South Pole Diaries 1999/2000    


From John:

Andre has been working hard getting the new web camera to work, and this has generated considerable interest around the station. Halfway through the afternoon we got a call from the journalists accompanying Jim Lovell on his visit to the Pole. They wanted to do a live interview via Iridium satellite phone, and wondered if they could use streaming video from our web camera to accompany the voice! Quick on his feet as ever, Andre explained how difficult it would be to set the webcam up somewhere else and that perhaps they'd all like to come out to the AASTO.

So next thing we get a visit from the Fox TV folk who scope out the AASTO and recognise instantly that it is the ideal outside broadcasting studio. The Iridium phone didn't work particularly well inside, so we sent Jess up on the roof with an external satellite antenna. Unfortunately we forgot to turn the acoustic radar off first, so Jess only got halfway up the ladder before her ears starting smoking. We turned it off as soon as we could but now we can only communicate with her by shouting very loudly or waving our arms around. We think she'll recover eventually.

So, with Iridium link in place and the webcam running, Lovell and his crew arrived at the AASTO at around 4 am. The interview went well, and should have gone live to the entire Fox and Sky networks. That's publicity!

As a souvenir of the event, Lovell signed one wall of the AASTO:

The astronauts were only supposed to stay a few hours at Pole, but it has been snowed in at their destination (Patriot Hills) for the past few days. It's been great having them around. They come along to meals with us and are more than happy to chat about their experiences.

Check out the Fox news website:  to see the article on Lovell and also perhaps the interview I did about the AASTO. Actually I just checked it out myself and there's a dramatic article "Stranded at the South Pole" which makes good reading.

This year the Iridium phone system has been working well, and many people on the station are using them. Out in the "Dark Sector" where we are, the only warm shelter (apart from the AASTO itself!) is the solar heated dunny. On several occasions I've gone in there to find someone leaning against the wall using their Iridium phone. I like the irony: for years phone booths in the less salubrious parts of town have been used as impromptu dunnies; this must be the first case of a dunny being regularly used as a phone booth!

While Iridium has been good the rest of the satellite links have been awful, and we're struggling under the worst communications we have had for years. I'm in the process of shifting to an early morning schedule (starting around 3 am Sydney time) to take advantage of the best links. I finally started to do some science today, working with Andre to get the various computers in the AASTO talking to each other. I first had to get poodle (my laptop) linked into the South Pole network, and of course they've changed the sub-mask and all those incomprehensible things since I was here last. Fortunately the station computer person (who appears to be known, with some justification, as "the lovely Jenny") came out with the Fox people to sus out the webcam, and she fixed it all on the spot.

Jill has settled in well and is already starting to help sort through the things we'll be sending back ("retro" in Antarctic parlance). Jess appears to have been having a fabulous time and may have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the Hercules tomorrow. The weather has been beautiful the past few days---cloudless skies, the temperature hovering between -26 and -28 C, and just enough wind to remind you how cold it is without being really unpleasant.



From Jessica:

Since beginning this email, the satellite has been just plain stupid. It is now 5am, Tuesday morning my time...

Hello all, sorry that I didn't get around to writing yesterday, but had a wee bit of a sleep in and when I got up the satellite was down. I have had a few emails from people who have read the stuff on the web, which is great, and I will attempt to answer questions when I have a little more time.

As you will have noticed from the email, I have managed to wrangle another day at the Pole. Tee hee. I leave this morning about 11:30. I will hopefully be in MacMurdo until Jill comes out and we fly back to Christchurch on the 24th. I think I've realised what I really love about this place. It's the people. Now that I'm in the swing of it, it is inconceivable *not* to say hi to everyone you pass in the halls or outdoors. Everyone who is here has excellent people skills because you just can't survive here without them. In Sydney you don't talk to the person next to you on the bus. If they chatted to you you'd wonder what the hell they were out to get, and what was wrong with them. It's a very unhealthy state of mind to live in for a long time. A lot of my natural cynicism has been put on the backshelf while I'm here. It seems out of place. Ungrateful. The mix of people is so unusual and yet it works. People remember your name. And ask how you're doing today and, wait for it, *mean* it. They actually want to know. You couldn't keep me away from this place. I am going to find every means possible to winter here sometime soon. I don't even mind the cold. I was running around in the dome (at -30C) in a t-shirt yesterday. Bonza weather!

I am now packed and ready to go at least physically. I have not had time to really sum up my thoughts so I'll give you my final Pole email once I arrive in McMurdo. I will also be able to write personal emails once I get there (as I'll have time on my hands) so please keep up the questions. And the g'days, and I'll be able to respond directly.


Jess :)



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