South Pole Diaries 2001/02



Saturday 19th January

From John Storey.....

This morning was the first really clear day we've had, with a perfect blue sky over the vast, flat white ground. After several days of cloud, blowing ice-crystals and high wind, it's sometimes hard to remember that this is the best site on earth for astronomy. Today it was obvious that a telescope pointed skyward would be able to see forever.

Finally we got the Stirling Engine installation completed. Duane did all the wet bits, like the fuel lines and the cooling system, and I did wires. We also got the plumber to make up a new exhaust pipe, the one we got from Tuffy Mufflers being significantly on the too short side. The new pipe is made of copper and is very handsome. I have pointed the webcamera at it so that the whole world can admire it. Everything is ready to go, so tomorrow will be the big day.

We could switch it all on tonight but I'd like to take it slowly. There's something about wiring up 10 mm diameter welding cable to a pair of 24 volt batteries that is strangely intimidating. We have a 200 Amp fuse in the line so no-one should actually die but, on the other hand, I've never seen a 200 Amp fuse blow and I suspect it is a rather unsettling experience. Sitting just outside the AASTO is 270 gallons (about 1,000 litres) of JP-8 jet fuel, which we are hoping to burn through over a period of a few months, rather than a few seconds...

At 10:30 was the weekly Science Meeting, which brings together the key management people of the station and the scientists. I took the opportunity to raise the question of getting some magnesium perchlorate from McMurdo. Unfortunately the station manager is well tutored in the ways of the world (which, of course, include chemistry) and responded with "Perchlorate, eh? Must be a bit explosive..." Nevertheless, I think we'll have our jar of it soon.

Tony has been locked in a life-and-death struggle all week with the Supervisor computer, and at one stage had 6 candidates lined up for the job. Finally at about 8 pm this evening he arrived breathlessly at the AASTO lugging a computer that can actually read our disk! It looks as if the battle is almost over, and Tony will have truly earned his stripes as an Antarctic Superhero, Grade 1. The new Supervisor computer even has a CD drive in it, and is a joy to behold. It doesn't appear to want to talk to our other computers (via telnet), but it is probably just shy and will settle in after a few days.

Meanwhile Tony's feet have started to decompose, which is unsettling for Duane and me but probably worse for Tony.

A few days before I arrived here a group of Russians appeared at the South Pole in an Antonov 3, a small biplane which appears to be only marginally more sophisticated than a Tiger Moth. Apparently the group included some quite senior officials who, once they got here, decided that they weren't getting back into the Antonov for quids and promptly made an official request to the US to be flown out in a Hercules. This was duly done; the Antonov is sitting forlornly beside the ski-way and the Russians have just received a bill for their Herc flights for US$80,000. The Russians appear not to have been expecting this. The Antonov is "off limits" to us, presumably while some diplomat works out whether it's worth $80k or not.

Tonight, being Saturday, the station is in party mode and people keep drifting through the computer room clutching beverages of various kinds. There is apparently a very good band playing in the Summer Lounge, so I might go check it out...


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