Thursday, January 29, 2004
Today I was given a good change to evade the AASTINO for a couple of hours. In the morning, Joel, a glaciologist, requested my help to collect some ice sample 11km upwind from the station. Being something I never done before I quickly agreed and a few hours later, we were on a road trip to an unknown destination. It was also for me the opportunity to drive the flex-Mobil for the first time. This vehicle is like a caterpillar-mini-bus. It's bright red, big and instead of a steering wheel, it has this sort of joystick that reminded me of some video games I used to play when I was young. The flex-Mobil is renowned to be hard to drive but I quickly got the hang of it. I knew all these hours in front of my Nintendo would pay off one day.
So after a security check with the radio room, we drove south for about one hour. The landscape didn't change all that much except that for the first time I was going in totally uncharted waters. There were no traces on the ground and the sentiment of isolation became fully apparent. After the 11km I looked back but I couldn't see the station. 360 degrees around me was nothing but a flat desert of ice. Even the total lack of sound was impressive. I got the feeling that this was the closest feeling to being in space or on the moon. While I was standing there marveling, Joel was taking his gear out. The job was easy. We would dig a 1m deep hole from which he was going to collect samples every 2cm. After the hole was done he put on a white suit (to keep him from contaminating the samples) and carved out a section in the ice. My job was to pass him the test tubes and label them after he filled them up. It took about one hour to complete the job and as he was loading the samples and the tools in the truck, I took pictures and videos of the panorama. I was thinking of how cool it would be to come back here for a picnic. We made a final call to the radio room to say we were coming back and we drove back to the station.
This little tour was a lot of fun and I didn't even feel guilty leaving my two work mates alone in the AASTINO. I kept on telling myself that three is a crowd in our little building so I am sure they appreciated the extra space. As I walked back in the AASTINO, I found Colin glued as usual to the soldering iron, his head buried in the electronics and band-aids all over his fingers. John being the usual Antarctic hero that he is, was about to make a major breakthrough with the MASS. He made some final modification to the spatial parameters of the instruments and pointed it in the direction of the bright star Canopus. As it was our first pointing test we expected to see nothing by the sky through the ocular. Instead, Jon looked in the eye piece and made a loud noise of surprise when he saw the star sitting in the middle of the field of view. This is an amazing achievement considering that the instrument only sees a fraction of a degree in the sky and that we orientated it exclusively from geometrical measurements. To make sure that it was not simply luck, Jon pointed to another star and again it appeared right in the centre of our telescope. If this achievement does not deserve the Antarctic medal of merit, I don't know what does.