South Pole Diaries 1999/2000    


15th January:

From Jessica

Interesting day. John and Jill arrived around lunch. In our attempt to cross the skiway to meet them, Andre and I got caught on the other side (there are lights which flash, to tell us that a plane is incoming) so we milled around aimlessly on the other side, until I got a bit bored. This process took approximately ten seconds. So I drew a hopscotch board and invited Andre to play. I was going to cream this old bloke, thinks me. Five minutes later, I was promptly, as the yanks would call it, getting my butt well and truly whipped. Andre sneakily admitted that a six year old daughter was an added advantage. We abandoned the game to get over to meet the new crew, who rocked in, graciously accompanied by a US Senator, who was the day's DV (distinguished visitor), and had a *small* entourage of twelve. From all reports the guy was a typical politician. Infer what you will...

It was great to see John and Jill. John looked raring to go despite the tiring flight, and we wandered out to the AASTO to see the G-mount + telescopes loaded onto the G-tower. I climbed onto the roof of the AS/TRO building adjacent to get some better photos, which is why the next few minutes were quite strange. The crane lifted the mount. I took a photo. It raised it to the tower. I snapped off another shot. It lingered. I peered nervously over the rim of the camera. It teetered. Strange muffled gestures were being made by Brett on the top of the tower. To my horror, the mount then lifted again and was set back down on the ground. I waved and gestured frantically to John. "What the hell is going on?" He waved and gestured helpfully back: "Nff,  mrff, (arm lift), grnf (sweeping gesture), sumptfm, (urgent flailing of arms)". I sent him back a bunch of gestures I had seen the coaches at US baseball matches use. Then, eloquent as always, John summed up the problem. He pointed at the G-tower, and then tucked his feet up and threw himself down sideways on the snow, feet and arms sticking up in the air. "It's stuffed". Oh. Turns out it was the square peg in the round hole problem. Or more correctly the round peg in the triangular hole. The bottom of the mount was an inch too wide for the triangular support on the tower. Unbelievable. While the engineers amongst us frantically worked on solutions, I gave Tony Press a beginning of a tour of MAPO.  Also got the chance to see the AS/TRO submillimter tipper ( the sister instrument to the one I am working on in Sydney) with a guy named Ethan who helped design the things. We stuffed around with it for a while, and I realised that all the problems I had with the instrument were not isolated, and actually are succinctly and generously shared by each and every edition of the damned thing. At least I'm not alone in the world.

Saturday night saw another bluegrass showing, which was great again, and a great way to relax after a busy day. I have now tried all types of skidoo-ing, including the standing sled ride (which is terrifying and a real thrill) and the exhilarating sitting sled cruise when you sit with your face a few inches from the speeding snow. The things we do to get from one place to another.



From John:

Jill and I are now safely at the South Pole, having arrived just before lunch.  On the plane were a group of US Senators (distinguished visitors), so as soon as the Herc. landed a van arrived to whisk them away. We sort of hung around for a bit passing the time of day, but it gradually became clear we'd been forgotten about.  This wouldn't have been so bad except that they've moved the arrival pad so we didn't know where we were, and carefully hidden the Dome behind a big of pile of snow so no-one could find it.  Fortunately we stumbled across some friendly natives who showed us the way.

After lunch we got the usual briefing about being good and not fighting and drinking lots of water and not walking in front of Hercules or under bulldozers and not going to Old Pole where the aliens live.  Then we got assigned to our beds and this was fine except mine had a big hairy bloke in it. I pointed this out to the accommodation people who were vaguely amused by this and have promised to find me somewhere else.  I'm not sure how hard they are trying: one of the questions they asked was "Is he cute?"

However, these minor disasters pale into insignificance compared to the Gmount Foibles of January 15.  In the past few days the G-mount has been carefully readied for lifting to the top of the G-tower, a process that requires the use of a not inconsequential crane.  Admittedly the G-mount only weighs half a ton, but the only available station crane is a monster of a thing.  Half a ton is barely enough to straighten the kinks in its cable.  This is the sort of crane they use for shifting houses around. Anyway, this gigantic beast rumbled up on its caterpillar tracks, plucked the G-mount into the sky and lowered it ever so gently into position. After a few minutes with Brett and the dogman (I think that's what they're called) up on the Gtower (the dogman making those strange dogman hand signals and Brett making more classic Australian gesticulations), it became clear that the Gmount simply didn't fit.

With the Gmount back on the ground an impromptu conference was called. Short of sending the Gmount back to Canberra or the Gtower back to Chicago, an innovative solution was required. Bob had arrived just in time!  As I type, Andre and Jess are raiding the storage container for some 4-inch aluminium bar to make some 6-inch long standoffs from, and Bob, trusty CARA machinist, is rolling up his sleeves and dusting off the lathe.

Andre and Jess have done a fabulous job cleaning up the AASTO, and the electronics racks now look like new.  It's been a depressing experience over the past three years to have the AASTO reduced to a toxic waste dump, and every steel part it corroded and rusted.  This year there was also apparently a slimy goo on all of the cables.  It's great to be able to walk in and hardly find any sign of the damage.



From Jill: McMurdo ---> South Pole

During the flight we crossed the trans-antarctic mountains. It was a spectacular view from the cockpit. The seemly little mountains were spread across in front of us. After a much shorter flight (only three hours this time - a breeze!) we landed at the South Pole.

While the Herc was taxiing on the runway in to ....the place where it stops (the regular airport lounge was closed), we all got dressed into our full cold weather gear. I could hardly believe that I had made it. After all the medical stuff, the millions of forms we had to fill out and especially the wisdom teeth experience - I was finally at the South Pole. I was very excited, nervous about what to expect and a little worried about the altitude all at the same time. This felt very weird, but good! We piled off the plane to see an expanse of white. It was beautiful. The weather was excellent again, so you could really see for miles. It was noticeably colder than McMurdo but not uncomfortable. The temp was about -20C. I just stood there for a minute or two and took in the view - almost unable to move. I was just magnificent. We had travelled with a US senator and several other 'distinguished visitors' so the shuttle bus came out to the runway to pick them up.

After several minutes we realised they had forgotten about us, so we had to hike it to the dome. This only took a couple of minutes, but we were a little worried at first as John was a bit disorientated with the new runway and construction, so we were a little unsure about which way to go! We soon found out that the dome was just hidden behind a big pile of ice!

We then went out to the AASTO (the little building where all our instruments are) to watch our telescope be lifted onto the top of a tower. Seeing that we had just arrived and I was feeling tired and a little overwhelmed, Jess called her friends the 'Cargo boys' to skidoo us out there. This was excellent! I didn't mind so much being tired if it meant a ride on the skidoo. I think the smile was frozen on my face for about an hour afterwards! We watched the telescope get lifted onto the tower only to find that the telescope mount was round, while the tower had a triangular hole! The old square peg in the round hole trick! Needless to say, the telescope was returned to the ice, while we piled inside to resolve the problem (I might add not before John Storey threw himself flat onto the ice!).

The rest of my day was spent taking it easy and listening to the talented 'Bluegrass' players. For those who are not educated when it comes to Bluegrass, it is 'toe-tapping knee-slapping' kind of music and much better than the images that description brings to mind!

Jill :)



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