Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A day in the life at the South Pole (feat. Buzz Aldrin)

The summer is a very busy time at the South Pole.  There are many things going on and many things that have to get done while you have the extra support during the summer.  I know I have mentioned this in another blog post, but I will clarify for those who aren't quite caught up.  The summer season here lasts around three and a half months.  During this time, we get planes and cargo and additional personnel to work on the station.  This is our busiest time. Right now there are a little over 130 people living and working here at the South Pole.  When the winter starts, which actually lasts about eight and half months, there are no flights in our out and only around 45 to 50 people are on station.  We are effectively stuck here until the end of winter!

So the point is that we have to take advantage of the summer while we can.  For me in particular, this means that I am involved in some extra training to prepare for the winter, and we are upgrading and fixing a ton of equipment.  The problem is that when things go wrong, then you have a limited amount of time to get things fixed before planes stop coming in and all the summer people leave.  Unfortunately, we are actually dealing with some of that right now.  We had a shipment come in from the north for our experiment, the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, but the crate it was shipped in was damaged.  The side was cracked and water had leaked in soaking a ton of boxes with replacement UPS batteries.  Right now we are trying to assess the damage, but that is a difficult process.  Some of the batteries look fine, but a few were completely ruined.  Do we now risk using the batteries that look ok?  What if it turns out there is more damage than we can really test for?  If the batteries decide to die in the middle of the winter, we won't have any replacements!  It is a difficult situation, and one of the things we have to deal with living and working in such a remote and difficult environment.

Things are not all bad here, though.  Today for instance was an amazing day.  We had a visit from none other than Buzz Aldrin.  I didn't get a chance to talk to him personally, but I did hang out with him and a few other people for a while after he got on station.  He seems like a very interesting man, and I was very happy to be able to interact with him at all!  I feel like living and working at the South Pole for the next year is a big life experience.  More people have summited Mt. Everest than spent the winter at the South Pole, but even fewer have walked on the Moon!  Suffice it to say that today was an amazing day, but that is life down here.  You really never know what is going to happen or who will show up.  It could be a day when equipment is sparking in your face (also happened today) or you could have Buzz Aldrin fly in for a visit... and I am loving all of it!


Unknown said...

Thought about you when I saw the headlines of his evacuation. Glad your paths were able to cross. Best regards - K. Stone & the Motion team

Candio said...

What was he doing there? That is so cool.

I wouldn't keep those batteries.. .that seems like a huuuuuge risk.

So what happens if there is a medical emergency during the 8.5m winter?

Unknown said...

Thanks Kevin! I hope things are going well there. Tell everyone I said hello!

Candio: I think he was trying to do do some promotional work for space travel, specifically to Mars. Either that or just visiting the South Pole! As for the batteries, they mostly tested good and were very closely examined. That being said, we are going to hang on to the old ones after we replace them, just in case.

If there is a medical emergency here during the winter, we have a medical doctor on site to help. Unless it is EXTREMELY bad, we will still be stuck here until the end of winter. If it is bad enough, they MIGHT fly us out sooner, but in then entire history of the Antarctic program, there have only been 3 medical evacuations during the winter. So it is very rare.