Antarctic Astronomy Diaries 2002/03

   

   
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Tuesday, February 11, 2003

The Last Day

I am writing this diary from the astrolabe- it is currently moored by the island station Dumont D'ville. I arrived here yesterday afternoon after leaving Dome C yesterday morning. The door is now closed on the AASTINO: but it was not exactly under the circumstances I had anticipated.

After a couple of hours sleep from the previous night - and an early breakfast I had spent all of Thursday in the AASTINO finishing of the muiltitude of small tasks left and keeping an eye on things. I also continued to work on the engine management script and on making sure the instruments were running and collecting data. I worked through "night" but ave to admit to simply staring out the window appreciating where i was for a lot of the time. The view of the empty white horizon that stretches out towards the South Pole is amazing. Particularly late at night when the sun is threatening to set.

My plane was due at 6.30 am, so at 5.30 am when everything looked like it was behaving itself and there was only a few things left to do, i began to write the last days diary. This diary was descibing how well everything was working and that i was just about to "close the door". This was to be a very ceremonial and symbolic event, given the extra finality involved in sealing it with silicon and taping it closed with aluminium tape (to keep out the cold winter air).

At 6 am, i logged onto the newtork via the iridium phone to send off the diary entry. There was one new message. "Hmmm...strange" i thought, it was from Michael Ashley. It said: "There's something wrong with the computer system, we need to fix this today, please ring me". A mild panic then ensued as i thought about how two years of work was about to implode just before kick-off and that Micahels "today" actually only meant "20 minutes". A quick phone-call to Michael confirmed that 20 minutes wouldn't do, so i raced across to the station (naturally my skiddo wouldn't start as it had been sitting out in the cold all night) and asked about the next flight. There was a Twin Otter scheduled at 10.30 am, this was the last flight to Dumont D'ville!!

Okay back out to the AASTINO and the iridium satellite system decided to go cactus - calls only last a minute before dropping out and you can only understand half of what is being said. After about an hour, and 10 phone calls to Michael, the head of station Camillo, came out to the AASTINO. He suggested that if i couln't fix the problem, i could stay on till station close the next day, then fly to Terra Nova Bay - the Italian coastal station. He also described the logistical nightmare involved in getting me from Terra Nova to Sydney, that i may not make it to Dumont D'ville before the astrolabe left, could possibly get home via McMurdo and Christchurch but nobody could know when.There was also a slight possibility that i would have to work my way home (via Norway) on a Norwegian whaling vessel.
It is typical of the help we have been getting here that despite this logistical nightmare, he was perfectly happy to accomodate me. "But, he said, "the Dumont D'ville flight is early - you have 10 minutes to decide, and half an hour till the flight leaves". Another 10 phone calls to Michael, some frantic keyboard hammering, and we seemed to have fixed (or at least diagnosed) the communications problem. Then the station radio starts screaming at me "Pedro, Pedro, where are
you, the plane is leaving". So i had a last look around the AASTINO, throw everything in the back of a skidoo, slam the door closed, squirt a bit of silastic in the gaps, and race off to the plane. After which, i spend the 4 hour trip trying to remember what i forgot to do {Yes, John, the solar panels are ON: i think...}.

Back on the astrolabe, i have just rung Michael who has fixed the computer problem, and reports that everything else is looking good. I really have no idea if the whole system will crash and burn tomorrow or last until next summer, but 1/300 th of the way there is a lot different to 0/300 th, so i think we are in with a good chance.

The amazing adventure is not yet over for me: I will spend the next few days in Dumont D'ville, before another 5 or so days on the astrolobe. I can easily sum up those times now though. My time here will be spent sleeping, watching penguins, improving my newly acquired babyfoot skills, trying to beat Tony at pingpong, eating the excellent food (hopefully no more snails) and taking advantage of the free beer. The astrolabe voyage will be five days spent enjoying the extremely placid state brought on by the sea-sickness medication, followed by bouts of vomiting over the bough. Should be fun!!

By Jon Lawrence

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