Sunday, December 21, 2014

Penguin Sighting!! and our third weekend in McMurdo: December 19-22, 2014

Friday morning there was a launch opportunity for COSI. I walked out to the hill above Scott Base once I thought inflation was starting. After about an hour and a half of standing around in the cold without seeing any glimpse of an inflating balloon, I decided to go back to McMurdo to wait for inflation to actually begin. When I got back I found out that the launch had been scrubbed because of wind. 

After lunch on Thursday, we got a tip that there was a penguin down by the ice pier between McMurdo and Hut Point. Thomas and I wandered down about halfway and saw the penguin taking  nap while Sean got a haircut. Once Sean was done, we all walked back down and the penguin was still lying there. We walked out to Hut Point and looked at the seals that were lying around nearby. On our way back, it looked like the penguin was gone, but then we saw it walking towards land. It walked over onto the dirt area by the pier, and then eventually walked more or less parallel with the road, so we kept walking alongside it. Eventually I got out ahead of it and it walked within about 10 feet of me. 

Saturday I worked in our cubicle in building 175 most of the day. There wasn't too much else going on. After dinner, we had a logistics meeting with James, from the groom team, and Ryan, our science implementer, and talked about the plan going forward. I'm sure it will change 16 or 17 more times before we go out, but as of right now (Monday) the groom team (the Super Groom Team, as we've been calling them) going to Thomas Hills is a backup mission for the LC-130 tomorrow. If they're not able to get out then, it might not be until early next week. The rest of us (Tiger Tail, our new nickname is) will leave once the skiway at the SuperTIGER site is ready. So we'll definitely be in McMurdo for Christmas, and then we'll have to see.

Sunday was cold and windy and overcast, so nothing too much happened. Sean got our two shipping containers organized, and Monday morning we went over and looked through it all. One of the containers we've been using is going to stay here at the LDB facility, and we're going to use our other container and part of a container that has EBEX stuff in it to ship everything back. Tomorrow we'll go through and put our stuff in the EBEX container and try to re-organize things so it all fits.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Pegasus Crash Site Tour and ANITA Launch: December 16-18, 2014

Tuesday was another quiet day in McMurdo. There was some talk of attempting another ANITA launch, but the weather wasn't good enough for them to even try. I spent most of the day working in our extra cubicle. There's a congressional delegation in town that was scheduled to arrive on Tuesday but it got delayed because of weather.

Wednesday I also spent most of the day in the cubicle. In the evening, though, I got to go on a trip out to the Pegasus crash site. On October 8, 1970, a Lockheed Martin C-121 Constellation called Pegasus crashed while flying in to McMurdo. Most of the plane is still there, abandoned, and the recreation department has been organizing trips out to the crash site. We met in town around 6pm, and even though 10 people were signed up, only four of us and the guide showed up. I was the only SuperTIGER person on my trip; Thomas went Thursday morning and Sean is scheduled to go on Friday. We got into a van for the hour-long trip out to the crash site, which is about a mile past Pegasus Field, the airfield where we landed after getting to McMurdo two weeks ago. Unlike two years ago, though, the ski aircraft are all being flown out of Willy Field, so right now Pegasus isn't being used except as a divert field for incoming planes and a weather observation station. The road past Willy Field had a lot of drifted snow on it and the trip had to go pretty slow.

When we got to the wreck, we couldn't see any of the surrounding area because of the weather. It actually made going around and climbing on the plane a lot cooler. It was strange to think about the plane sitting out there for all these years, and also amazing to realize that in the plane crash there were no deaths and just a few minor injuries.

We brought a couple of shovels from McMurdo, and ended up spending most of the time digging out the UNITED STATES NAVY lettering painted on the side. It looks like the inside of the plane is filled up with snow and ice.

After about 45 minutes at the plane, we went back to McMurdo. I met up with Sean and Thomas and we went to the galley for a snack (really a late dinner for me). On our way in, Sean and I accidentally photobombed some astronauts. The Congressional delegation came in a little after us and had their dinner too. I ended up showing a member of the U.S. House of Representatives where they keep the bowls for Frosty Boy, so that was pretty exciting. Thursday they spent out in the McMurdo Dry valleys, and tomorrow they're going to the pole. 

I got up early Thursday morning to see how the 6th ANITA launch attempt was going. I ended up going back to sleep a couple of times while I waited, but eventually, around 9:30, I saw that inflation of the balloon had begun. Once inflation starts, the launch is normally about an hour away, so I got dressed and walked out to the hill above Scott Base to watch the launch. It was pretty cool.
ANITA just after the balloon is released
The ANITA balloon over the LDB site

ANITA in flight

After that, I went back to town and had lunch. I worked on a couple of things in the cubicle before Thomas showed up with the Iridium satellite phone we'll be using in the field. Once I finished up what I was working on, I went down to Crary Lab, where they have an antenna set up so that you can communicate with the satellites and test your satellite phone from the comfort of a heated room. Thomas came by a little bit after I got there and we tested the phone out, making sure we could make calls. We also got a computer from the Crary tech folks that is able to use the phone as a satellite modem, so we should be able to use that computer to send updates via email in the field (although the modem is excruciatingly slow, even compared to McMurdo internet). Before we go into the field I'll be sure to post where we'll be trying to update.

Friday morning they may launch COSI early, so I'll have more on that tomorrow if it happens.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Another quiet weekend, and four more ANITA launch attempts: December 12-15, 2014

Thursday night, after we got everything into Science Cargo and had dinner, we went over to Scott Base for the store and America night at the bar. Thomas and I walked over, and then I took the shuttle back with Sean. The weather was nice, so the walk didn't seem as long, and by the end I actually was almost too hot. The area in the front near where the store used to be has been redone, and there's now a fancy conference room with a great view next to the new store location.

Since everything but our personal gear/clothes is in the cargo system, there isn't too much else for us to do besides wait around to go to the field. The plan as it stands right now is still in flux, but it sounds like it will be a while yet before we're able to leave.

ANITA has been trying to launch the last few days. There was another unsuccessful launch attempt on Friday, and again on Saturday, and again on Sunday. Sunday's looked promising enough that I spent the afternoon watching the webcam, ready to head out to the hill above Scott Base to watch the launch, instead of doing anything else. Monday we went out to LDB for some errands and lunch (and also because on Saturday and Sunday there was an Emperor Penguin sighting!). There was no sign of any penguins today, but we did get to see ANITA's 5th launch attempt. They rolled out onto the launch pad and were basically ready to go when the weather changed and it got windy, so they had to come back inside. The weather the next few days doesn't look too promising, but we'll see.

There's not much else exciting happening down here--the big excitement this next week will be the CODEL, or Congressional Delegation, of 10 representatives (and staff, and other officials coming with). Weather permitting, they'll get here tomorrow and tour the South Pole and McMurdo later this week.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Container Lake, Pressure Ridges, and Science Cargo: December 10-11, 2014

Wednesday morning, our first order of business after breakfast was to go to the Science Support Center (SSC) and make sure that the generator we planned to bring to the field and the electric saw we’ll need to use would work well together. The first step was to get the saw out of our container, which is where we ran into a slight issue: the puddle in front of the container was now much deeper than Tuesday, had only a thin layer of ice across the top, and had frozen the container latch shut.
A lot of water
We went up to the BFC and borrowed a pair of shovels and a maddock. Back at the container, we started to dig a trench downhill to drain the water from the small lake in front of the container. After about a half hour of digging, we had a trench dug and water flowing, but we still needed to push water from the puddle into the trench to get it going. We kept pushing water down the trench for a while, and we moved what looked like a lot of water. This started to attract attention.

Thomas and Sean work on our trench. It worked well.
Dale Rivers, the head of heavy equipment, showed up looking for the broken water pipe or place that was leaking water and just found us trying to drain our puddle. I thought we had done a pretty good job, but he called in a bulldozer and backhoe and soon enough, most of the snow nearby was gone and we had a deeper drainage trench taking the water away from the container. 
For some reason, the heavy equipment worked better than our shovels.

After two hours, we were finally able to get the saw and test it. It worked fine, so we took it up to Science Cargo and checked it in.

We then went out to LDB for lunch and a couple of errands. Back in town, we stopped by Crary supply to see if we could get some work gloves for the field, and also sorted more of our equipment in our container. When we went inside for a break and to make a list of all the equipment we hadn’t yet acquired/packed, I saw that there was a pressure ridge tour that night that only had a couple of people signed up. Sean and Thomas weren’t too interested, so I signed up. After we went over the list of everything new we’d thought of, we went over to meet with Lyra from the groom team and go over the plan as it stood then (it has changed since, of course).

By then it was almost 6, so I went and got ready for the Pressure Ridge tour while Thomas and Sean had dinner. I was a little surprised not to see anyone else waiting for the pressure ridges, but the group turned out to be just me and the guide, Hasmin. We drove over to Scott Base, and then spent about two hours walking around the Pressure Ridges. This is the area where the land, annual sea ice, and permanent glacial ice from the Ross Ice Shelf all meet and push against each other, pushing the ice up into the air where the wind blows it into really cool shapes and formations. It’s also a spot where seals like to hang out, so we ended up getting pretty close to a few different seals. I took about 900 photos, but I put the best up in an album here.

Thursday we got to work finally packing everything up for the field and getting it ready to be checked in at the Science Cargo building. We also picked up the last of the things we’ll need from the BFC, and then packed most of our tools and stuff in one large box. Other things that we’ll need, like 2x4s for making a frame for the Cherenkov boxes, and foam to put between detectors after we’ve removed them from the stack, has to go separately, but by 2:30pm we had everything checked in and ready to go. We then went over to the office and talked with James and Lyra from the groom team.

The first of three Herc flights to the Thomas Hills camp got off on Wednesday and left the equipment it needed to for the geology group that will be camping there. The second flight was delayed today because of a mechanical issue. The hope is to get as much of our weight on the second flight whenever it does go out, which would allow us to potentially all fly together on the third Herc flight (and skip the need for people to go through the WAIS Divide Field Camp). Whether that’s possible or not is up in the air; in any event, it sounds like the earliest that third flight would happen is Wednesday, so we’ll definitely have a few more days in McMurdo (and probably a few changes to the plan) before we leave.

Thursday was also the first launch attempt for ANITA, but it was scrubbed for some reason. I assume Dana will tell us more at dinner. Regardless, they’re going to try to launch again tomorrow, so we’ll try to see the launch if possible.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Another day of errands, and our 2-year launch anniversary: December 9, 2014

I woke up Tuesday morning and immediately checked the CSBF website and COSI Facebook page to see how things were going. I could see COSI on the launch vehicle but not yet rolled out to the launch pad, so I figured I had plenty of time before they would launch and went off to breakfast. After breakfast, I found out that the upper atmosphere winds weren't right for a launch, so things were called off, with a potential opportunity coming on Thursday.

In McMurdo, Thomas and I went through the recovery tools and sorted out ones we likely won't end up using and started weighing the various bags that we'll be taking to the field. We carried these over to our containers once we had finished, and then went once again to the BFC to look at the tool selection they have there. After grabbing another box of stuff from the BFC, we found Sean and caught the shuttle out to LDB for lunch and a couple of errands. When we got to LDB the smell of cooking meat (burger day. It's a harsh continent.) told us we had made the correct choice. Today was also the two-year anniversary of the SuperTIGER launch, so it was cool to be out at the LDB facility today (even though we actually launched miles away).

We eventually went back into town and got back to work with the tools. The past couple of days have been warm here (almost above freezing), so a lot of snow has been melting. This has turned most of the roads in McMurdo into mud puddles, and left us with a half-inch deep puddle in front of our shipping containers. Thomas and I stopped by building 175 to talk to James about the plan for getting everything in the field, and then we went to the Science Support Center (SSC) to talk about the generator we'll be bringing into the field. We'll have a solar power system that James thinks should be more than enough to power the camp, but the power tools we'll bring with will need a generator. We checked out a more powerful (and lighter) generator than the one we had requested, and tomorrow we'll go back to test it to make sure it can power the tools we need it to without problems. We then went and talked to Scott Battion again to try to find the list of tools that we got from the BFC last year. After that, we took a break before dinner, and that's about it. I'm really tired today for some reason, so I'll probably go to sleep early tonight.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A quiet few days: December 6-8, 2014.

The last few days here haven't been too exciting--we've mostly been hanging around McMurdo. We ended up postponing our pressure ridge tour to sometime later this week or early next week, but I'll definitely put photos up of that once I do. We had our outdoor safety lecture on Saturday morning, so I'm finally able to (officially) start hiking around and going out on the trails around McMurdo. The Observation Hill Loop is pretty much the same as last time, and I'll probably start doing it regularly again if the weather is nice. Sunday the weather wasn't so great, but I still went out to Hut Point and saw some seals.
Discovery Hut Restoration
Hut Point is a bit different this year since there's an ongoing restoration of Discovery Hut. If you head out during the workday, like I did today, a few people from Scott Base are out there working. The hut looks a lot less cool with a couple containers and a bunch of equipment next to it.

Sunday night we went to the weekly science lecture in the galley. It was given by Ralph Harvey of ANSMET, who was on our flight down from Christchurch. They're going out into the field to hunt meteorites soon.

Erebus looked cool today.
Today, we went and did our Crary Lab walk-through, where we went over the safety precautions and everything we'll need to use Crary, even though we likely won't be around there very much. After that I went up to the Science Cargo office with Thomas to double-check the answer to a question he had about shipping our equipment home, and then Sean, Thomas, and I went out to the LDB site. We got to see a very cloudy view of Erebus and had a delicious chili lunch (Sean and Thomas also had smoked salmon. It's a harsh continent.). We rode back into McMurdo with two of the station chaplains, who had been out getting a tour of the LDB facility.

Hut Point and some other people that were there today
Once back in McMurdo, we did an inventory of the tools and other equipment that are sitting in the two shipping containers that we have. We set aside and recorded all the equipment that we plan to take out into the field, and then started thinking of things that we needed but did not have. We went back to the BFC to look at their snow shovels, but left with just a scale (since we'll need to weigh things in the field), since Thomas is going to pull the list of equipment they got from the BFC last year.

After that I went for a hike along the Hut Point Ridge/Arrival Heights trail. I stopped at Hut Point and watched the seals that were there for a little bit, and then went up the hill. I got a little bit above halfway before my path was blocked by a Skua. Since I was apparently not so close that the skua was reacting to me, I knew I was fine, but I couldn't go closer until it moved. I got a lot of very good close-up shots of the skua while I waited about 15 minutes for it to get out of my way. Eventually, it did, and I climbed the rest of the way up the hill. At the top, I was greeted by a view of McMurdo Sound, still almost entirely covered in sea ice. I walked along the ridge, and most of the way back into town (I got a ride down the hill from a couple of guys in a pickup that were working on top of the hill).
Skua, just hanging around.


McMurdo Sound

McMurdo Station
It looks like there will be a launch opportunity for COSI and the superpressure balloon tomorrow morning. They're going to be picked up by The Boss around 3am, and then potentially launch closer to 10. We're probably going to go out to Willy Field (as close as they'll let people be outside and watch) and take a look. I've been told to expect a new roommate tomorrow (my previous one left Saturday morning), so I'm glad I took the time over the weekend to re-arrange my room the way I had it two years ago.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Briefings, more briefings, and a trip to LDB: December 4 and 5, 2014

Thursday morning I grabbed a quick breakfast before heading over to the NSF Chalet for our Science in-briefing. After that talk was done, Sean, Thomas, and I went over to the Crary Lab IT center to get our computers set up and configured for the McMurdo wifi network. After that, we had some time to kill, so while Sean went to grab a pillow for his dorm room, Thomas and I went around McMurdo for a bit.

We stopped by building 175, where we've been allocated two cubicles, but the person we were supposed to see to find out which cubicles they are wasn't around. We then went to drop in on Ryan, our NSF contact, but he was on a phone call. Then we went to the Berg Field Center (BFC) and talked to them for a bit about getting our equipment that we'll need in the field. We went back to Crary and talked to Scott Battion, the LDB camp manager and a 2013 SuperTIGER recovery team member. While we were talking to Scott, we ran into James, who will be the camp manager/supervisor for the groom team and our recovery camp. Thomas and I then spent about an hour and a half getting coffee with James and Lyra, a mountaineer who will also be going with us into the field. We went over the plan for recovery and a lot of other options about flights and logistics.

By then, it was time for lunch, so Thomas and I were about to head out to find Sean when Sean showed up. We had lunch with Sean and Dana, and then it was time for our Antarctic Field Safety course. This was basically a refresher course from Happy Camper school, and we went over risk management, how to recognize frostbite and hypothermia, what to do if you fall in icy water, and then practiced lighting stoves and setting up tents inside. 
Once that training was over I took a walk around McMurdo, then met back up with everyone for dinner. Thomas and I walked over to Scott Base for America Night, and got to talking for a while with Peter, my roommate. Eventually, I caught the last shuttle back to McMurdo while Thomas walked back.


Today I woke up and had breakfast with Dana and Sean. At 8am I went to the Crary Library for more orientation lectures. First, Thomas, Sean, and I got the Light Vehicle Safety lecture, so once we get a walk-around/check out with actual vehicles we’ll be able to drive here if we need to. After that, we were supposed to have a waste briefing, but the person who was going to talk to us never showed up. Instead, we started the Fire Safety briefing early.

After that, we went over to the Science Support Center (SSC), which is where our field safety training had been the day before (and where Happy Camper school started for me two years ago), and talked to our NSF Contact, Ryan, about flight options for getting the groom team and ourselves out to the SuperTIGER site. It now sounds like the groom team won’t head out until late next week at the earliest. Then it was time for snowmobile training, where we got a quick intro to maintaining and checking out the type of snowmobile we’ll have with us out in the field. 

By sleep kit in the BFC
We then went to the BFC to pick up our sleep kits. We each were issued a sleeping bag, fleece liner, foam and air pads, and a tent to use once we go out into the field. I also picked up a thermos. We checked our stuff our and then went and put it all in the SuperTIGER container between the SSC and BFC.
The SuperTIGER containers

We caught the shuttle van out to LDB (a new feature this year, with vans leaving McMurdo every hour) and had lunch in the LDB galley. The entire LDB camp has been moved two miles farther from McMurdo on the ice shelf, so it was weird to see familiar landmarks in the distance but not quite at the same angle. At lunch, we talked again with Scott Battion and I talked a bit with Barth from BLAST, who is back this year with SPIDER, a Cosmic Microwave Background experiment. We went and looked through the two payload buildings after lunch.

The LDB Galley
ANITA Hang Test

The building that EBEX was in two years ago is inhabited this year by SPIDER, and Natalie and Steve, two of the BLAST graduate students, are back this year as well. We talked with them for a long while about their experiment, their recovery plans, our recovery plans, and how the system that points their experiment works. 

The SPIDER Experiment
SPIDER has a dinosaur and a penguin mascot
The building that we were in two years ago now is being used by the ANITA team. ANITA itself was out on The Boss for its official hang test when we showed up, so the building was pretty empty. Dana and Paul weren’t around, so we didn’t stay too long there.
COSI and their "Pig Barn"
Past our payload building is a temporary building put up this year that houses the superpressure balloon, a new type of balloon that CSBF is testing again this year, and COSI, the experiment that will fly on it. We introduced ourselves to the COSI team and talked with them for a while. The box with the superpressure balloon is so big that it takes up most of the space, with only a little bit in front for the experiment to sit on. COSI was outside doing some compatibility tests. If COSI has launched by the time that we get back to McMurdo from the SuperTIGER recovery, then we might end up using that building to pack everything up in.

Maintaining the new LDB site
Today was a good Erebus-viewing day

After that, we came back to town, and have some down time now before dinner. Tomorrow we signed up to go on a tour of the pressure ridges, so that should be a good hike and chance to take photos.