What does this involve? The answer is, a lot.
The logistics of flying people and equipment around the remotest and most inhospitable place on Earth (although that may currently be the mid-west United States) is something you don't really grasp until you sit down in meetings (scientists, NSF and McMurdo logistics etc) and flesh out all the details of your trip. Thankfully the brunt of that work was felt by Thomas and John (who had done this kind of thing before on the recovery of the BESS-Polar II payload in 2009). As the new guy, I found the organization and logistical planning around working in the "harsh continent" fascinating.
To get to the SuperTIGER payload, we need to transport ourselves (the 4-member science team) and up to 2000 lbs (910 kg) of recovery tools and camping equipment from McMurdo station to the Amundsen-Scott station at the South Pole (~ 920 miles/1480 km), then from the South Pole to the payload site (a further 540 miles/870 km) and our awaiting camp/groom team. Before all that though, you need to get fuel out to the payload site (for the planes to refuel) which means an LC-130 needs to perform a "fuel drop" near the site (parachuting a pallet of 40 fifty-gallon fuel drums to the ground successfully). Once that fuel drop is completed, then the groom team can fly out on Twin-Otter aircraft to prepare a ski-way (i.e. a runway on which heavily loaded aircraft can takeoff safely) along with the general camp. All of this involves several disciplines and departments: fixed-wing (for aircraft), fuel, cargo and Berg Field Camp (the BFC) amongst several others. Add the famous unpredictability of Antarctic weather to the mix, and you have yourself a logistical headache.
All you can do is plan for the worst, be flexible and don't panic (too much).
The last few days has seen the team rifling through shipping containers, compiling and organizing all our tools needed for recovering the payload (i.e. screwdrivers, drills, saws, drill-bits, rope, wire-cutters, clippers, ratchets, sockets, hammers, ice-pick, shovels and so on). You can be sure there won't be a Lowe's nearby if someone forgot to pack a 1/4" combi-wrench.
Some of the recovery items needed were actually being kept at the NASA Long Duration Balloon (LDB) facility out at Willy Field (about 6 miles/9.6 km away from McMurdo station). Unfortunately due to the government shutdown last year, the entire ballooning season was cancelled (resulting in the cancellation of two scientific-payload launches and one NASA test balloon launch, just one of the many scientific casualties resulting from the shutdown here in Antarctica). This meant the facility was never really prepped for the summer season.
Due to the warm weather here in McMurdo, the roads out to LDB and the Pegasus airfield are in very poor condition, hence all wheeled vehicles are banned from traveling on the road (except for the Deltas and Ivan the "terra" bus shuttling people to and from Pegasus). However, we needed to grab our stuff, so we were kindly helped by our local National Science Foundation representative Brian Johnson who provided transportation to LDB in the form of a tracked "Pisten Bully". These tracked vehicles can seat six (without any gear in the cab) quite comfortably and truck along at about 8 mph!
Tuesday morning at 830am, Brian started all four of us on the road to LDB.
|John, Brian Johnson and Grant ready to roll.|
|A box with a seriously beautiful view though.|
|The view from the LDB payload buildings. Not everyone works near a volcano.|
|Retrieving the gear.|
|The way out to the launch pad. Usually there is a road-way here, another casualty of the shutdown.|
Brian was very kind and acted as our personal photographer while we made suitably grandiose poses in front of Mt Erebus and the surrounding area. It was definitely chillier out at LDB than at McMurdo so our modelling session was cut short for the warmer confines of the Pisten Bully cab.
|Miserable? You decide!|