South Pole Diaries 1995/96



South Pole Diary February 7th, 13:00

From Michael Burton.....

Well this should be my last report from the Pole, but looking at the way flights are right now, it probably wont be. My flight out today has so far been postponed twice, and then cancelled. No reason given, but there are 3 more flights scheduled in today, and they might just let passengers on them (for various technical reasons passengers - PAX - are not allowed to actually go on all flights - some are regarded as more `dangerous' I believe. Anyway that's the military for you again!
I thought my last couple of days would be relatively light, but in fact I've only had 6 hours sleep in the last 48, and really just want to get out of here now! Various minor teething problems, and just packing up simply take much longer than you anticipate. That's really a rule of Polar life - every task takes that much longer than back in the real world - as simply living is that much more of an effort.

Even now I am not leaving a trouble free instrument. I am having an irritating problem with a loose valve. Something which in the lab would be a slight inconvenience but here in the middle of the winter might mean the difference between an experiment and none at all. Still, I think I have hit upon a solution (replace the valve - simple!), and given the flight cancellations I might even have time to carry out the task. Of course then I expect to find another problem to worry about.....

I did take some time out to visit the AST/RO telescope, one of the other CARA projects that actually occupies its own building (smart people!). AST/RO is a submillimetre telescope, taking advantage of the new windows that open up for observation into space at these wavelengths. AST/RO has just completed its first winter - and come out with some very impressive results. 80,000 spectra of which about 20,000 are actually good! In fact the whole telescope is a lesson in how to deal with Antarctica, a project designed for the Pole in the first place, rather than retro-fitting an existing experiment. As a result the winter-over is actually able to concentrate on the science rather than just getting things to work. The entire instrument is inside, making working on it very easy and just the telescope is outside. Richard Chamberlain, last year's winterover even managed to write a couple of papers while he was down here!

AST/RO seems to be making a habit of employing foreigners, and at times there have been no Americans working at Pole on the project! Currently a German and a Brit are in charge, with the Brit wintering over. Actually of the 5 winter over astronomers this year, Americans are in a minority. There are only 2 of them, with 2 Brits and 1 Oz (Jamie once more).

Well the weather is finally turning away from the heatwave conditions we've been experiencing, and dropped below -30 at last. Still some way to go to reach -40, but we're moving there. Its been a much harder spell at Pole for me than I anticipated before arrival - I thought I only had to shake down an existing experiment and that would be that, but all kinds of unexpected difficulties have arisen. Its symptomatic of the environment, and all the people in the MAPO building have been working absolutely flat out. Amazingly it does look as though most experiments are actually going to work, though SPIRAC looks in trouble right now as their detector wont actually record data at the moment! But it would be nice to have a few more resources in order to get the job done - the Pole is a challenging place to work!

Michael Burton



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