McMurdo in October

Sunday, 1 October 1995
After weeks of trying, we finally made it out to the ice caves. The time change to daylight savings time (one hour forward) didn't help any - as soon as The Erebus closed, it was suddenly 02:00. We assembled at 09:00 and headed out to the Ice Tongue in a Delta. It was fairly still, not cold and very overcast. I slept for most of the trip (I'm told there are pictures). Once there, one by one, we climbed the aluminum ladder into a crawl hole that lead to a navigable passage and a slope up to the rear of the cave area. Out of the direct light of the sun, we were surrounded in soft blue light, tinted by the ice that made up the caves. No lamps were required in any room; there was always plenty of light to see by (and take pictures by). Some of the passages had ropes anchored to the walls. They didn't help, I slipped anyway; bunny boots have zero traction.

Snapping pictures the whole time, I went up that initial slope, down a long, narrow passage and to a fork. There were caverns in three directions; I visited them all. The one to the right was especially high, over 30' (10m). I crawled through a few more passages and then it was time to go. We had only been there 45 minutes, but the weather was starting to turn, so we left. When we emerged into the bright, white light, it was still Condition 3, turning worse by the minute. I got colder walking from the cave entrance back to the Delta than I did while crawling around in the caves. The driver put the pedal to the metal and got us home in time for Sunday Brunch.

Because of all the prep work I did this past week, Babylon 5 went well at the (summertime) Coffee House. I showed the last of the tapes from airdrop ("Hunter, Prey") and the first of the tapes I borrowed from Scott Humpert ("There All the Honor Lies"). I hope we get some mail before I leave for R&R, or there won't be any new epsiodes to show when I get back.

Monday, 2 October 1995
There was a send-off party for Sharon Hauer at the Coffee House last night. It was mostly NSFA folks, Connie Garcia and myself the only ASA'ers. Sharon brought some champaigne and we toasted to a good WinFly season. Because of her studies, this was probably her only season down here. I get the impression that she didn't like it much when she arrived, but she warmed up to the place pretty quickly.

Tonight, the Erebus was crowded by all the people who are here for their last night or to see off people who are here for their last night. The first '141 lands tomorrow at 13:00, officially ending WinFly and starting MainBody.

Wednesday, 4 October 1995
To my good fortune, I received a work order to retrive a printer from the Ice Runway. After I finished with my morning tasks, John Booth and I headed out to make the pick up. We arrived in time to see the C-5 appear over the Transantarctic Mountains; iMt was black against the nearly cloudless sapphire blue sky and the starkly white peaks. As it made its approach, it seemed to hover over the runway for almost a minute. Just as it was about to make its final descent, it pulled up and flew by at less than 800 feet (I was told later that the tower wanted to test the TACAN navigation system before landing the plane). I shot half-a-roll on the first approach and flyby, and (hopefully) got a great shot of the C-5, low over the tower, passing a huge gibbous moon. The second approach was for real, and it touched down and screamed by, slowing down faster than I ever could have imagined possible. It finally took a left turn at the tower and parked about 300 yards away from where I'd left the van. As I was getting ready to leave, I stopped to locate my sunglasses; I'm glad I did - if I had left right away, I'd have missed the plane opening up the cargo hatch. On most planes, this isn't anything to write home about; on a C-5, the cargo is loaded in from the front of the plane - the entire nose lifts up and out of the way. I snapped several pictures, including a few of passengers disembarking. Seeing little tiny people emerge from a tiny hatch really shows how huge that thing is.

One of the most striking things about the whole experience was that between the line of people and trucks watching the approach and landing, the lack of trees and buildings around the runway and the way the plane hung in the sky for a few moments, it reminded me of scenes of the Space Shuttle landing at Edwards Airforce Base. Maybe someday I'll get the chance to compare the two from personal experience.

Friday, 6 October 1995
It's about 16:00; I've got an hour to collect my stuff and head over to the MCC for transportation to the Ice Runway. I was in the CSEC library (upstairs phase I) when the C-5 came in. Watching in the telescope that's up there, I followed its approach right up to landing. This time, the plane landed on a crosswind approach, providing an excellent show for those of us in town who were watching.

There were no shuttles to Scott Base last night; John Ethridge and I decided to walk. We got as far as Cosray and saw a truck parked outside, so we stopped to warm up. Mark Hervig was inside, trying to track a descending package with little luck. After he made a few attempts to reaquire the signal, we all headed over the hill. I got a chance to say farewells to a few of their winter-over team and found that I won't be in the right places at the right times to hook up with any of them on this brief trip.

It looks like my current plans are to spend a week in Christchurch and then go up to Wellington to visit the members of Many Hands, a Kiwi band I met because they will be broadcasting a concert via CU-SeeMe on October 27th.

Tuesday, 24 October 1995
It's dinner-time. I just got back from helping Mark Hervig and Bruno Nardi (S-131) launch a particle counter. It all started last night when I left the coffee house for my office in Crary Lab wide awake from the refreshing novelty of midnight sun (and two cafe au lait's :-) I was catching up on two weeks of backlogged e-mail when I took a break and peered out my window at the sun nearly setting behind Mt. Aurora, and the rich colors on the ice shelf painted by the low, sidelong light. I ran down to Phase II with my camera and spotted Mark in his lab, babysitting an ozone sonde. After I snapped a few pictures of Herc's at the Ice Runway, lit from behind, I came back in to see what Mark was up to. He and Bruno were debating on whether or not to launch a particle counter based on telemetry that indicated that the temperatures at 30km were around -79°C (-110°F). At around 04:00, they decided to postpone the launch until noon to give them a chance to get some sleep before their helo ride to recover a previously launched package. I got a little sack time myself and worked a full morning. After lunch, Mark and Bruno were back and preparing the package. The winds were still low, the upper atmosphere was still cold and the launch was still on. Everything came together just before dinner. We all went down to the pad (behind B-156), Mark stretched out the protective tarps and unpacked the balloon. Bruno went back to the Lab to turn on the instrument package and bring it down while Mark, Paul Sullivan (the CSEC Electronics Technician) and I filled the balloon. Once filled, Bruno returned with the instrument package and he and Mark finished final assembly of the payload. Dangling from the balloon (in order) was the "dropper", a racheted reel assembly that allows the instrument to descend below the vortex created beneath the rising balloon; the release mechanism, consisting of a barometric device coupled to a timer that fires a "squib" which cuts the instrument free at a predetermined time (usually 46 minutes) after the balloon reaches a predetermined altitude (usually 5 millibars); a parachute section, which also contains a squib (to cut the 'chute free when the package hits the ground); the "tinkertoy", a brightly colored structure made of neon-colored plastic tubing and PVC pipe which carries the electronic locator beacon and the GPS transmitter; and finally, at the very bottom, the styrofoam and foil box which contains the particle counter itself.

When the winds were as calm as they were going to get, Mark peeled off the yellow protective plastic from the balloon below the "bubble" as Bruno went hand-over-hand and let the bubble rise a little bit at a time, until the entire envelope was floating freely. Mark quickly ran around to the end of the instrument chain and picked up the particle counter, while I held the tinkertoy. Mark and I walked toward Bruno as he released more and more of the payload until we were nearly on top of him. On a four count, Bruno let go entirely and I let the tinkertoy fly out of my hands when the line went taut. The instrument package followed and the balloon was aloft. We watched it rise nearly straight up in the unusually calm winds until it vanished into the low clouds.

Friday, 27 October 1995
Tonight's the Many Hands concert, "World Without Strangers". The CU-SeeMe reflector in Wellington is up and running, but nobody is transmitting anything. I haven't gotten any e-mail from anyone in the band today, so I really don't know what's going on.

I haven't been up to much lately. I've been sick since the day after I got back from R&R; The Crud strikes again. Mostly, I've been going to the coffee house and relaxing with old friends who are leaving and meeting new friends who are just arriving.

Saturday, 28 October 1995
First times frequently have rough edges; the "World Without Strangers" project was no exception. Because a critical piece of software didn't arrive as planned, the 2 mbps microwave link to the venue didn't materialize. Instead, I got to see a small snippet of the end of the encore show when they finally got online, thanks to a 28.8Kbps modem and an impossibly long telephone cord stretching across the parking lot. It was dark at Shed 11, but I could see some musicians and jugglers. I stuck around until the end and crashed around 1 in the morning.

The weather started out great as I went out on the sea ice with Dan Gustafson of S-027. His group studies brine pockets in the ice itself and the flora and fauna that grow in water 7 times saltier than sea water. The rest of his group hasn't arrived yet, so he asked the lab staff if he could get some assistance for the day. The trip to the back side of Inaccessible Island took about an hour, including a stop by a seal colony at Razorback Island. Our destination was right by the pressure ridge I visited at Sea Ice school. We used the kovacs drill to test the ice thickness where we were standing (2.3 m), then carried our equipment and supplies to the other side of the crack. Once there, we used the Siper corer to remove a 90+ cm plug of ice, which I sawed into nine 10cm segments. Dan drilled holes in each one, measured the internal temperature and stored them in individually labeled plastic tubs.

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