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.
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).
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.
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.