South Pole Diaries 2001/02



Friday 18th January

From John Storey.....

The weather is gradually becoming clearer and colder, reaching -26 C this evening. We hope to complete all our major "outdoor" tasks by the end of next week, as it becomes increasingly difficult to work outside once it gets below about -40.

Today we did a major spring clean of the AASTO, chucking out a vast amount of useless junk. Some of it is simply redundant (I found no fewer than 12 rolls of electrical insulating tape - roughly 11 more than we need); some of it bizarre (such as a 1600 watt 240 volt heat gun we have no way of powering); some of it quaint (such as the toaster rack for the camp stove, now corroded to the point where no sane person would ever eat toast off it); and some of it simply rendered obsolete by the passage of time.

The control panel for the Stirling engine is now finished, and looks exceedingly handsome. It holds not only the engine control and display, but also all the electrical switching, the room thermostat, and alarms for smoke and carbon monoxide. In truth we should have installed such alarms years ago. The CO alarm is a very impressive affair that signals a warning by screeching "CO" in Morse code (-.-. ---). It is perhaps curious that Morse, having been officially abandoned as a communication mode about two years ago (to the great relief of an entire generation of would-be radio officers) is now cropping up in the strangest places - notably Nokia's "SMS" and "connecting people" ring tones.

After lunch we embarked on the major exercise of re-routing most of the wiring in the AASTO. This is because the major cable trunk passed under the bench, an area that will now be shared by the very hot Stirling engine exhaust pipe. At first we thought we could just shield the wires from the heat somehow, but recurring nightmare visions of our Ethernet, coax, serial lines and power cables all coalesced into a sticky molten mess was more than we could bear. The job took much longer than expected, as the wiring has grown like topsy over the years. With some of the wires we couldn't even figure out what they were for, but we dutifully re-routed them anyway. I wonder if anyone in the UNSW Antarctic group will admit to being the comic genius who, at some time in the past, carefully threaded a cable through the little holes in both electronics racks, a situation that we could only resolve by cutting off the connectors and remaking the cable!

We also seemed to spend a lot of time just moving things back and forth between the AASTO, the Jamesway and the MAPO building. Fortunately there is a handy sled for the heavy items. It is a rather nice high-tech sled with a slick Kevlar body and smooth polymer runners, and has the word "Antarctica" emblazoned somewhat unnecessarily across the back. Apparently it is one of the sleds that was dragged here by a member of a Japanese "walk to the South Pole" expedition a few years back. Such expeditions are becoming more common, although the tendency nowadays is to do rather more extreme things.

Today a team of marathon runners arrived from Patriot Hills by DC3. They have set up camp 26 miles from here and on Monday they intend to - yes, you've guessed it. The finish line is to be just in front of the Jamesway, and we should have a great view from the top of the G-tower. I wonder if there is any human activity which, if carried out at the South Pole, would be so pointless that there is no-one on earth ready to attempt it.

Tony continues to wrestle with the supervisor computer, and has skuad two possible replacements from the IT department. (In Antarctic parlance, to "skua" something is to retrieve somebody else's piece of unwanted junk and put it to good use. A skua is an aggressive Antarctic bird rather like an overgrown but unsocialised seagull, that takes anything potentially edible if it's not bolted down - hence the term.) The result is that we now have three computers all refusing to do what we want them to. This represents,
in some small sense, a kind of progress because at least we know now that the problem is not just with the hardware.

Michael Whitehead, the very helpful CARA person who, incidentally, will spend the winter here looking after, among other things, our experiments and our Stirling engine, has busied himself making up the exhaust heat shield and other bits for us. It will be great to know that he is here if things start to go wrong later in the year.

Meanwhile the station is extremely crowded, with 226 people scheduled to stay here tonight. This is a new record - and not bad for a station originally designed to cope with a maximum of 35. In fact, two Hercules that were to return to McMurdo this evening are also stranded here because of bad weather at McMurdo. (Well, that's their story. Another possibility is just that the food is so much better here.) So, with two Hercules crews (of about five persons each) sleeping on the floor of the gym, things are
really tight.

Will, the winterover doctor of a couple of years ago, has also just arrived to allow the station doctor, Tim, to spend a week away prior to the start of his winterover. Over dinner Will and Tim were discussing which of them would have to sleep on the x-ray table. Will lost. Tim assured him it was quite comfortable really.


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