the sky, right above the crowning point about which the earth itself turned.

I couldn't believe the timing. I only became aware that I was crying by the surprise as my cheeks burned as hot tears ran in small rivulets down my cold cheeks. I do not think I have ever wept at sheer beauty before. I felt another heavy hand on my shoulder. This time it was a figure garbed in army fatigues, and he gestured towards the plane. I saw other passengers with orange bags making their way across the ice. I was thankful for the anonymity and dignity the goggles and gaiter provided. No one knew of my distress. A I turned towards the plane, I cried harder. This time because I was walking away from the halo, I could not behold it's glory, and it seemed in one blow to sum beauty that I was being carried away from. I realised suddenly how much this place had got to me. My emails had been upbeat and jovial, as had been my manner at the Pole. In a panic I felt suddenly that I had not used my time well. I had not stopped on the skiway enough, and just looked. I had not felt the unique dry snow with bare hands or drank enough of its melted clear waters. I cannot describe how this place changes you, and in fact the only way I can tell you what it did is to say how physical and cruel the pain was as I tramped heavily towards the plane and away from the most beautiful sight I have beheld in my life.

The noise of the propellers filled my ears. As I rounded the nose of the plane, I could not help it. I glanced back. And gasped again. As I stared, and in a matter of seconds, the ice which had cleared only a moment before, whipped up again, and in a blink the halo was gone, the sun was gone, and behind it remained only a glowing white expanse of sky and ice, indistinguishable from the far horizon. I climbed into the plane. And sat down. I closed my eyes. And stopped crying. 

In the blackness behind my eyelids, the afterimage of the halo burned brightly. Every inch of it. It remained there for some minutes and in those moments as we took off and flew north, my panic and pain faded. The halo stoped seeming like a last goodbye and more a promise. The Pole's last gift to me was an image which etched itself on my soul. The afterimage will remain there longer than the one behind my eyes. It will be the passion to return that will ensure that I see and stand on the great white expanse again, and soon. It will be the urgency to do so before the image fades. It will be a profound promise to myself to find other such paces on this earth before these protected frontiers of wilderness and human endeavour are gone forever.

I did not open my eyes again on the flight, and yet I did not sleep. There is a small emptiness in me, where the image was, and where the afterimage glows. I have left a part of myself at Admundsen Scott base, and it pulls me. In its hollows the silence of Terra Incognitia echoes and calls. I will listen and follow it's piper's tune. I wonder a little if I have any real choice to do otherwise.

Thankyou for accompanying me on this journey. I hope only that you my have caught a little of my hope and passion for this place. I am unashamed of it. It is one place where my cynicism and wry disbelief in this world dims and shatters. Even as this place freezes your skin it warms your heart. It is an acceptable trade off. Greetings, and much love from Terra Incognitia.

Jessica

19th January

From John Storey......

Today was the first full day since I arrived that has been devoid of both DVs and astronauts, so I was able to get stuck into a few of the more subtle problems facing us. First amongst these was the fact that the AFOS stops working when you plug the CCD in, which is a shame because the CCD is not only the most expensive part of the system but also rather central to its operation. The problem was that the power supply smoothing inductor had too high a resistance, and the 5V power supply was dropping too low to keep the CPU running when all the current load was on. The first idea was to get another inductor. The second idea (following the lack of success of the first) was to rewind the inductor with thicker wire. Unfortunately thicker wire was no more available than substitute inductors. Finally we unwound the inductor, doubled the wire over, and rewound it with half the turns but two wires in parallel, thereby cutting both the inductance and the resistance by a factor of four. This done, the AFOS CCD electronics now works like a champ---at least to the point we have tested it.

    The main excitement of the day was the arrival of not one but two bulldozers (including the fearsome D7) to shovel roughly a metre of snow from around the AASTO and Gtower. Webcam devotees will notice a significant difference already, and will also see how we carefully removed all the junk before the bulldozers got there. (The black thing on the roof is a "Do not freeze" box which is probably only a bit frozen. We had to put it somewhere.) Jessica's trench has been sort of obliterated, and so we'll all get out tomorrow and start a new one. The two bulldozers spent many hours shovelling, and now there is a huge snow hill behind the AASTO.

Trapped inside the AASTO while the heavy machinery rumbled in circles around us was like a scene from Mad Max II. They're after our propane, I thought! Fortunately sanity returned shortly later---put it down to the altitude.

Other good things we did were:

  • Took hero shots of Jess and Jill at the actual South Pole, holding aloft a UNSW logo and trying not to look cold.
  • Locating the NISM in Christchurch and setting it en route to the Pole.
  • Getting the Gmount up onto the tower (it fit, this time)
  • Digging out the G-tower ladder.
  • Finding *almost* all the ex-SPIREX bits and shipping them back (The main thing missing is the gorgeous 5-inch diameter sapphire window.)

Jill also took all the electronics spares out of their plastic bags and put them in proper anti-static ones. She also labelled them properly, starting a new and disturbing trend towards a properly organised spares collection.

Michael Ashley continues to give us great software support from Sydney, and acts as our "sea-level brain"---he who still has his full mental faculties.

John

20th January

From Jill:

This morning we were assigned shovel duty. After the bulldozers finished with the majority of snow removal yesterday, we were left to dig small trenches around the corners of the AASTO so that the bulldozers could get in closer. It wasn't too hard to dig through, some of the snow was like powder while other stuff was as hard as .... well I guess ice! It is really a strange place to work. While we were shovelling snow, I heard a load noise, raised my head only to discover a Herc taking off a short distance from us. It was great to see this big chunk of plane get off the ground. A magnificent sight.

Paolo arrived today, so I was 'tour guide' this afternoon, which was fun. He arrived with another of our instruments which is to be installed on the roof of the AASTO in the next couple of days. I'm just getting used to being here. I slept properly for the first time last night. I'm living in a Jamesway, which is a semi-cyclindrical tent type thing out in the "Summer camp". I have a room on the end, which means I get a window! They are reasonably comfortably, the only problem being that the toilet is in another building!

The telescope is now on the tower after our initial 'problems'. We hope to dig trenches to run the cables out to the tower tomorrow - more digging! While I have been doing odd jobs in the last couple of days - and mostly watching the electronic wizardry of Andre and John, I become kind-of useful when we want to run the software for the telescope, being somewhat familiar with it. This coincided nicely with the time I was scheduled to leave (tomorrow), so I smiled sweetly and asked if I could stay an extra couple of days - and guess what it worked!

So I'm here until Monday, yay!

Jill :)

From John Storey.....

Today it was action-packed fun from start to finish. We began by noting that the bulldozers had removed about a metre of snow from all around the AASTO, except for a little island surrounding the AASTO itself. Basically they couldn't get in any closer because of the guy-wires, webcam, and other essential AASTO accessories. Unfortunately, having a raised bit of snow in front of the AASTO would be very bad over winter, as it would almost certainly trip the wind and cause rapid burying of the AASTO. After some debate we undid the guy wires (we don't think we need them at South Pole), dug them out, dug up the webcam, and invited the bulldozer back to slice his blade within centimetres of the AASTO. Webcam devotees will already have noted the transformation. Andre was the hero of the occasion, digging out with his bare hands the original hole that the webcam mast had sat in, to ensure it went back in exactly the same place.

Around lunchtime a Herc arrived carrying not only Paolo, but also Dave Pernic (who will tend to the AASTO over winter - according to his dad - but I'm not sure he knows that yet), John Carlstrom (Director of CARA), Rodney Marks, Randy Landsberg, and Tom Bania, plus a whole bunch of people I don't know.

Not only that, but the NISM arrived too. It was carrried out to the MAPO building on bulldozer, and unpacked by Paolo and Jill. It's ready to go into the AASTO, but right at the moment here isn't enough room. We'll get all the cabling done first.

With the ground level properly esatblished, we then set about digging a new trench from the G-tower to the AASTO. This was mainly a Brett and Andre activity---I hid in the AASTO and pretended to do electronics.

Actually what I was doing was verifying that the COM2 port on the AFOS works properly, having yesterday discovered an unpleasant little problem that kills COM1 as soon as the CCD is initialised. I had my ususal sanity-threatening RS232 experience, finding that when I put the DB25 - DB9 adaptor plus DB9 gender changer into the socket there wasn't enough room for the DB9 cable, so I had to start with a DB25 cable, add the DB25 - DB9 adaptor plus DB9 gender changer and finish it all off with null modem for good measure. Fortunately it worked. We can even re-use the DB25 - DB9 adaptor plus DB9 gender changer when we connect to the G-mount, which hopefully will be soon.

I didn't sleep well last night because some idiot parked a Hercules outside my window and left the engines running for an hour while they transferred fuel.

After dinner we scored two 25-foot lengths of Cat5 UTP cable ethernet from the lovely Jenny in the computer centre. This will allow us to tidy up the wiring in the AASTO which is currently lying across the floor. This time we got white cable, which will have a significantly less delterious effect on the Feng Shui of the AASTO than the hideous Barbie-doll pink stuff they gave us last time.

We're a bit stymied with the AFOS because the IRAF software on pharlap appears to have vanished. We'll chat to Rodney about it. Rodney has bright purple hair. Dave Pernic has bright red hair. Another of the winterovers has no hair at all except for a large star. It's shaping up to be an interesting winter.

I promised I'd go back and describe the experiments in the Clean Air Sector (as much for my benefit as yours). Most are in the new ARO building.

NASA Goddard are running a green LIDAR with 20 m resolution, and a range of 200 m to 9 km. Interestingly, this is different experiment and different bunch of people to those that were here last year.

There's also an Alexandrite laser LIDAR to measure stratospheric tempertures. It pumps two energy levels of iron and works out the temperature from the Boltzmann distribution of the populations. It has an *average* power output of 3 watts at 372 and 374 nm, which might make an interesting calibration line for the AFOS!

The NSF are running a high resolution solar spectrometer, whose reults will alos be interesting to compare to those from the AFOS

The Univeristy of Washington are running a mid-infrared FTS, and are getting results that are directly comparable to those from the MISM. We've had some very useful discussions already. The FTS can not only
measure atmospheric emission, but can also measure absorbtion over a horizontl path of a few hundred metres to a retro reflector. This will really nail the aerosols!

The most fun experiment is SPARCLE, which is a CCD camera that is towed up by tethered blimp. As it goes it unrolls a reel of sticky tap, onto which the ice crystals ("diamond dust") stick. The camera takes an image
at two different magnifications, and the live video is recorded at the receiver.

That's enough for today. Tomorrow we hope to get the G-mount up and running, and put in the trench that will carry the AFOS fibres and electrical wiring.

John

21st January

From Jill:

This morning was spent digging a trench out to the tower. I think we picked the worse day yet to be outside. It was much colder than in previous days and very windy (-40C with windchill). You could only work outside for about 20 minutes before you had to go inside to warm up and rest. Any physical exercise here is much harder than at sea-level due to the lack of oxygen in the air. Today was also the first time I had actually felt cold and a little numb. Walking from the AASTO to the dome for lunch, my legs and fingers were very cold. So, after lunch I put an extra layer on everywhere - head, feet, body, legs, neck and hands. It is a lot of clothes to carry around, but it was worth it. I was nice and toasty!

Our afternoon was spent trying to feed cables down the pipes we put in our trenches. This seems like an easy task, but not when it is -40C outside! At these temperatures, any cables that you take outside freeze almost instantly, so you have to make sure they are unrolled. If you try to unroll them when they are cold, they are so brittle that they shatter. To get around this problem, I was assigned 'gofer'. My task was to walk off, away from roads and buildings to straighten out the cable as Andre unrolled it. As I was walking, I looked up and for the first time it occurred to me how isolated we were. There was just nothing but snow as far as you could see. It was a bit of a shock. It hadn't really occurred to me before this, as there are always people walking around, buildings at least grouped together and we always walk towards some other building - not really looking around. It was quite a relief to get back to the little AASTO, both as the comfort of having people around, and of-course the warmth!

John Storey is leaving tomorrow, a week before his scheduled departure. He is going to Terra Nova Bay to talk to the head of the Italian Antarctic program about moving some of our instruments to Dome C nest year. Dome C is high on the Antarctic Plateau, mush higher than the South Pole. It is interesting to us, as we think it would make the best site to build a big telescope. The whole purpose of us being here (maybe I should have said this earlier!) is to establish how good the South Pole is for astronomy. All our instruments test the conditions here for this purpose. Our plan is then to move the AASTO (it will fit into the back of a Herc) and drop it, gently, at Dome C to take more measurements so that then they can be compared to the South Pole data. The Italians already have a base at Dome C, so John is going to discuss plans. We will miss his expertise! I'm really starting to feel comfortable here now. The work we are doing is interesting - I'm learning heaps about electronics and am in general enjoying my time here.

Jill :)

Saturday 22nd January:

From Jill:

If I said it was cold yesterday, I was wrong - it was cold today. The wind has picked up further, making it tiring to walk from the dome out to the AASTO. Our job for today was to lay the cables in the conduits so that we could control the telescope. Having completed this, we began to test various LEDs and lamps and after some more remarkable electronic detective work by Andre, managed to turn them on and off using the software. A very important step!

I have been learning a lot about electronics, but I think the three most important things I have learnt today are:

  • "real" men don't read manuals
  • women are much better at finding things in crowded rooms and 
  • a "heat gun" is really a turbo powered hairdryer.

Eyes rolled and I heard a "huh chicks" comment from the depths of the AASTO after the remark about the hairdryer. I was then asked if I would like to dry my hair with it - a suggestion which I flatly refused! Nothing much else to report for today, except the fact that my departure is rapidly approaching, oh and we had chocolate ice-cream for dessert tonight!

From John Storey.....

Rather unexpectedly I have been invited by Ing Mario Zuchelli, head of the Italian Antarctic program, to visit him at Terra Nova Bay to discuss future developments at Dome C. So, I'm leaving the Pole in about three hours! I'll spend tonight and tomorrow in McMurdo, then fly in a Twin Otter to Terra Nova on Monday.

We are making excellent progress with the instruments here at South Pole. However a major frustration has been the collapse of the station intranet, making it impossible for us to properly test things.

John

Sunday 23rd Jan: My last night :(

The weather is windy and nasty again today. Sundays here are very relaxed, for most people it is there day off. We took it fairly easy today getting the optical fibres ready to lay in the conduits (most of the credit going to Paolo). For my last night at the Pole, I thought I should get out and see the sights - you know do the touristy thing. My first sight to see (and highly recommended to anyone travelling this way) was the buried plane at the end of the skiway (a few years ago a plane missed the runway, hit the snow and was left there). Because the weather was so bad I didn't want to walk out there (it is several kilometres), so I got a ride out on a skidoo with one of the winter-over guys who also wanted to go. I think I was wearing all the clothes that I was issued with, including the "you'll never wear these" gloves.

The ride out there was great, we even cleared the snow on a couple of occasions! The view was magnificent, the dome was so small on the horizon, it really gave you the sense of isolation. All but the tip of the tail of the plane is under snow now, so to get to the plane you have to slide down a slippery slide tunnel at the tail. It was loads of fun - the only problem being that you have to climb up this slide to get out! Half way up I realised that the boots I had on were *not* made for climbing. we then proceeded to the front of the plane and crawled in the cockpit and passenger bits. Although it was really cold and windy outside, it was warm enough inside the plane (I think this was definatley relative). Having said that it must have been cold, as my eyelashes had ice on them and stuck together when I blinked! It was really great to sit inside the buried plane. Everything that could have been removed was, with the exception of some glass in the windows and a cup dispenser! After climbing out of the cockpit (I was thankful, there was a ladder this time) we took the touristy photos (before my camera froze), jumped back on the skidoo and skidooed back to the warmth and comfort of the dome! I'm glad I enjoyed the view on the way out, as my goggles were completely fogged up and icy on the way back - I couldn't see anything! (BTW I wasn't driving).

The next stop on the tourist tour was the greenhouse. The Pole has a small greenhouse where they grow herbs and vegies for a salad for the winter-overs. It was very humid inside (about 23C) so it was a nice place to defrost after the skidoo ride! The only other place of interest was the "ski Hut" which is only accessibly by skis (funnily enough). I didn't have the energy to do that, so alas I missed out - maybe next time!

The rest of the night was filled with packing, exchanging e-mails with friends I'd met and getting ready to leave :(

 

Monday 24th Jan: Leaving..

Today was a sad day. As quickly as the time had come to go to the pole, it came to leave. The weather had improved which made it even more difficult. If had been blowing like it had the previous few days, then I think it would have made leaving a bit easier! I spent the morning saying goodbye to all the great people that had been so nice to us during our stay. The wait for the plane was long. When it finally arrived and we were loaded into the shuttle bus, I took a long hard look around me. As we left the dome, passed the ceremonial and geographic poles and seeing the AASTO off in the distance, I hoped that one day I would have the opportunity to come back. It really is a magnificent place.

As we boarded the Herc, I saw "diamond dust" again. I hadn't seen it for a few days because of the clouds and it reminded me of when I first arrived, which seemed like only yesterday. The Herc took off without too much trouble and I pictured it as I had seen it take off only a few days before - and as simple as that we were northbound.

From John Storey.....

Today did not begin well, when I found my legs so stiff I could hardly walk. Jess may well have the last laugh on this one. I did however check the results board and found I came 14th in the Men's Masters class and won hands down in the "Australian Physics Professors Who Own a Poodle" class.

In case anyone is wondering what the above is about, yesterday was the annual Scott's Hut race. It is much as Jess told it in her email---first we ran to Scott's hut and back, which seemed fair enough, but then the
race continued up and over a mountain half the size of Kosciusco to the turn-off to the New Zealander's Scott Base, then back to McMurdo followed by a return trip to Scott's Hut again for no apparent reason, and finally back to the Chapel where a highly trained team of religious officials were no doubt secreted inside, ready to administer last rights. It was actually a tremendous amount of fun; it is the first long-distance race
(or short distance race, for that matter) I have competed in since I was sixteen.

Today's breakfast was up to the usual McMurdo standard (inedible) so I settled for a little box of Rice Bubbles and one of Corn Flakes, eaten without milk since there is no substance on offer here worthy of the name.

I then took the shuttle out to Williams Field, but instead of settling down to wait for the usual Hercules I was directed to the "Ken Borek Shack" to await the arrival of a Twin Otter from Terra Nova Bay (BTN). Ken Borek Air operates out of Canada, and is subcontracted by the NSF to provide pilots and aircraft for the Antarctic summer.

The plane duly arrrived full of French and Italians who had recently been at Dome C. This was my first opportunity to take a really close look at a Twin Otter. At first sight it appears to have been designed with a
complete disregard for the principles of aerodynamics. There are cables hanging out in the breeze everywhere, the skis are attached to the axles where the wheels once were---even the anti-lock brake sensors are still in place, the suspension consists of a bunch of leaf springs that look like they're out of an FJ Holden, and a curious arrangement of bungee cords stops the skis from flapping up and down.

The bad news was that fog was rolling in to BTN, and that we might not be able to make it back. The pilot decided to wait for half an hour, during which he entertained me with graphic descriptions of how the Twin Otter that serviced AGO 6 this year had caught a wingtip in the snow on take-off and ripped the entire wing off. I found some reassurance in the fact that the pilot apparently felt this a sufficiently unusual occurence to be worthy of comment. It was in fact he who went in to collect the by now somewhat shaken (but unhurt) crew. Susequently a Hercules went in to collect up the identifiable bits of Twin Otter, put them in boxes and cart them back to Canada.

Anyway, that was basically it for pre-flight briefing, so we all hopped in and scooted off across the airfield to refuel.

Have you ever pulled in to a petrol sation only to find the pump doesn't reach? Embarassing, isn't it? Well, imagine doing it in a Twin Otter. It was only a matter of about a foot, mind you, but both engines had to be
re-started, given a good hard rev and then a sudden burst of coarse pitch to break the skis free (they freeze to the ice), followed immediately be a whole heap of reverse thrust to pull us up again. Could be worse, I thought to myself, we still have two wings.

Then, without further ado, off to BTN! It was actually a fabulous 90 minute flight, cruising at a mere 1500 feet down the coast of McMurdo Sound in brilliant sunshine and quite spectacular scenery. As we approached BTN we could see low cloud so we dropped to 700 feet to come in under it. After a few minutes the ground disapperaaed and then the sky, until we were in complete whiteout. As far as I could see the radar altimeter was the only thing with even the vaguest notion of where the ground was. It was pretty clear we didn't know where we were so the pilot gunned the engines and spiralled up to 5,000 feet, so at least we could see where the mountains were (everywhere, basically). We then swung out to sea and came in for a second approach, this time at 500 feet. I even got to see my first penguins! (Well, they might have been minature nuns but I think they were penguins.) However the low fog got us again while we were still 9 miles out from the runway, so there was nothing for it but to head back to McMurdo.

We'll try again tomorrow at 5:30. The same fog also caused the incoming Hercules from Christchurch to turn back, so there will be no northbound flight tomorrow. Jill (who arrived from Pole this afternoon) and Jess
will be stuck here a while longer.

The film "Mad Max II" has recently been mentioned in these dispatches, and so I was amused when leaving through an issue of the Sierra Club magazine to find that it was given a "thumbs up" rating for its positive portrayal of environmental issues. It just goes to show that you don't need to hug a tree to be a greenie.

John

Tuesday 25th Jan: McMurdo

From Jill.......

Back in McMurdo! The weather is noticeably warmer and it is nice to get out of my big boots and wear normal clothes again (i.e. without zippers and velcro!). As soon as we arrived the rumours started about cancelled flights and priority lists. Jess and John are still here, awaiting the next flight out. Jess and I spent the day playing basketball, doing washing and in the sauna. We were quite surprised to hear a flight scheduled for tomorrow had our names on the manifest. What we were about to find out was that I had priority 60, Jess had 61 and John had 62 (out of a maximum of 65). This not only confused us, but several other people who had been "bumped" from previous flights (with a priority of 1 and 2) now found themselves with a priority of 65 and 58 respectively! We gave up trying to work out the logic behind it and began to pack. With 65 people we knew the flight was not going to be pretty. Jess and I decided that the best tactic to survive the flight was to stay up all night in the hope that we could lie all over cargo and sleep on it the whole way back (and yes John we were studying problems in Electrodynamics...oh wait, does beer count?).

We also walked around to "Huts point", where Scott's hut is still standing. We were trying to spot whales, but alas they were nowhere to be seen. The final flight manifest went up at 5am - we were annoyed, but not surprised to find they had cut the list at 60...which meant I was going and Jess and John were staying (how is that fair?). John as well as a few others eventually made the flight and after a few "mechanical problems" we were in the air and bound for the grass, darkness and fresh food and beer of Christchurch!

 

From John Storey......

Today began at 5:30 am when I rang the pilots to find out if we were going. Unfortunately they didn't know themselves, because for some reason all contact with Terra Nova Bay (BTN) had been lost. It wasn't until 8:30
that we finally got through, and found that the weather there was just like it was in McMurdo---perfect.

We jumped into the shuttle van and headed out to Williams Field, collecting Jack Sayers (formerly logistics Manager for the Australian Antarctic Division and now Director or COMNAP) from Scott Base along the
way.

I had mentioned to the pilot how much I'd enjoyed the low-level flight the previous day, so before taking off he asked me if I'd like to go lower this time. I said: "Sure. How low are we allowed to fly?", to which he replied simply "How low would you like to go?" We settled on 500 feet.

Pre-flight formalities were minimal, in stark contrast to the Hercules flights where you typically have to hang around for hours, climb on, sit around for yonks and then climb off again, only to repeat the process a couple of hours later. With the Twin Otter it was just a matter of walking up to the aircraft, lobbing the hand-carry in, and starting the engines. The main problem was deciding which seat to sit in.

Breaking the skis free from the ice was a moderately dramatic exercise, which involved giving full throat to the engines and rocking the elevators up and down over their full travel so the aircraft see-sawed up and down. It suddenly broke free and took off like a turpentine cat, before being reined back to taxi sedately across to the skiway.

The flight to BTN was perfect, taking just 90 minutes in crystal clear conditions. From 500 feet we could see every penguin and seal along the way, and the scenery was just spectacular.

However coming across the ice towards the landing strip at BTN the pilot adjusted his seat belt very tight and advised us to the same, on account of "turbulence". Shortly later the plane was being thrown all over the sky, but somehow managed to weave up the narrow valley between the mountains. Suddenly the pilot stood the plane on its wingtip and did an extraordinarily tight U-turn, then started dropping out of the sky at an alarming rate. We hit the ground surprisingly gently, considering the speed we were going, and pulled up in what seemed like just a few feet with the help of an enormous blast of reverse thrust. When we climbed out the folk on the ground were desperately trying to reload their cameras and were discussing who'd managed to get the best shot. Apparently it was one of the most spectacular approaches and cross-wind landings they'd seen in a while---the wind was at exactly 90 degrees to the skiway and 24 knots gusting to 40.

A small group of French and Italian folk then climbed aboard, and the Twin Otter took off for McMurdo again by flying *across* the strip, getting airborne in no time.

We were then introduced to an amiable New Zealand helicopter pilot who led us to a beautiful little French-made Squirrel. Within minutes we were airborne again, lifting up above the steep sides of the valley. From that vantage point I could see just how narrow the valley was and was very glad we didn't push our luck with yesterday's landing.

We flew across the ridge and then dropped down in to the BTN station, to be met by the station manager and Head of the Italian Antarctic Program, Mario Zuchelli. For the next four hours he treated us to a tour of the station, followed by an excellent Italian lunch with fresh lettuce and tomato and *real* coffee. We had a long discussion about Dome C and our future plans there, and made a lot of progress towards what I think is going to be a very valuable relationship. There seems to be no obstacle to taking the sub-millimetre tipper to Dome C next summer.

BTN station is in the most beautiful location, with weather-worn rocks all around, a steep snow-covered ridge behind and a clear blue sea in front. In the distance, Mount Melbourne (2,700m) towers above the station in much the way Erebus does at McMurdo. Most of the station has fairly unarresting architecture, being constructed from shipping contatiners all joined together. However just above the station are three new buildings which look like Tyrolean ski-lodges, adding a surreal touch to this lovely place.

By the way, I asked the pilot how they get an unpressurised Twin Otter into Dome C, which is at some 12,000 feet pressure altitude. The answer seems to be that you fly at 800 feet above the snow and breath oxygen from time to time.

Halfway through the visit Paolo called up from the South Pole on the HF SSB radio to discuss a problem with the epoxy we had used on our optical fibres. I could hear Paolo very clearly (I think they have 10kW at Pole), but with only 1kW from BTN he was having a some difficulty hearing me. I was busting to tweak the antenna tuner but there didn't seem to be any knobs to turn. Modern transmitters are no fun. Nevertheless we had a useful chat. At the end of the visit we climbed once more into the Squirrel, did a slow orbit of the station, and lifted up and over the ridge to drop down into the valley where the airstrip is. A short time later the Twin Otter arrived (no drama this time) but announced on landing that the hydraulic pump had busted. I thought we were going to have to spend the night in BTN, but unfortunately the pilot said he didn't really need a hydraulic pump because all it did was work the flaps and stuff, so we all piled in and flew back to McMurdo.

Thank you, Paolo, for organising the visit. It was great, and very useful.

I'm currently scheduled to fly to Christchurch tomorrow with the New Zealand Airforce (do I really want ot fly with an outfit whose symbol is a flightless bird?) However, my priority number is 62 out of 65 passengers, so there's a fair probability I'll be "bumped".

John

Thursday 27th Jan: The story stops here...

After arriving last night, we handed in all our ECW gear, headed straight for our respective hotels - in the shower and then on to the "Dux-de-lux"! We longed for fresh fruit, vegetables, fish and beer - all of which can be found in abundance at the "Dux". The "Dux" is a regular meeting place of Antarctic travellers and at any one time, you can find at least 5 people either going to or returning from the Ice (trust me they stand out!).

After having our fair share of excellent food (and a bit of mud cake) we walked around Christchurch, enjoying the dark, the warm weather and the stars! Unlike several other people I had travelled with, I was only gone 2 weeks, but still missed the trees, the fragrances in the air and especially the stars! Jess is still waiting in McMurdo and is scheduled (with hopefully a higher priority) for the flight on Friday, at which point we will gather our things together, get some photos developed (watch these pages in the next weeks), hire a car and head for the best hot springs and cocktails NZ has to offer!!

Just before I finish, I'd like to thank the NSF/CARA and the UNSW for giving me the opportunity to go the South Pole - a memorable experience that I'm sure will be a hard act to follow (although Jess and I will do our utmost to try in the following weeks!). Thanks also to John, Andre, Paolo and Jess for being great to work with and to Michael Ashley for being our "sea-level brain".

Hope you enjoyed the diaries. 

Cheerio

Jill :)

1st February 2000

From John Storey.......

This will be the final email from me for this trip. I am writing it as I fly Qantas across the Tasman from Christchurch to Sydney on the final leg of my journey home.

Yesterday (Australia Day) was a very on-again, off-again sort of day. The drama started the previous evening when we received our "priority numbers" for Wednesday's flight to Chch. Sixty-five lucky people were listed to fly---Jill, Jess and I were allocated 60, 61 and 62 respectively. The only problem was that there are only 60 seats the Hercules, and then only if there are no head winds, additional cargo or last minute crises of confidence that make the pilot decide to hurl a few more passengers off the list. So we were pretty confident we were all going to get "bumped". I went off to bed, while Jill and Jess decided to stay up all night. Being concientious students I guess they were= working through problems in Jackson's "Electrodynamics". At 6 am I wandered down to check the manifest and sure enough, Jess and I were bumped but remarkably Jill was still on. So
I went back to bed again.

I was woken an hour later by people in the corridor yelling in Italian and German. This pleased me none, so I lay staring up at the ceiling thinking what an awful place McMurdo was to be stuck in and wondering if I should revise my uncharacteristically ambivalent glossary entry for it, possibly along the lines of it being one of the few justifiable uses for thermonuclear missiles.

This ungenerous train of thought was shattered a moment later when the phone rang. Could I be ready to leave in six minutes? I shoved everything in my carry-on and said a quick farewell to Robbo, my room-mate. (Robbo is the South Pole winter-over doctor this year, who was "enjoying" a week's R&R in McMurdo. He's known at South Pole as "Robo-doc".) I was picked up by a van (service! Normally you have to stagger up the hill to board the bus) and whisked directly out to the Pegasus ice runway where a wheeled Hercules of the New Zealand Air Force was waiting. Two other folk, neither of whom was Jessica, were also with us, having also been "un-bumped".

So everything was looking pretty good for getting on the plane. Apparently three of the Italians had failed to check in on time and so, after efforts to locate them failed (I guess that's what all the yelling in the corridor was about), they were crossed off and we were substituted. Rumours started to circulate that we had duct-taped them to their beds, but this is completely untrue.

Then things went bad again as the New Zealander's decided there was something wrong with a wheel strut, and it would
take a couple of hours to fix. So we hung about out at Pegasus and finally boarded, and then they decided one engine didn't have enough oil so we sat on the plane for another hour and ten minutes, and then finally just as I was certain we were all about to driven back to McMurdo and some of us replaced by Italians, we took off.

So that was more or less it for yesterday. On arriving in Christchurch I discovered my luggage hadn't arrived, but Jessica's had. I guess I can live without mine for a couple of days, but I fear Jess is by now getting thoroughly sick of McMurdo and that her mood will not be improved by the knowledge that most of clothes are currently orbiting the baggage carousel at Christchurch airport. She should be able to escape in a day or two. We can only speculate on why
they couldn't contact her at 7:15 am yesterday. Perhaps she was in the shower. Perhaps she was crying so loudly she
couldn't hear the phone. We may never know.

Jessica will be glad to know that Jill and Von and I toastedher good health in the Dux Deluxe last night.

Farewell till next time,
John

 

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