Antarctic Astronomy Diaries 2002/03

   

   
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Thursday, December 12, 2002

13. Life in a lift

13 Dec 2002 - Paolo G. Calisse

This year I have been accomodated in that quite corner of the station called Hypertat, about 300 m away from the dome, that is the core of the station. The Hypertats are accomodations built in metal, same shape of a tunnel tent, but larger. There is a door on each edge (see picture). As you have closed the door behind you, you find yourself in an almost complete darkness. Another door avoid the cold outdoor air get into the dormitory.

After the second door you find a long corridor, a loud noise of fans and heating devices blowing huges quantity of hot air in front of you. May looks as a paradox that you will be condamned to suffer the hot in the coldest places of the world, but it's exactly what I experienced here like in midwinter in Finnland.

At each side of the central corridor, you see sliding doors, that give you access to the smallest cubicle a person can imagine. Each cubicle contains a bed and a wardrobe. but the room is so tiny that it's impossible to open the wardrobe's door and at same time stay on the side of the bed. So, someone removed the doors of my wardrobe, smart move.

The remaining space is used by an old chair and by the usual mess that is part of the life of any people living here. A mix of socks, glasses, Extreme Cold Weather cloths, books, papers, cable, equipment, pens, pencils, instruments, computer pieces and bits all round. The room is so tiny that to go to bed you have to play a game like the one with 15 tiles to be ordered: you move in turn each thing up to the moment you are horizontal in the bed. At that time all the rest of the things in the above list have reached the status of complete mess. The total surface of the room is, at last, the same like an industrial lift.

The Hypertat is pretty similar to the Jamesway (the more common accomodation of the station described in other entries of the diaries, last year) but you have a window as a plus and the structure is in metal, not in two layers of canvas and wood that, at least, looks more bright and clean.

Now, there is a problem. You have to drink a lot here because the air is dry and you risk severe diseases if you don't drink enough. But, as everyone knows, to drink more means more frequent trips to the toilet, and this can be a problem when you are in a bed 100 m away from the nearest toilet (for example in the Jamesway) while others, like the more lucky ones sleeping in the Hypertat, are connected to the toilet by a 30 m long not heated corridor, with ice everywhere and snow on each side of the path (see picture). I identified it as "the Corridor of Terror".

Last but not least, don't forget the well known assumption that as much cold is as much urgent is to reach the toilet in time.

All the above arguments linked together, transform that relaxing trip to the toilet in a painfull experience.

If you sleep in the Jamesway, you wake up with the well known urgent need. You have to dress all your clothes, walk 100 m in the snow, get undressed again, and do... whatever is needed. All the operation needs about 10 minutes and you have very careful in planning things in advance. For this reason, any skilled Antarctican get an empty can supplied by the kitchen in his room, and empty it at morning in the toilet.

If you are lucky, and sleep in the Hypertat, you don't need to dress, neither to keep the can in your room if you don't like the idea (like me). Anyway, you have still to cross the 30 m long "Corridor of Terror", while your cooling down brain sent you more and more urgent signals that "the end" is close if you don't find a urinatory in matter of seconds.

So, after several summer spent in this Station I can write a list of best and worst for almost any available accomodation in the station. Consider the following as something like a "Let's go South Pole": accomodations.

Dome dormitories

- best
close to the galley (you can get to eat in jeans) and to the main services
historical fashion (this is the first sleeping place for the winterover and the station intellighentia) you feel part of the real brain of the station
privacy - a separate room each person

worst
close to the galley
historical fashion (worn, dirty)

Jamesway
-best
farer from the airport
privacy

- worst
fare from the airport... but not enough
dark (no window)
tiny accomodation
first toilet at about 100 meter
noisy

Hypertat
- best
window
view on the airport
flat terrain all round
"modern"
connected to the toilets

- worst
anoisy
incredible tiny
view on the airport (see last entry)
flat terrain all round (flattened at 4:30 am every night)
connected to the toilet by "The Corridor of Terror"

Eldorm (VIP or blue building)
- best
clean
silent
facilities available
large room for you (if you are a real VIP...)

- worst
no privacy if you are not a real VIP as you have to share the room with 2 other people.

New station
still under construction, but looks gorgeous on the project...

To tell the truth I don't complain very much about this rough accomodation. What I really enjoy of Antarctica is that you discover you can live and be - by far more - happy renouncing to an outstanding number of things in your life. When there are no more endless message to "buy!", "own!" or "drive!" around you, you discover you don't need very m. You can forget, in turn, the television, the mobile phone, the cars, the sense of property, the food (part of), your home, the traffic, the town, the "unknown" people, the News, the commercial, the clothes. At least in my case.

You *can't* forget your partner, your son, the "green" and... your coffee machine. But this is another story.

Anyway, almost I forgot: what have we done today? Well, we have packed all our instrumentation (see picture) and had a meeting about the future of the AASTO, one debrifieng, and one weekly meeting about CARA, but Michael will tell you more about that.

The packing has been pretty easy and at 7pm everything was ready to leave.

The summit should go asap to Dome C. At evening, when the comms room was not so busy with the arrival of the LC-130 I called Terra Nova Bay, the Italian Station on the coast via radio, but the quality of the communications was so poor that at the end I called by Iridium phone. I spoken with the Head of the Station, Giuseppe de Rossi, a good old friend I work with when I was involved in the Airborne Polar Experiment, in Italy. Giuseppe gently agreed to bring the instrument to Dome C, but told me that there was a flight leaving on Sunday from McMurdo to Terra Nova Bay, the Italian Station on the coast, and than to Dome C a few days later. This flight will be the last before Christmas.

So, I immidiately asked to Cameron at Comms to check for the possibility to put the summit on one of tomorrow flights going to McMurdo. A short number of calls and in (really!) five minutes Cameron and Paddy at Cargo organized the shipping: the Summit will be got to Cargo at 7:30 am with a forklift (it is still on the roof of the AASTO) and forwarded to McMurdo at 12:30. In 3 days it should reach Dome C, where it will spend the next 2 winter.

At last, I have been able to organize the shipping of a box through 3 stations and 3 flights in a matter of half an hour. Let me say that only in Antarctica you could do that!

Bye bye Summit! Have a nice trip. I'll miss you here. I hope you will find Concordia equally exciting! Please don't forget to write your data to me every day. I hope you will not fill the solitude. At Dome C you would not to chat with the Pharlap, but you will have some other instrument like the sodar, that is a pretty nice instrument, also if a bit noisy, let me say.....

Thursday is Clean-up day!

South Pole Diary, 12/12/02

The weather changed today! After endless clear sunny days some thin, low cloud came in. The weather warmed up to -30, but the wind picked up too. A thin haze covers the sky. Not enough to bother the aircraft, and so the steady procession of arrivals and departures to McMurdo continued.

We're now in clean-up mode. Paolo and Michael Ashley did the last tests they wanted with SUMMIT, so its time to pack the instrument away, and clean up the mess we've go the AASTO in. The carpenter came out to check Paolo's precise drawings for the boxes, but he needn't have made the journey - the plans were perfect! Paolo went off to do e-mail, and I had the fun job of cleaning up the AASTO. With ripping out the Whispergen, installing blueboard walls, and the general mess left from a winter of use, the AASTO really was looking the worse for wear. I borrowed a deluxe vacuum cleaner from the MAPO building (where most of the astronomers hang out) and got to work. Screws, cable bits, dust - they all were sucked up! The bigger bits went in the bin, and hence to re-cycling (you have to choose from a dozen boxes, ranging from paper, to plastic, to various types of metal, to the catch-all of construction debris - always a good one to choose when you cant work out which box to use!). Desk and coat space re-appeared, and all looked tidy and ordered once more. Paolo was amazed when he later looked in!

We've signed up to give the Sunday Science talk, a weekly exposition at Pole given by various scientists here about why they are here and what they are
doing. We've boldly chosen the title "From AASTO to Dome C", and by this afternoon started thinking that maybe we should start preparing for it. So Paolo started downloading some of his past mega-talks over the internet, while I, more fortunately, had my laptop with some of my past offerings already on it. And we set about preparing our talks in the usual cut, paste, delete, cut and paste manner of organised and well-prepared scientists! Pole is equipped with its own data projector, so it will be a full multi-media show on Sunday night.

Then this evening, not having anything much to do, Paolo and I discussed science! Paolo has been preparing a couple of papers on the SUMMIT, describing the results from the first measurements at Dome C and how they compared to Pole. He also discovered a fundamental error in the past analysis methods used for the type of data ('skydips') we obtain, which was worthy of a paper in its own right. Of course, the referee didn't necessarily think so! So we had some healthy argument while I tried to persuade Paolo that perhaps there were some points that the ref made which might need consideration, and Paolo defended his work. All in the spirit of true science!

Michael

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