- Friday, 1 September 1995
As things often do around here, the schedule has changed. I'll be
installing a Ritron and an Optiphone system (full-duplex UHF telephones)
along with the PC. I've got to get my gear packed today and be ready to
go at ten minutes to nine in the morning.
- Saturday, 2 September 1995 (from Marble Point)
I'm over at Marble Point. I'm logged into a Sun Sparcstation back at
McMurdo over the Optiphone (Gotta love the 'net). We've got to head back
early - the
helo sprang a leak
in one of the hydraulic systems. There is a backup system, but the crew
wants to get back to town as soon as possible.
I called home (on my nickle) to test the phones; I got the machine. I
finally make it to the continent itself and there's nobody at home to talk
Right now, we are waiting for the second
to return with some of the PAX from the mornings flights. As soon as it
gets here, we'll pack up and head out.
The ride over here was smooth as silk. I was pretty excited when we
hopped over to
to pick up Tom and Jim. I'd never seen it from that angle.
- Saturday, 2 September 1995 (from MacTown)
About half of the hydraulic fluid leaked out by the time we got back to
town, but that didn't cause any handling problems for the pilot.
I had intended to write about this mornings activities from Marble Point,
but the hasty departure forced me to dash off a few disjointed sentences
and postpone the saga for another time. On the way out, I sat in the
leftmost seat with a clear view of the mountains for the entire trip. I
snapped a couple of shots of
right before we touched down, as well as a few pictures of the Royal
Society Mountains. It was a 30 minute flight each way, booking along at
about 100 knots. The refueling station at Marble Point is little more
than a big bare patch of dirt at the foot of a huge glacier (the
Wilson Piedmont Glacier). I looked at a map before leaving McMurdo - the
glacier is over 2 km away, but it looks like a five minute walk. There
are fuel bladders (kinda like waterbed mattresses, 30 feet on a side,
filled with JP-8), a generator building and living quarters. Everybody
out there lives in a 40 foot long building with a couple of bedrooms, a
lounge area, a kitchen and a small office (where the computer ended up).
It's not much more spacious than a large house trailer.
There wasn't a lot to look at in the middle of either trip. I did peer
out the window at the sea ice, 500 feet below, noticing some changes in
texture, depending on how far from shore we were. Most of the good stuff
was located at either end of the flight. At one point, about ten minutes
away from Marble, we passed over enormous cracks in the sea ice; the
pilot figured they were at least 15 feet across. The only other
interesting texture was when we passed over the channel cut by the
icebreakers last January. Some of the other landmarks were the Taylor
Valley (at the foot of the Kukri Hills, right by Marble Point), the Daley
Islands, and Ford Rock and Cone Hill (prominent humps in Hut Point
and Mt. Erebus).
- Monday, 4 September 1995
In a few minutes, we're going to go to
because of the -114°F windchill. The ambient temp up here at
at least -41°F and the winds are over 35 knots. If I don't get back to
room in the next few minutes, I'll be stuck up here until the weather lifts.
There are currently a couple of groups out on the sea ice. They went out
for a short trip, but that was Saturday. The weather has been ugly all
- Wednesday, 6 September 1995
It looks like I'll get a second chance at Marble Point tomorrow if the power
supply on the Ritron phone has been replaced. If not, who knows when I'll
go back out.
- Thursday, 7 September 1995 (from Marble Point)
I'm back. The flight over was much more placid... we flew out here
at an altitude of 1500-2000 feet (compared with 500 feet on the last
trip). As a result, even though we were barreling along at 100-120
knots, it felt like we were floating. With no landmarks, it looked
like we were 100 feet off the ice, even though I could see the
altimeter from where I sat. Everything looked so close in the sharp,
After a night of wrassling modems, I'm glad it all works. Hopefully,
I'll get a chance to make a stop or two on the way home, but there's never
When I set out on today's flight, I had the 135mm lens on my camera (as
opposed to the 55mm lens which usualy sits there). With the sulight
raking sharply over the ice shelf, I got some great pictures at 1/1000 sec.
If all went well, that's fast enough to eliminate jitter and vibration
from the engines.
- Thursday, 7 September 1995 (from MacTown)
As it turned out, I didn't get to go anywhere. The installation
went smoothly and I had a few minutes to walk around in the direct sunlight,
snapping photos. On the return flight, I was jammed into the
helo with 4
carpenters (and their gear) who were returning from a week at Lake Bonnie
in the Dry Valleys. I would gladly work as a carpenter's apprentice for
a chance like that.
- Friday, 8 September 1995
After a game of Trivial Pursuit at the Coffee House, a large group of
us went down to B-82
to help Sharon Hauer launch a small, high-altitude balloon. After Sharon
unpacked the balloon, we all went outside the building to fill it because
it was too large to fill indoors and take outside safely. I ended up
holding the helium fill hose and the balloon fill tube together (a process
that involves tightly gripping a large, cast aluminum nozzle as it sucks
the heat right out of your hands). Once filled, the balloon took on the
appearance of a ten-foot gossamer jellyfish, pulsing and throbbing in the
wind. After we got the instrument package tied on, six of us picked up the
balloon and walked down the road, past the power plant so that the winds
wouldn't drive the balloon into a building an destroy it. By this time,
we'd been outside for at least 20 minutes and few of us were dressed for
much more than walking between buildings. I was shocked that more than one
person wasn't wearing gloves - it was no warmer than -30°F with a
steady 15 knot wind.
- Tuesday, 12 September 1995
Last night, I got to watch the launch of the "300k" balloon, so
called because it expands out to 300,000 m³ before it pops. It took
over an hour for the two science teams to decide if there were
PSC's or not;
the type of sonde that would be launched hung in the balance. In the end,
it was decided to launch one of the larger packages; it contained a particle
counter and an ozone pressure sensor in addition to the usual altitude,
humidity and temperature hardware. Mark, Lyle, Bruno, Sharon, Guido,
Dongjie and I made our way down to
they quickly unrolled and inflated the 30m long balloon. Unlike the balloon
the other night, this one was firmer and much, much larger. It didn't pulse
in the wind, but held its teardrop shape throughout the filling procedure.
To protect the balloon, everything took place on large canvas tarps. The
unfilled portion of the balloon remained carefully wrapped in a bright
yellow plastic outer-wrap, giving the partially inflated balloon the
appearance of a white sperm with a long yellow tail. Once filled, several
people wrestled the balloon, raising it hand-over-hand, peeling the yellow
wrapper off a few feet at a time. Thus freed, it dwarfed the building next
to it, swaying gently in the light breeze. The payload consisted of three
sections: a parachute to ensure safe recovery of the package; the package
itself; and a brightly colored, flag covered construction of PVC pipe
attached to a locator transponder and portable GPS unit. The package costs
over $10,000, so it's important to be able to find it when it touches down.
It took four people to safely handle the various components so that nothing
would sustain any damage on takeoff. With little more than a "1, 2,
3", the balloon was airborne.
To keep the package from drifting out of the recovery zone (a 100 mile
radius, the maximum safe range of the
helos) the scientists
attach a programmable release mechanism. They use a pressure chamber that
is calibrated to 100 millibars back in the U.S. and attached to a timer.
That way, the scientists can adjust when the package lets go of the
balloon, in this particular case, 62 minutes after the balloon reached
Once it was clear that the ascent was going well, Mark and I headed out to
the backup receiver was set up. I still had a camera full of fast film and
was eager to go. I'm very glad I went: there were plenty of aurorae that
were too faint to be seen from McMurdo. We called the other members of the
balloon team, but they couldn't see anything past the town's lights. The
most visible were long and thin and low to the horizon, stretching from
behind Mt. Erebus around to past Mt. Discovery. At one point, the part of
the line over
crept upward and looked as if it were on fire; at another point, the line
was joined by others above it and below it. I took many pictures, bracing
myself as best as I could.
When the balloon reached a pressure of 4.7 millibars, the timer ran out and
the release did its job. For a little while, in the rareified atmosphere of
31,000 meters, the packaged plummeted at over 100 m/s (220 mph). Once the
air was dense enough to fill the chute, it slowed to 10 m/s. I later found
out that the package landed 90 miles away, nearly too far to recover.
- Sunday, 17 September 1995
It's been snowing a lot lately. Last night, the winds kicked up and drove
that snow off the Ice Shelf and into town. The Weather department
doesn't know how fast the winds were because the anemometer couldn't keep
up - the impeller was torn loose and vanished into the night. The last
known windspeeds were in the 70 knot range. I almost couldn't open
the door to dorm 210 when it was time to go home.
Despite the weather, things were hopping all night. After I caught the
tail end of "Four Weddings and a Funeral", Guido, Francesco, Bruno, Ulf,
Suzanne and I played Liar's Poker 'til
closed. From there, a herd of us fought our way across the parking lot
to a party in dorm 206. We had to count the lights to make certain we
were heading to the right building. After an hour or so, a smaller herd
broke from the crowd to hang out in dorm 210 and chat into the wee hours.
The trips to the Ice Caves have been canceled, yet again. I really want to
get out there so I can finish off the roll of ASA1600 slide film that's
still in my camera. I've got a deadline to beat: Guido wants to use some
of my slides of the balloon launch if they come out.
His group's lecture is coming up this week or next.
- Monday, 18 September 1995
We haven't had a day as nice as this in weeks. It's +14°F
(-10°C) with 12 knot winds. There's even a trace of humidity that
adds a Springlike tinge to the air. The breeze feels almost warm; I think
the difference is that it lacks that stabbing pain the wind down here
normally brings to exposed flesh.
- Wednesday, 20 September 1995
Jim McKensie invited a few of us over to
for dinner. It was the usual (for them) fare: roast meat, kumara,
potatoes, braised greens and a sumptuous dessert. We hung around in the
galley and chatted 'til after 9. On our way in, I mentioned how tattered
and faded the
was; Jim wryly commented that the base had been demoted from a four-star
establishment to two-star.
I returned home straight to the Coffee House for a gathering held by the
staff for the Winter-Overs; except for us, the place was deserted because
of bingo at
- Thursday, 21 September 1995
The Scott Base
open bar night is getting more and more difficult to attend; people start
queing for the 19:00 shuttle van at 18:30. For the past three weeks,
there were more people waiting than the van could carry. Once there, I
took the opportunity to ask the Kiwis (from both bases) where in
N.Z. they lived and what local activities they
recommended. Jim McKensie dug out some maps and travel magazines. I'm
considering a three-day tramp in the area around Nelson.
- Friday, 22 September 1995, The Vernal Equinox
The first day of Spring was more like the first day of Summer. It was at
least +10°F (-14°C) and sunny the whole day; after a quick
breakfast and a stop off at work, I spent the rest of it at
sea ice training.
- Sunday, 24 September 1995
I got up this morning at 07:30, as I have every Sunday for the past three
weeks, only to find that it's
again. The weather has been bad so many successive Sundays that
it's becoming a tired joke. I have been waiting to go to the ice caves
for a month and there have been no trips.
went well at the Coffee House, once I got the projector and the audio set
up. There was an accoustic night on Saturday; the people who cleaned up
this morning, took the audio cable for the projector with them.
The music last night really packed 'em in. Various people got up and
played a few songs each, about 15 to 30 minutes. Barb Propst, John
McKintyre, Val Carroll and Bobby Lozano came up as a group and did some
of the same songs that they did at the
The Scott Base acoustic night,
other people got up solo or in pairs, including John Booth, one of the
other computer techs.
- Tuesday, 26 September 1995
Last night was my first night to set pins in the bowling alley. The
pinsetting rig is semi-automatic, so a human has to crawl around behind
the lanes, scooping up pins, heaving balls into the return chute and
pulling the string that drops the pin caddy. Two people work the bowling
alley, one at the cash register, the other setting pins, trading jobs from
game to game. It's pretty demanding work. In between dodging balls, the
pinsetter has to keep up with the game, to know if a particular lane
needs reset. The rig isn't in the best of shape (it's older than I am)
and requires a tweek here and a steadying hand there, just to do its
job. If I got three chances to sit down and take a drink of water, I'd
be surprised. After it was all over, I dropped by
for a 7-Up and a couple of games of pool. I won both games, but only
because my opponents sunk the 8-ball out of sequence.
- Wednesday, 27 September 1995
The old Coffee House
tonight. I'd been in a couple of times this week, hooking up a VCR to the
big screen TV so that I'll have a venue for
over the Summer. It's built from a series of interconnecting
with stained and varnished planking. The whole atmosphere is like a
hunting lodge built in a quonset hut. The usual Coffee House crowd was
there (lots of
plus Connie, Sharon and myself. We got two games of Trivial Pursuit in; I
came in second place, both times. The final game ran past 22:00, so we
had a sudden death quiz-off. I had to answer geography questions and Tom
had to answer history questions. He won with the answer to, "In what
year did Adolf Hitler become Chancellor of Germany?" (1933).
- Thursday, 28 September 1995
On the way to work today, I noticed that the town smelled like Winter.
That usually means that the humidity is up and we're in for some snow.
Normally, it's so dry here that the town smells like nothing (or like
diesel fumes). Christchurch is going to be a big shock after 10 months
- Friday, 29 September 1995
I didn't get over to
last night. Francesco Cairo (one of the Italians running the LIDAR
experiment) cooked pasta carbonara for a group of us at Hut 10. I would
have to call it one of the three best meals I've had down here (right up
my birthday dinner and the
Diesel and Drummi party). There
were quite a few people there, some for dinner, some for a quick visit,
but Ulf, Suzanne, Francesco, Guido, Carrie, and Diamond Western were all
there for the evening. Dongjie Cheng and Bob DeZafra had to keep popping
out to monitor an experiment, but even they managed to stick around for
most of the fun. Lyle and Mark came by after dinner and drinks at
To hear them tell it, it was an exceedingly festive evening. After a few
rounds of cards, I toddled off to bed at 23:30, the party still in full
Tonight is the InfoSys party at Hut 10. It's a beach party with Mexican
food (go figure). The main dishes are marinated, grilled chicken and
grilled steaks. The Summer crew is throwing a send-off for us Winter
The weather has been pretty consistent the past few days - consistently
bad. It's not the cold (+0°F (-17°C)), it's the clouds and the
snow and the wind. We've been in and out of
at the Ice Runway and pretty close to it in town. There's a
helo that's been
stuck out at Marble Point since Thursday. The visibility went to Hell out
there first; in town, it's been coming and going in waves for the past 24
hours. It's no better out there and they're still not home. Stan, the
ASA Station Manager, tells me that this sort of thing happens every year.
- Saturday, 30 September 1995
I just got back from my second trip to the Ice Runway this week. I've been
out there trying to locate computers which were left in runway modules over
the Winter by mistake. So far, I've found two older computers, one
untested, the other tested and working fine. The trick is to warm them
slowly (less than 2 degrees per hour).
The Ice Runway itself is located on annual ice (now three years old), about
a five minute drive across the Ice Shelf, South of McMurdo. It's closer
to town than
but only gets used during October, November and December. Unlike the
airstrip at Willy, wheeled aircraft can take off and land from the Ice
Runway, so it's where the
There's not much out there but a few buildings clustered in rows and a lot
of White. Just a few yards away from the mobile structures, the terrain
is featureless. The view of Ross Island is pretty good, though;
shrouded in clouds, sits low and squat behind
Ob Hill and