Category Archives: Antarctica


LDB-Long Duration Balloon


We had the opportunity to visit the NASA Long Duration Balloon facility this week.  There are two of these tall buildings that house the payloads for the balloons.   The payloads that we saw were both telescopes that are being used to look back in time to understand how the universe evolved from the big bang to its present state.  When the scientist that was giving the tour explained that I had to correct her.  She kept calling it a telescope but I had to tell her that it was actually a time machine.

It took me a second to process that.  How is it possible to look into the past without a Deloreon and a flux capacitor?  All you need is a telescope.  It all starts with the speed of light, 186,000 MILES per Second.  Fast.  Fast enough to travel to the sun (93,000,000 miles) in 500 seconds.  One hundred eighty six thousand miles per second.  The moon is 239,000 miles away and it takes light just 1.3 seconds to get to the moon.  So everytime you look at the moon you are seeing it as it was 1.3 seconds ago.  Extrapolate that out to the nearest star in our galaxy which is 4 light years away.  4 years of travelling at 186000 miles per second to get to our closest star neighbor.  When light from that star is collected by a telescope it is a snapshot of that star as it was 4 years ago.

Distance and time are analogous in space.  Time and money are analogous on Earth.  So they say.

One of my favorite facts:  The milky way galaxy is 100,000 light years across and 1000 light years in thickness.  There are between 100-200 billion other galaxies other than the milky way.  That makes my head explode to think about.


Payload 1.  This is what is suspended from the balloon.  Its a telescope/time machine.



Payload 2.  Another telescope.  Everything on these payloads is sacrificial.  Sometimes they are recovered without damage but rarely.

The balloon on these when at altitude (120,000 feet) is as large as the interior of a football stadium.

SCINI and Penguins

I had another opportunity to go out into the field with the SCINI robot team.

We drove out about 25 miles west of McMurdo on snow machines to deploy the robot under the sea ice.  When we got out there we had to drill a hole in the ice with a “jiffy drill”.

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SCINI is deployed through about an 8″ hole through the sea ice.  Its a tethered ROV which means its communications are hardwired to the robot through a neutrally buoyant  line that is on the surface.  The robot tows an instrument package behind it as it surveys the underside of the sea ice.  The robot is controlled with a Playstation controller inside an insulated pop up tent.

We then went out to mark more locations to deploy the robot using a handheld GPS.  When we returned, we had two visitors.  I got to spend my Thanksgiving with two Emperor Penguins this year.

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Pressure Ridges!!!!

Im no Geologer but heres my understanding of what Pressure Ridges are.   When ice layers of different thicknesses crash together (very slowly) resulting in a big messy pile of angular ice blocks.  There are two parts to the ridge.  One is underwater called the keel and the one on top is called the sail.  The driving forces that form the ridges are the currents and winds.

Girls be talkin’ about shoes and guys be talkin’ about boots….and Happy Thanksgiving

Work continued on the drill this week and we will be moving out to another location about 10 miles away from McMurdo to where the ice is thick enough to drill some test holes.   We finally got the reel container back this week (thats the building we designed and built in Lincoln this summer.   The large steel frame shown below is built in two sections.  The top section is designed to slide to the left relative to the lower section so that the crescents (the big aluminum things) can be extended out away from the container to drill.  When we shipped all of this we had to weld the two structures together so they couldnt shift while being shipped around the world.  In order to separate the structures again the tabs where ground off and removed.

McMurdo celebrates Thanksgiving on Saturday, which is today.  Heres a picture of a Turkey wearing “Bunny Boots”.  Bunny boots is a nickname for the extreme cold vapor barrier boots used by the US Armed Forces and the US Antarctic Program.   I hear they are pretty popular in Alaska also.  These were originally developed at the Navy Clothing and Textile Research Center in Natick, MA (10 minutes from my house in Massachusetts).  They are rated to -65 F and weigh 54 oz (almost 3.5 lbs) each.

Another option for Antarctic footwear is the FDX boot made by Asics.

I opted for the Cabelas boots.  They are equivalent to the FDX boots and  Bunny boots but have the ability to breath a bit better than rubber and leather.  The soles are super thick to provide insulation from the snow.

I cant talk about boots without mentioning Red Wings.  On days that I know are going to be on the warmer side Ill wear my Red Wing 2412 boots.  They’ve survived a season in Alaska and now have served me well in Antarctica too.  The only drawback to them is that they have  a steel toe which, on a cold day can transfer quite a bit of heat out of your toes.  These boots are one my favorite possessions.

Anyways, Happy Thanksgiving

A Day In The Life

I figured Id try to describe what daily life is like here.  So Ill walk through a typical day.  We work 6 days a week so this description applies to everyday except Sunday.   Ill start with the dorm.  I live in building 203 A in room 103.  The dorm rooms are about 15 x 10 and have three beds in them, two of which are bunk beds.  I love bunk beds.  They always remind me of my step brother John and the movie step brothers.

This is my sweet set up in the dorm.  The reason I didnt take the bunk bed route is because sometimes they put three in a room.  This way Ive got a little privacy.   I think I did a pretty good job decorating.  I was going for the minimalist look.   I scored that alarm clock from SKUA, which is a free gear swap the station has running.   It has a light thats almost bright enough to show the time on the wall but doesnt actually work. I wake up to the sound of a rain forest every morning at 0630.  Then I fall back to sleep until 0645 when its really time to get up.  I wear the same pants everyday ( knock off Carharts).  Over the pants I wear a dirty set of insulated Carhart bibs and tuck my wrenches, sharpie, pen, notebook and my Fluke Volt alert in the front pocket of my bibs.  I  always wear two layers under my bibs because otherwise some sensitive chest areas get bothered.

I had to throw in the sock monkey because I promised my friend Andi that Id bring it to Antarctica with me. Andi made this sock monkey out of the socks she wore while we were working on a trail crew together in Alaska last summer.

I eat breakfast at 0700 in the galley.

Then the crew meets up at 0730 at Crary to rally for the day of work at the drill construction site (SPOTSA).

We typically are in the van a 0745 and head out to the sea ice where the drill is being constructed.  The next picture shows the transition from land to the sea ice where the ice road starts.

The ride out to the drill is only about a mile.  A typical day of work may include working on plumbing manifolds, installing sensors and instruments and other various mechanical projects.  Inside our “Mec” we have a stick welder, a drill press, milling machine and a lathe as well as a whole bunch of fun power tools.  Yesterday, I worked on bolting our day tank (fuel tank) down to the platform that it will live on.  A lot of time is spent working outside in the wind and cold and this is a good example of what we do.  I fabricated two clamps on the rear of the tank that we used to secure it to the ISO corner.  Heres a picture of the platform all assembled.  Theres nothing better than welding and machining in Antarctica in a towable, collapsable building.

We are currently preparing for our first wet test of the system where we will introduce water to the system for first time to check for leaks and verify that the HPUs work as expected.  Most of the activity happening now is wiring pumps, general electrical work, checking the fuel system and manifolds to make sure they are working to supply JP8 to the burners and generators.  Ill go into more detail on the drill in an upcoming post about how the drill works.

Lunch happens at 1200.  We all pile back in the van and drive back to Mactown to the galley.  Its amazing how much food it takes to keep your body happy in cold and windy conditions.   Wednesday is cookie day so we head in at 1130.  Everybody loves cookie day.  We usually bring back about 60,000 cookies to drill camp every Wednesday.  Theres a soft serve ice cream machine called Frosty boy in the galley.  If its not working there are usually violent riots.  Some people have serious addictions to Frosty Boy and cant live without it.  Luckily Im not one of them but I hear its a slippery slope.

We are usually back at the van at 1300 and head back out to the drill for the afternoon and work until 1730.  Ive switched to military time because its 24 hours of daylight here.  I usually eat dinner after work and head back to the room to change clothes and give a call to Becky.   Its usually about 1900 by the time dinner is over and I talk to Becky.   Theres usually quite a bit going on every day.  There are usually movies playing at the coffee house, yoga, science lectures, knitting, hiking…all kinds of fun stuff.

Then its bedtime.  I usually listen to a podcast before and sometimes after I go to sleep.  Ive been listening to Radiolab, A Prairie Home Companion, Stuff you should know and Stuff you missed in History class and This American Life.  The next thing I know Im in a rain forest again and its time to do it all over again.

Our trip out to the dive hut was the first time I had been far enough away from the station to feel the remoteness of Antarctica.  The quietness and vastness of Antarctica is deafening.  No people, no traffic, no horns, no sirens.  Just seals.

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