A Typical Day

As of last Friday, we finally have a weather port! This means we’ve been able to really get started working at LDB. The LDB site is about 7.5 miles away from McMurdo, so we have to take a shuttles to get there. Every day (including Sundays), there is a big shuttle bus, called the kress, that takes all the LDB people out there. There are also shuttle vans approximately once an hour, though at night they get less frequent. These vans are for both LDB and Willy Field, an airport near McMurdo.

The kress at LDB. It's a really big vehicle, and also really slow.

In the mornings, we’re encouraged to take the kress at 7:30 AM so that we don’t clog the Willy Field shuttles. Here it is at LDB. It’s a really big vehicle, and also really slow.

Brent inside the kress. The kress is freezing, so everyone has to bundle up and wear their extreme cold weather gear.

Brent inside the kress. The kress is freezing, so everyone has to bundle up and wear their extreme cold weather gear.

Because the kress is so slow, the ride takes about 45 minutes to an hour, which is long enough for a nap. Carolyn and Brent decided to take advantage of that fact yesterday morning.

Because the kress is so slow, the ride takes about 45 minutes to an hour, which is long enough for a nap. Carolyn and Brent decided to take advantage of that fact yesterday morning.

everyone getting off the kress and walking to their buildings

everyone getting off the kress and walking to their buildings

We often want to stay later than 5:30, which is when the kress takes everyone back to McMurdo, so we just hop on one of the shuttle vans.

We often want to stay later than 5:30, which is when the kress takes everyone back to McMurdo, so we just hop on one of the shuttle vans.

The kress doesn’t have any heating, so we’re all pretty cold by the time we get to LDB. Thankfully the weather port gets pretty warm! Once we’ve gotten settled in for the day, Steve goes around handing out vitamin C, which he always seems very excited about. Carolyn sometimes has morning stretch sessions, inspired by the carpenters who built our weather port.

Steve getting ready to pass out vitamin C this morning.

Steve getting ready to pass out vitamin C this morning.

Carolyn during one of her morning stretch sessions. The carpenters building our weather port stretched every morning, and Carolyn and I often joined them. We decided to continue the tradition, and she's been doing a good job sticking to it.

Carolyn during one of her morning stretch sessions. The carpenters building our weather port stretched every morning, and Carolyn and I often joined them. We decided to continue the tradition, and she’s been doing a good job sticking to it.

So what exactly do we do when we’re working out here? Right now, our main priority is to build up our gondola and fix some issues we’re having with the cryostat. So far, we’ve got a lot of the electronics boxes and the SIP on the gondola, and we’re hoping to get the cryostat up there in the next couple of days. Once everything has been integrated, we’ll calibrate our instrument and make sure everything is ready for the launch.

Carolyn working on the cryostat

Steve, Brent and Carolyn working on the cryostat. Carolyn’s checking the temperature sensitivity with a bag of snow from outside.

Carolyn and Steve getting some helium ready

Carolyn and Steve getting some helium ready to leak-check the cryostat

Lunch is always a good part of the day. The food at LDB is much better than the food at McMurdo, so we get pretty excited for lunch. There’s a little galley tent at LDB, but it’s all the way at the other end of the facility. The bright side is that while walking there we get some pretty awesome views!

The LDB galley

The LDB galley

Brent, McBride and Alex at lunch

Brent, McBride and Alex at lunch

The view from the back of LDB. This is what we see while walking from our weather port to the galley (or any other building at LDB, really). It's pretty incredible!

The view from the back of LDB. This is what we see while walking from our weather port to the galley (or any other building at LDB, really). It’s pretty incredible!

When we were in Palestine, we ate a lot of goldfish. We decided to continue that tradition in Antarctica. We are already on our third huge box of goldfish, and are rationing them: one box per week.

McBride and the third box of goldfish. This one is whole grain instead of original. Opinions are mixed about which type is better.

McBride and the third box of goldfish. This one is whole grain instead of original. Opinions are mixed about which type is better.

A funny thing about the whole grain goldfish is that a lot of them get stuck together. For some reason, everyone got really excited about this.

A funny thing about the whole grain goldfish is that a lot of them get stuck together. For some reason, everyone got really excited about this.

More goldfish stuck together...

More goldfish stuck together…

And even more....

And even more….

If we get back by 7:30, we can eat dinner in McMurdo. If not, dinner there is over, so we just heat up leftovers at LDB. There are plenty of activities going on in McMurdo during the evening, so we can often find something to do. On Wednesdays there’s pub trivia, which is fun, though it’s difficult to stop McBride from yelling out the answers so loudly that all the other teams can hear! There’s also the coffee house, which is a good place for wine and board games. If we feel like staying in, the lounge in our dorm has couches, a TV, and a ton of VHS tapes. Most of the LDB people are in the same dorm, so it’s a good place to socialize with people from ANITA, Spider, and CSBF. In addition, there are walks / excursions we can go on, like discovery hut, observation hill, and a tour of the pressure ridges (I’ll go into more detail about these in another post).

Martin, Abby, McBride, Alex, Alan, and Brent at dinner in McMurdo

Martin, Abby, McBride, Alex, Alan, and Brent at dinner in McMurdo

Advertisements

The Crud

The infamous McMurdo Crud. Anyone who has been down here knows about it, probably too well. It’s your common cold &/or stomach bug, but it spreads like no other. It seems like there is no way of avoiding it. Hand sanitizer galore and vigorous hand washing can only go so far. It knocked me out for two days at the beginning of last week, it moved on to McBride, then hit Martin. Who’s next?! Only the Crud knows…

In other news, still no weatherport, but we’ve officially made ourselves at home in the little room off of the galley. At least we get the advantage of being near the delicious food at all times. It’s safe to say that I haven’t felt hungry since arriving.

Brent and I trying out the weatherport. We're all getting very antsy waiting to get started on our real work.

Brent and I trying out the weatherport. We’re all getting very antsy waiting to get started on our real work.

Alex warming up a power supply after it was sitting outside in the shipping container at -15 C for a couple weeks.

Alex warming up a power supply after it was sitting outside in the shipping container at -15 C for a couple weeks.

Just another day in the little room off of the galley.

Just another day in the little room off of the galley.

Without a real place to work, we’ve been pretty free during the weeknight evenings. We did the short walk out to Discovery Hut a few evenings ago. The storage hut was built by Robert Scott in 1902. It’s been remarkably preserved and is designated a historical monument.

The hut and some signs.

The hut and some signs.

IMG_1871

Clio and I standing excitedly out at Hut Point. McMurdo and Observation Hill are see in the background.

A seal that we saw. There were about five of them out there that evening. The seal don't often move so they end up looking a lot like massive black slugs on the ice. My very limited goggle-ing tells me this is a Weddell seal. This guy was scratching his tummy with a really weird look hand/fin thing.

A seal that we saw. There were about five of them out there that evening. The seals don’t often move so they end up looking a lot like massive black slugs on the ice. My very limited goggle-ing tells me this is a Weddell seal. This guy was scratching his tummy with a really weird look hand/fin thing.

A few of ANITA folk standing out near Discovery Hut. White Island and Black island are far in the distance.

A few of the ANITA folk standing out near Discovery Hut. White Island and Black island are far in the distance across the ice shelf. In a couple months time, at the peak of the Austral summer, most of that ice will be gone.

We’ve been told that we’ll finally be getting into our weatherport on Wednesday, so it’s soon to be a lot more work and less play. We’re all really looking forward to it.

Our first few days at LDB

We’ve been here a few days, and as expected, our weather port is still not done. We currently have a small space to work in the same building as the galley, or cafeteria, at LDB. We don’t have space to unpack the entire shipping container, nor do we want to, as we would then have to move everything into our weather port later. We unpacked what we needed to work on the flight computer, the card cage boards, and some other things. Today we got (very slow) internet in our space, which everyone is pretty excited about.

Brent and our temporary space, which we were in the process of unpacking.

Brent and our temporary space, which we were in the process of unpacking

The goldfish were a key item to get from the shipping container, at least as far as McBride was concerned!

The goldfish were a key item to get from the shipping container, at least as far as McBride was concerned!

Our weather port is coming along. On Monday it had a front, and on Tuesday it had walls and insulation! Today they are working on the doors, so we are hopeful that we’ll be able to move in there early next week.

IMG_1858

IMG_1862

We can’t wander too far from LDB, because there could be crevasses around. Alex found a hole in the snow right next to the weather port and thought he had found a crevasse. He was very excited about it.

IMG_1861

We’ve arrived and it’s gorgeous!!

It’s been just over 24 hours since we touched down on the Ice, and unfortunately my writing skills are not refined enough for me to explain how amazing it is here. The view are so much more than I was expecting, and I was expecting a lot. The people are fantastic. The food is good. It’s definitely not as cold as we all we thought it would be (although the temperature has been hovering around -15 ºC, it doesn’t feel nearly that bad). And the shuttle trip out to the balloon base (a solid 7.5 miles from McMurdo on the ice shelf) is breathtaking.

View of the Ross Ice Shelf and McMurdo Sound, with Scott's Base in the foreground.

View of the Ross Ice Shelf and McMurdo Sound, with Scott Base in the foreground. You can actually see the divide between the sea ice that melts every summer and the permanent ice self.

The view of McMurdo from the LDB (Long Duration Balloon) base looking across the Ross Ice Shelf. You can see the three wind turbines just above the bulldozer - these provide power to the New Zealand base, Scott's Base, which is just down the road from McMurdo.

The view of McMurdo from the LDB (Long Duration Balloon) base looking across the Ross Ice Shelf (or McMurdo Ice Shelf? Not really sure). If you look closely, you can see three wind turbines just above the bulldozer – these provide power to the New Zealand base, Scott Base, which is just down the road from McMurdo.

Here's a satellite photo of McMurdo and the surrounding area. We will be taking a 30 minute shuttle ride out to the LDB everyday, which is located to the upper left of this photo.

Here’s a satellite photo of McMurdo and the surrounding area. We will be taking a 30 minute shuttle ride out to the LDB everyday, which is located to the upper left of this photo.

There are three different ballooning projects happening on the Ice this year. Apart from us there is ANITA, who I already mentioned but here’s another link (http://www.phys.hawaii.edu/~anita/new/html/science.html), and SPIDER, a cosmic ray detector looking for polarization in the CMB (http://arxiv.org/abs/1106.3087). Both SPIDER and ANITA are massive payloads. CSBF had to actually widen the highbay doors at their facilities in Palestine to get ANITA in and out during their calibration tests (and in the end, there was only a few inches of clearance).

The massive ANITA payload, measuring 30 ft in height.

If you haven’t seen my last post yet, here’s another picture of the massive ANITA payload in Palestine during their compatibility test last August. The payload  measures 30 ft in height and maxes out all of the size allowances of CSBF.

Our gondola is tiny in comparison, measuring a mear 5’x5’x7’. Three balloon payloads, with us being the smallest, and only two highbays means we would have been shoved in a corner and would have had to fight for time with the crane. Instead, CSBF figured that it would be easier to give us our own space and build up a weather port – a glorified heated tent. The weather in McMurdo the weeks leading up to our arrival was devastating. There were huge storms which delayed flights (49% of the flights since the beginning of the season have been delayed) and work here on the base has been slow going. As a result, the other two groups haven’t received the majority of their science cargo and our weather port is still in the early stages of construction. Ironically, we have all of our equipment here and no where to work and the other two groups have huge highbays and no equipment. The ANITA group has been kind enough to give us a small amount of desk space in their highbay, so hopefully tomorrow we can actually get started on some of the hardware.

Steve McBride out at the LBD (Long Duration Ballon) base. You can see the two large highbays and the tiny frame of our weatherport to the left.

Steve McBride out at the LBD  base. You can see the two large highbays and the tiny frame of our weatherport to the left.

Alex and the cryostat arrived in McMurdo late Sunday night, almost two weeks after I dropped him off in LA! (He had a crazy trip down here, so I’m hoping he’ll write up a blog post tell the story.) Unfortunately, our cryostat developed a leak due to the extreme temperatures during the flight down to Christchurch. This means that we have to warm up the detectors, pump out the cryostat, then cool them down again before turning anything on. It puts us back about a week, but hey, we don’t have space to work with the cryostat in the first place, so it’s not entirely that bad.

Me sitting beside the cryostat and pump. It's currently residing in the Science Support Center, but hopefully we'll be ready to move it out to LDB early next week.

Me keeping the cryostat and pump company. It’s currently residing in the Science Support Center, but hopefully we’ll be ready to move it out to LDB early next week.

Two days in New Zealand

We had two full days in Christchurch, NZ. Before being able to explore, we had to get our extreme cold weather gear from the US Antarctic Program office.

Abby, myself, and Carolyn trying out our extreme cold weather gear

Abby, myself, and Carolyn trying out our extreme cold weather gear

That afternoon, some of us explored downtown Christchurch. There were a lot of buildings destroyed by the earthquake in 2011, and there were barely any people in the city center area. It took McBride awhile to recognize the city, even though he’s been there five times before.

Carolyn sitting on a sheep statue

Carolyn sitting on a sheep statue

Carolyn, McBride and Brent trying to navigate

Carolyn, McBride and Brent trying to navigate

Some destruction from the earthquake

Some destruction from the earthquake

A building being demolished through the trees

A building being demolished through the trees

We also went to the Botanical Gardens, which was a lot of fun. The gardens were beautiful and relaxing, and we had a good time walking around, as well as sitting on a bench watching baby ducks.

IMG_1765

really adorable baby ducks!

Carolyn, Brent and McBride trying to hug a tree (in typical Berkeley fashion?)

Carolyn, Brent and McBride trying to hug a tree (in typical Berkeley fashion?)

Carolyn encouraged everyone else to make a silly pose

Carolyn encouraged everyone else to make a silly pose

The next day I went to the mountains near Christchurch with Harm and Stephanie (from ANITA) and Rob (a seismologist we met at our hotel), while the rest of the COSI team explored the Christchurch container mall. Harm, Stephanie, Rob and I made a few stops on the way to Arthur’s Pass, a national park in the mountains. The highlights were Castle Hill, where we got to scramble on some rocks, a hike to a waterfall in Arthur’s Pass, and delicious meat pies!

me at castle hill

me at castle hill

Rob was pretty good at climbing up the rocks at castle hill

Rob was pretty good at climbing up the rocks at castle hill

Rob, Harm and Stephanie and our meat pies. Everyone was really excited about them

Rob, Harm and Stephanie and our meat pies. Everyone was really excited about them.

Stephanie and I at the waterfall

Stephanie and I at the waterfall