South Pole Diaries 1995    


1st February 1995

From Michael Ashley.....

We continue to pump on IRPS, which is being heated to +35C to accelerate the outgassing. By noon we have the liquid nitrogen solenoid system working nicely under computer control, and can cause LN2 to squirt out of either of two nozzles with a simple keystroke. We point the nozzles towards the entrance-way of the room that we are in, and give some SPIREX people a shock when they come looking for tools.

The LN2 control system has to be fairly clever since we don't want it to accidently open a solenoid and let out 50 litres of precious LN2 onto the floor. It has to be able to cope with every imaginable error condition (e.g., the computer crashes after it gives the instruction to open the solenoid). To do this, we are using a ``heartbeat'' circuit in the control box that requires a special sequence of logic pulses on five TTL lines (two highs, one low, one negative going pulse, and a positive going pulse within 1 second of the negative going pulse - hopefully this sequence can not occur by accident!) from the computer before it enables control of the solenoids (and if the pulses aren't re-issued within 100 seconds, it defaults to a safe state). This all seems to work, which is pleasing.

Incidentally, the LN2 we are using is shipped in from the States, but this winter CARA hopes to have a liquid nitrogen manufacturing plant operating just outside the Pomerantz Building. The plant works by liquefying air, and then using some sort of membrane to separate the liquid oxygen and nitrogen. LN2 is colder than liquid oxygen so is better for our purposes - it is also much less dangerous.

By the afternoon we can read the ion pump current with the computer, and can use this information to calculate the vacuum pressure in IRPS. Our goal of a completely automated instrument is getting closer.

After dinner we go outside to take some publicity shots of us, with various items of UNSW memorabilia, at the ceremonial South Pole. We would have taken a picture with the UNSW official flag, except that the Vice-Chancellor lost it the week before we left, so we had to make do with a UNSW tea towel that John bought at the Logo Shop. The weather was particularly cold (-38C, or -53C if you include windchill), and after factorial-n combinations of flags, towels, pennants, camera lenses, video gear, etc, my fingers were practically frozen off. Luckily the batteries in both the camera and the video recorder stopped working in the cold (which is the only way to stop John from filming something - even ice on the lens is no obstacle), and a hasty retreat to the warmth of the galley in the dome restored sensation to my digits.

Jamie Lloyd left today for some ``R & R'' at McMurdo. In a week he will be back at the Pole, and will stay here all year. McMurdo is not the ideal site for ``R & R'', but from experience the USAP has found that if people go back to Christchurch, they tend not to come back. McMurdo is sufficiently different from the Pole to be a nice break (e.g., it's got dirt), but sufficiently unpleasant to make you want to come back (e.g., the food is not as good as that at Pole).

Before Jamie flew out, John took the opportunity of interviewing him on camera, and getting Jamie to do a guided tour of the station for the folks back home. John used the radio microphone for this work - the wind was so strong outside that Jamie had to shout to make himself heard. When using the radio mike it is necessary to have the camera outside its protective Sports Pack, so John had to periodically warm it up inside his parka, giving him a becoming pregnant appearance.

At 5:05pm, an LC-130 flies in, and John is ready with his camera and shoots off 27 pictures of the landing/taxing/unloading process. John is already planning a series of slide nights when he gets back to Australia, and hopes to have enough material to devote two nights to LC-130s.

Jean Vernin's balloon cargo finally arrived (it was sent on Dec 1, and spent a few weeks here and there in various customs halls). Jean excitedly opened the boxes and began preparations for a balloon launch. (Aside: I may not have mentioned that John and I are also involved with a collaboration with Jean (and Rodney Marks) to measure the microthermal variations in the atmosphere over Antarctica).

At the CARA meeting tonight, the usual pre-meeting song was dispensed with. Jeff Peterson complained that the haunting melody of the JACARA song had been going around and around in his head for the last two days.

Every evening at about 8pm the satellite peeps above the horizon for four hours, and we have Internet access. It is fairly slow (perhaps 32K baud for the entire station), but adequate for sending mail. Unfortunately, it is hard to get access to a PC since many of them are used by people playing mindlessly violent games. Having left much of the ugliness of modern society behind us since arriving in Antarctica, these games seem strangely out of place.

On a sombre note, a person was killed today in McMurdo while climbing Castle Rock, a spectacular outcrop about 5 km from the town. The flag at the South Pole station was flying at half mast.

Michael Ashley (with contributions from John Storey)