Antarctic Astronomy Diaries 2002/03

   

   
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Sunday, January 12, 2003

Priscilla, Queen of the Antarctic

If only we could have persuaded Tony to dress up in drag, stand on top of the AASTINO and trail 20 metres of bubble-wrap behind him, it would have been perfect. As it was, it was pretty good. Around about mid-morning the Kaesbohrer came out to the Astrophysics Tent. Two strong chains were used to attach the sled upon which the AASTINO sits to the back of the Kaesbohrer, the UNSW flag was carefully mounted on the sled, and away we went. Jon stayed in the AASTINO to keep an eye on things. Tony and I grabbed a Skidoo each, and while Tony took dozens of photos I captured what I could on video. We each had a radio, as did the Kaesbohrer driver, so that we could be in constant communication. The precession headed across the snow at no more than a fast walking pace. Inside the AASTINO, Jon reports that is was "rough", with lots of worrying creaks and noises. However nothing fell over, nothing was damaged, and we arrived at the summit of Robert hill about 20 minutes after setting off.

There was quite a crowd of spectators lining the route - that is, if a station of now 51 people could constitute a crowd. Some even ran along ahead of the procession in order not to miss any of the highlights. The sky was fantastic, just a pure crystal blue hemisphere above the soft white snow.

The AASTINO was gently pushed and prodded into position by the Kaesbohrer, we reconnected to the station electrical power, and that was that. Time for lunch. Well, not quite. First we all had to pose for photos in front of the AASTINO, in various combinations and postures, including the "official" photo with Mario Zucchelli. As is usually the case, the wind was so low that the UNSW flag refused to do more than a token flutter, but hopefully it's recognisable in some of the shots.

After lunch, Tony set about putting up the tent, which we had bought from a camping shop at the last moment to give us a place to put the things that don't fit in the AASTINO while we're working on them. (We haven't had to use our tent yet, because we've been squatting in the Astrophysics Tent.) At the same time that Tony was putting the tent up, I started assembling the solar panels onto their stands. Both tasks took a ridiculous amount of time - as simple tasks sometimes do in Antarctica. After two hours Tony was still wrestling with telescoping rods that wouldn't stay together because the elastic was too cold, what seemed like acres of billowing cloth that had a mind of its own, and tent pegs that slipped gleefully out of the snow as soon as you turned your back on them. Meanwhile, I had assembled five of the six bright yellow steel bars that made up the solar panel frame, and the sixth was nowhere to be found.

How one could possibly lose a 60 cm long, bright yellow piece of steel was a complete mystery, and all of us searched high and low for it. I even took off my yellow goggles so it would have more contrast against the snow. Just when I was about to trudge off to the carpentry shop and make a wooden substitute, and Tony was about to go totally insane, the tent suddenly erupted into a completed structure. Inspired, Jon and I picked up the fly of the tent and gave it a shake. Like a magician pulling a dove from a handkerchief, the yellow bar emerged and I was able to complete the frame.

We've now switched on the 24 volt bus in the AASTINO, and we're happily charging the batteries from solar power. It's wonderful to see the control panel lit up with all the green and red digital displays. Jon has completed the exhaust system for the engines - something we didn't want to do until the great trans-Antarctic expedition (the whole 1.5 km of it) had been completed. Tomorrow we'll bleed the coolant and the fuel lines, and push the big button. As final statement of our readiness, last thing this afternoon I picked up 60 litres of Jet A1 from the station fuel dump.

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