Friday, November 9, 2012

Installing the antenna boom and the people of McMurdo

Friday, work at Willy Field proceeded as usual. I kept working on the settings we would need to match up our detector outputs (so the same input=same output). Frank, Dana, and Sean continued working on the foam insulation. After the insulation, there will be a layer of black plastic wrapped around everything (also part of the thermal protection), so they started working on that. This also meant that the blue foam box had to be taken off temporarily.

After lunch (Cornish Game Hen. It's a harsh continent.), we had a visit from Dan the lineman, who works on the power lines in and around McMurdo. He had ended up talking with Thomas and Frank at breakfast, and was out at LDB anyways, so he came to check out our instrument. I gave the typical talk and we talked for a long while. Apparently there are several poles near McMurdo that are tall enough that the bucket truck they have wouldn't be able to reach them, so Dan got fitted for gear to climb them (like they used to do back in the day) manually. 

Another major part of the Super-TIGER payload, the antenna boom, was added Friday as well. In the picture above, you can see a white beam going across the back of the instrument. This is the support system for the various antennae that we will use during flight to send data down and commands up to the instrument.

At the end of the day, Ivan the Terra Bus was a mere 5 minutes early, rather than the usual 10, so most of the Willy Field crew waited out for the bus to arrive (nobody wants to miss the bus, so it's always better to be early!). 

At dinner in McMurdo (Prime Rib. It's a harsh continent.) most of the team ended up sitting with Tom, who works in Preventative Maintenance. He's been coming down to McMurdo since 2000, and now is at the point where he spends 6 months here and is "semi-retired" the rest of the time in Wyoming. He had a lot of interesting things to say, including stories of when the windchill reached -102 F in October a few years ago. He works primarily on the boilers and furnaces around town, which apparently are run on Jet Fuel nowadays. Apparently this is efficient, but doesn't quite get as much heat as they would like, so some fine-tuning is required.

Friday night Richard, Sean, John E, Thomas and I went to Antarctic Trivia at Gallagher's in McMurdo. There, we met a British guy called Suna who ended up joining our team. He knew a lot about the early Antarctic explorers, which helped us start out well.  He had been to Antarctica just once before, but had spent a year and a half working with the British down here to set up various field camps, and was about to depart for Mount Erebus, where he'll be the Camp Manager this year. Apparently, there are two camps on Mount Erebus--one at 7000ft, where people go to spend a few days getting acclimated to the altitude, and another at 11000ft, near the summit. Apparently they take a helicopter up to the first camp, and he told us about how he'd gotten to take a helicopter over the active lava lake on the top of the mountain just the other day. We see Erebus every time we go outside at LDB, and the amount of steam coming out of it seams to vary, but the output is constant--it's only the atmospheric interactions that we're seeing down on the ice shelf. 

In the end, our team ended up a respectable-but-disappointing 4th place out of around 12 teams (we did, however, beat the team from EBEX, another balloon-borne experiment in the building next to ours at LDB, with 26 points to their 11). We also learned a lot about Antarctica (the first mass-produced consumer vehicle driven on the continent was a VW Beetle), the local wildlife (the largest entirely terrestrial animal on the continent is a wingless fly), and McMurdo (Jello Wrestling is not allowed. It doesn't matter why, it just isn't). 

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