Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Antarctic Mid-Winter

Midwinter Greetings from the South Pole

Our South Pole mid-winter greeting that was sent to all Antarctic stations.

Our spaceship has reached the boundary of our solar system and we are now returning to earth. 

June 21st marked the Winter Solstice in the Antarctic. The sun has reached its most northern point at minus 23.5° and is back on its way south now. In a few months we will have light! It has been a long several months since I first arrived at the South Pole in February. I am doing fine and looking forward to the second half of this grand South Pole adventure. 

The following was written by Harry House, the station manager, during my McMurdo Winter 2012

McMurdo Mid-Winter Dinner 2012 

Mid-winter day is a time of great significance here in the Antarctic. Celestially, it is defined as the shortest ‘day’ of the year and the beginning of the Sun’s gradual return in August. Early explorers would mark the day with feasts and commemorative toasts to loved ones back home. For them, the day provided a much-needed morale boost after many months of isolation. It marked a ‘pivot point’ whereby they could start anticipating a call to action in the gathering dawn.

Much has changed since the Heroic Age of Antarctic exploration, both on the ice and back ‘in the world’. There are no Poles to discover any longer (although there are other things). Nations no longer wait breathlessly in anticipation of our safe return, carrying word of feats of endurance and discovery. We can converse with our loved ones back home in almost real time, so our feeling of isolation is much reduced from the days of yore. Certainly we now enjoy many of the comforts of home by comparison, although at times we all lose sight of that. It is easy and reasonable in many ways for us to feel our contributions pale in comparison to the legends of the past. It is understandable that many of us no longer feel any connection to those who came before us, or even to the legacy of the Continent of Antarctica.
While all of this may be true, it misses the point. Having the privilege of working here in the winter is still one of the most unique opportunities in the world. For that reason alone we are all now members of an exclusive group of individuals who share a common bond. This bond extends not only with each other, but across all the stations on the continent on this special day. It transcends time as well, as evidenced by the letters I read to you previously. Do you not think that if the early explorers were alive today, they would be just as interested in our sense of being here as theirs? They are indeed with us tonight in spirit, and they also would appreciate a place at the table. Please make room for them if you can.
And so, on this special evening, I propose a toast to all the Antarctic Heroes, past and present. 

From My Midwinter 2017 at the South Pole I would like to add:
I have the privilege and honor of working in one of the most isolated places on Earth. Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station closed in early February leaving 46 souls to work and live in isolation for 9 months. The station will reopen in early November for the short Antarctic summer when the population swells to 150. During this time, we have been subjected to periods of brutal temperatures down to -103 F with winds that easily drop the temperature to under -140. At these temperatures, the word ‘cold’ doesn’t mean anything. Even ‘extremely cold’ is not appropriate. There is no word to describe the feeling as you walk in the darkness and try to survive from one building to the next. If the weather conditions permit, you may see a faint red light where you are headed. The darkness along with the cold and wind can and will disorientate you in seconds; the large snow drifts will test your stamina, and frequent stumbling will make you think Now which way was I headed? as the last thing you want is to be lost.

 But when it is clear, the reward is simply stunning as the sky is filled with stars and varying shapes and colors of dazzling auroras that stretch from horizon to horizon. The South Pole winter sky is unmatched in beauty. They say that a successful Antarctic winter is when you return home with 10 fingers and 10 toes. This may sound funny, but believe me, it is so very true. So why am I here? It is probably one of the most unique opportunities on the planet to live an adventure, and it is a huge physical and mental challenge. This is only my third winter, and this “old Antarctic explorer” is enjoying the Antarctic experience.  Mike Rice 6-21-2017 

Part of the mid-winter celebration is that the station personnel design the next South Pole marker for 2018. The current marker will be removed and the new marker put in place January 1, 2018. The new marker design was voted at our mid-winter dinner and will be made by the station machinist. The final result will not be revealed to the world until January 1, 2018. We on station will see the new marker before we leave in November.

The current South Pole marker 2017. Since the two mile thick ice sheet moves the 2018 marker will be placed approximately 30 feet from the current position.




A station member designed this one with Wayne, our station manager. Wayne is an excellent manager and has been exploring the world his entire life. 

As part of the station weekly science lectures I have been presenting the space shuttle that I worked on for almost 30 years. 
Mid-winter dinner



Galley Crew

Volunteering in the dish pit before dinner.

Working with Wayne, our winter manager.

A bit chilly outside.

James, an Ice Cube scientist.


Beef tenderloin for the meat eaters.

Dessert.

A table for those who died at the South Pole.

Station friends.


My vegetarian meal. 



Our mid-winter photo. Some of us brought items that show our jobs. I'm standing to the right in blue shirt holding a satellite dish with my work partner Garon. Our actual work dishes are much larger and enclosed in domes 3/4 mile from the station. 

Monday, May 29, 2017

Booze Pull and the beauty outside

Our winter is proceeding nicely at the South Pole. The lowest temperature so far has been -95F. Many storms have blown in snow from beyond the polar plateau (about 300 miles) building difficult to walk in drifts. It takes about an hour to reach the antenna domes now. I have completed 106 days with 163 to go - but who's counting! Our ship continues to rush through the darkness of space.
Moving beer, wine and booze from the outside "Booze Barn" to inside the station.

A few weeks ago the heater failed at the booze barn and destroyed a large quantity of soda and beer. I posted pictures of this a few posts ago. 




Now the beer is safely stowed in a summer room. 

The summer rooms are tiny. The population grows to over 150 in November. Now there are 46 souls onboard and we each get a much larger room. 
Our Milky Way galaxy. Photo credit: Hunter Davis

These are the actual colors of Australis Borealis behind the Skynet and DSCS antenna dome I work in. Photo credit: Hunter Davis

The SPRT antenna dome and RF shed. Photo credit: Hunter Davis

To the far right is the RF Building. It is a nice place to warm in before working on the antennas. To the left of that is the stations red glow. The yellow light under the dome is the RF warning light on the SPTR antenna further back. Photo credit: Hunter Davis.

Both of the antenna domes I work in. Notice the white streak above the SPTR dome. That is an iridium satellite streaking overhead. Photo credit: Hunter Davis.
From the station observation deck. The dark sector labs to the left. Photo credit: Matt Smith

Friday, May 12, 2017

More inside the station pictures




The stars are out.

The station and a typical aurora. 

One of two station lounges. This one has a small kitchen because it is located in the emergency part of the station. Part of the station can be sealed off if we are required to evacuate the main station areas. 

This lounge contains the paperback library along with lots of board games and puzzles. 


VHS tapes.

DVD's


One of two TV lounges.

Betamax before VHS.


A second tv lounge.

A fine collection of tv series dvd's.

The music room.

The gym.

Sauna.

I dry my laundry in my room as it dries fast and adds a little humidity.

South Pole medical.

During the winter all windows are covered in cardboard. They are available for people to draw and paint on.