Geoff Sims @ UNSW
Home South Pole Diaries 2012/13 25th January, 2013


Friday, 25th January, 2013

Time to take a breath (John)

Last night was punctuated by a midnight Iridium call from the guys at Ridge A, and a bit of running about. They are down to the last few hours there, and there are the usual last minute hiccups.

I had breakfast with the pilots, who were keen to get in to Ridge A and pull the team out as soon as their work was completed. A further Iridium call from Ben at breakfast time confirmed that they were ready to go, so off went the Twin Otter at about 9 am.

Once again, today was a beautifully clear blue, almost windless day at Pole. On days like today there is a hemisphere of clear, crystal blue sky sitting on a limitless, flat white plate of ice. It is truly breathtaking.

For the rest of the day I was able to take a breather and wander around exploring the recreational side of the station. In stark contrast to the current architectural trend in Australia to make work places as sterile, inefficient and soul-destroying as possible, South Pole Station is designed as a small indoor village with the productivity and well-being of its occupants the top priorities. Another high priority is energy efficiency, with automatic movement sensors on many of the lights. The whole station has quite a sci-fi feel to it, especially when walking down the corridor with lights turning on to greet you and extinguishing as you pass - vaguely reminiscent of the opening scenes of "Get Smart".

My bedroom cum office, described in an earlier blog, is compact but highly functional. This is augmented by a large, open-plan laboratory space that accommodates the ever-changing workforce, although most of the astronomy is done in the MAPO building or at the imaginative named South Pole Telescope (SPT).

The lab always seems to be a hive of activity. It's full of junk, too, like all the most creative laboratories.

Rather than leaving the walls of the station bare, they are filled with memorabilia from earlier Antarctic expeditions and space missions. These are very inspirational, and at the same time one cannot help but feel deeply privileged to be able to work here.

A signed original copy of Roald Amundsen's book is just one of many treasures.

Keeping people fit is a high priority, as for people working at desk jobs there is a strong temptation to never leave the Station. There is both an exercise room, and a good-sized gymnasium.

The gymnasium. Not really my scene.

Add to that a greenhouse, which provides fresh herbs and vegetables through the winter - and also a nice "green" place to sit and relax, an art and craft room, a billiards room, and a sauna (yes, really) and there is little reason to be bored. I'm sure there are plenty of other little hideaways I haven't found, too!

Here are a few of my favourite places:

The ham radio shack, which also doubles as an emergency radio room should the main comms. room burn down.

The quiet reading room, well stocked with a wide variety of books.

The music room - I've always wanted to learn bass guitar.

The remaining members of our team (Abe, Ben, Craig, and Daniel) returned just after dinner, exhausted but triumphant. Mercifully they had considerably better weather than we did, but it can't be denied that Ridge A is a very tough place to work at the best of times. They appear to have achieved everything we all set out to do, and now the PLATO/HEAT combination is set to gather another season of unique data.

I also went up to the comms. room and did a phone interview with ABC radio in Canberra. The general theme seemed to be "What weird things are Australians planning to do on Australia Day". Unfortunately I was just getting into my stride when the Iridium phone connection went dead. Oh well, five minutes of fame rather than the Warhol's promised fifteen. However, I did enjoy telling them about last week's camping expedition to Ridge A, particularly now that our other team members are back and we know that the expedition was a success.

The communications (comms.) room. This is the heart of the station, coordinating HF radio, the local VHF network, telephone, satellite and Iridium links. It also acts as a control tower for the airfield. Not a bad view out the windows, either!

Tomorrow we're scheduled to fly to McMurdo at around noon.


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