On the Super-TIGER side of things, the blue foam insulation, black plastic, and mylar layering looked complete for both of our instrument modules. Frank, Dana, Sean, and Thomas spent the day working on the blue foam insulation for the bottom of the instrument, which until now had stayed exposed. I spent most of the day working on some software I had come up with back in August. Then, the focus was on getting something useable; now, I'm making sure it still works (which it eventually did) and making sure that the information that it extracts out of the data looks good. This isn't data analysis software or anything exciting, but it does tell us what various settings have been set to on our instrument and helps us monitor things.
Garry, Dana, and Richard also went out to test the solar panels. Both banks of three panels each were outputting about 290 Watts, a pretty sizable increase from the amount they were outputting when we had tested them in Texas in July. Since the entire instrument should only need around 250 Watts, we should have more than enough power during flight.
I've gotten some questions from a couple of people about more general things about Antarctica and McMurdo, so I figured I'd go through some of that now. McMurdo station itself is located on Ross Island, which, while not part of the Antarctic mainland, is connected by the permanent ice of the Ross Ice Shelf. Right now, there is the permanent ice of the ice shelf, which is mostly glacial ice, and seasonal sea ice, that will melt at some point in the next couple of months. The seasonal ice extends just past Scott Base, so McMurdo will have a harbor at some point while I'm here. The station currently has around 950 people--I forgot to check the bulletin board this morning for the exact figure.
McMurdo acts as the jumping off point for people headed all around the continent. People flying to the South Pole station normally spend a day or two (or more, if there are weather/mechanical problems) in McMurdo, and there are a variety of field camps that people will head out to. I've talked to people headed to field camps on Mount Erebus, which has a camp at 7000ft and at 11000ft and further out on the ice shelf, where they'll set up some seismic monitoring stations. There seem to be a lot of people that do seismic monitoring here--there are people looking to study the formation of the Antarctic mountains by evaluating seismic activity here, people working on monitoring stations that try to detect unauthorized nuclear testing around the world, and a few people looking at icequakes and the ice shelf itself.
Scott Base is run by Antarctica New Zealand, and has probably around a hundred people living in it. It's about two miles away on the road out to the LDB site, so we go by it every day. Thursday night a few of us went over again, since their store and bar have a different selection than the bars and store in McMurdo.
There are roads and hiking trails around McMurdo, and, for the most part, these are open to whoever wants to use them. Some of the longer trails or trails on sea ice require checking out with the Fire House and filing a hiking plan with them, so that if people get lost or miss their scheduled check in time, the search and rescue team can be mobilized to go get them. Beyond the marked trails and roads, though, we're not really allowed to wander. On some of the trails on land there are specially protected areas designated and experiments that can easily be disturbed by people wandering through them; otherwise, like near Scott Base, there may be buried or concealed power or fuel lines that they don't want people climbing over or stepping on. On the ice shelf and the sea ice, there is always the danger of Crevasses. These are holes in the ice that can be very deep, and can be covered by only a thin layer of ice and snow at the top, making them look just like any other part of the ice shelf. In the past, people have wandered off the marked trails and fallen into crevasses and been seriously injured, and in a couple cases ended up dying. Staying on the marked paths is all we're really allowed to do for now.
The population in McMurdo is a mix between scientists and support staff. I'm not sure what the percentages of each are, since dorms are assigned based on what kind of work you do, and just about everyone in my dorm works out at LDB or does some other type of science around the station. I would guess that the vast majority of the people down here are not scientists, or "grantees", but I don't know exactly how many there are. There was a "social" for scientists on Monday night that seemed to have around a hundred to a hundred and fifty people at it, but I'm not sure how many of them just showed up once they heard that there was free ice cream.