Antarctic Astronomy Diaries 2003/04

   

   
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Saturday, January 03, 2004

McMurdo

Well, second time lucky. They raced us onto the plane this morning, a little less bright-eyed and bushy-tailed than the day before. If these weather delays go on for a while, it begins to feel like groundhog day, checkout of hotel, go to airport, dress in silly clothing, get out of silly clothing, leave airport, check back into hotel...you get the idea.

So it was great to be loaded onto the bus and taken out to the plane: luckily this year, its a ride in a C-141, instead of a Hercules C-130. Its the Herc's big brother, with huge wings that dip down towards the ground, almost like a bird, mid-flap. Unfortunately it doesn't improve much in the comfort stakes, with eighty-eight people on board, you sit in your netting seat rubbing knees with the people opposite you. The only good thing is the 141 makes the trip to McMurdo in five hours, instead of eight. Very good thing. I munched through my paperbag lunch, and we landed - which is quite strange as there are no visible portholes to see through, and for such an enormous aircraft, they touch down so lightly on the ice (and on wheels, not skis like a Hercules) that you very nearly aren't aware of it.

We stepped out to a stunning clear still day - very rare, even for this time of year. It is three years since I've last been to the Ice, and it felt a bit like starting a trip home. The volcano Mt Erebus loomed in front of me, and behind, on the other side of the permanent sea-ice we'd just landed on, were the jutting black lines of the Trans-Antarctic mountains. A thirty minute ride into McMurdo base, and we arrived in the midst of the stations New Year celebrations. And I mean in the midst. I stepped out of the main building to see a big stage set up for a band, and most station people in front of it. But really I didn't see this first. The first thing I saw was two men on stage in oversized cardboard top hats, gumboots and nappies. With "04" painted on their chests in black paint. Welcome to Antarctica.

It is Sunday tomorrow, so no flights to Pole until Monday. So I have a day here at Mactown instead, and will be working on a science talk I've been asked to give at South Pole next week. It was meant to be tomorrow and I was hoping to get out of it given these delays, but the gentleman in charge has kindly postponed my talk till Wednesday. Bugger.

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