South Pole Diaries 1993/94



25th January 1994

From Michael Burton.....

Well here I am at the Pole. I haven't been able to check my email for a couple of days, so if there's anything of importance in it you should resend on.

Left Christchurch on Sunday at 11:30 am and arrived at McMurdo 7.5 hours later. Clouds most of the way until we entered McMurdo Sound, where the view (out of one of the few portholes) was spectacular. We flew low over the ice pack, and could see bergs, sea ice, breaking ice, mountains etc etc. But the flight itself is no picnic. Noisy and you have to wear earplugs and can't really strike up a conversation unless you shout.

McMurdo was about 3 or 4 below with a light breeze. The runway is on the ice about 10km from Base, so you take a bumpy ride in one of the many oversize transporter-minibuses they have. Arrived too late for dinner, and then learnt we were heading to Pole first flight the next day (ie today, Mon). So it was check your bags in at 10:30pm, sleep with your hand carry items, get up for a morning briefing on life in McMurdo and run for the departure bus to get you straight out of McMurdo! All under military discipline. Miss your briefing or break that rule, and you can be on the next flight home!

Pole flight is about 3 hours, again mostly through cloud flying along the Trans-Antarctic mountains, and only seeing the tops of a few peaks poking out. We finally must have cleared the cloud over the Plateau, but to tell the truth I couldn't really tell the difference between Plateau and cloud by looking out the window. The Polar Plateau is so vast and featureless, and of course completely white, that I wasn't sure whether I was looking at cloud or snow! There certainly is some sort of transcendental experience standing out on the Plateau and seeing that endless, featureless horizon under a clear blue sky. However I'll spare you any attempts at poetry; it is something that really can't be described, just experienced.

Pole is sunny, clear blue skies (and has been so for at least 3 weeks) - if it stays like this it will certainly be a great site. Temperature about -33C now and dropping 1 or 2 degrees a day, and light wind. It is in fact quite pleasant standing outside, as long as you are all wrapped up.

I did see Jamie, just. He was flying out an hour and a half after I landed, and he had to push hard to get himself to stay this long. He has been working hard with John Briggs, and I must say near to exhaustion. Things are pretty good, though there are problems which doubtless we will be communicating on. The most serious is at 5:30am this morning the stepper motor module for the aperture drive blew again, and is currently out of order. John Briggs thinks he knows what to do to replace it - John seems fairly confident about the hardware side of things. Jamie has some theory, after talking to some of the hardware people, that its to do with charge building up and discharging once the motor moves, and thinks it may be fixed by placing a capacitor in the circuit. He has left a diagram for John to show him where to add it (once John finds a capacitor!). I'm not so sure this will prove to be the problem, and wondered if you might have any comments before John does something?

Currently I am taking the rest of the day easy to acclimatize, and John Briggs wants half a day break himself to catch up with rest, so I wont be going over to look at IRPS till tomorrow midday (well I have actually been to the CARA building and seen that IRPS is there; also that's it chaos there with about 4 groups working simultaneously - I gather Jamie even had people working above him as he crouched over the PC yesterday!). Jamie has left instructions as to what to do with the Seagate drive. IRPS is cool and has been for some time. The inner is cold (solid) and has been so for 2 days (without pumping). So the vacuum seems to be holding. IRPS hasn't been outside, but a mounting has been made on the roof (I haven't checked this yet) which is apparently stable and solid (apart from the fact that the whole building shakes badly when someone climbs up the stairs to get on the roof). Jamie has verified that the detector sees flux inside, but hasn't got as far as taking data or getting a CVF scan. One of my tasks is to calibrate the CVF - but there are plenty of Hg fluorescent lights around. But Jamie says that the motors are not slipping. I certainly hope so! The cables to the roof also seem to be in order.

As for Rodney's expt; well space has been negotiated for it (this is quite a delicate matter I gather), and the equipment as been moved to the right building, and John Briggs has checked that the computer fires up. But nothing else has been done. It is on the opposite side of the geodesic dome, and probably 10-15 min walk, so you cant just dash between the IRPS and the microthermals I'm afraid.

The Pole ethernet is up and running I'm told though I haven't spoken to the computer gurus to ascertain details. John B wasn't sure for instance if the IRPS was on the ethernet yet, for instance, but you can communicate between Pole geodesic dome and the CARA building via optical fibres. The real-time internet access to the world is not up yet. I believe the COMMS people can do it, but they are not ready to to give it to the rest of us yet.

However it is possible to make phone patches using the satellite link. I think we can do this most days (and at weekends even make personal calls); we get a direct line to Florida and then make a reverse charges call from there. We should probably consider doing this once I've got going. I will check on details as to how to patch it up (I may not, for instance, be able to be right by the IRPS while I'm doing it). The times will likely be between 10pm and 3am here (NZ time; so that's 8pm to 1am for you, I think). We have the satellite for about 5 hours a day.