Sunday, November 18, 2012

Back in Antarctica

in the belly of the C-17 en route to McMurdo

My stay in Chch was only one night and I arrived in McMurdo, Antarctica on monday.  Due to my seniority I was put up in a room with only 2 other roommates.  Usually us transients get packed like sardines into whatever room doesn't currently violate the fire code.  I went for my traditional hike out to Discovery point to observe the seals.  I always take pictures but they never can quite capture the sheer awe-inspiring beauty of the ice shelf.  Mt. Erebus looms ominously behind you, its constant bellowing of smoke painting the otherwise crystal sky.  Below you, a handful of enormous seals sun themselves on the frozen waves, somehow thriving in the desolation.  Then ice for miles, broken by the dark seemingly impenetrable mountains in the distance.  All the while, an unceasing sun does its best to warm against the constant breeze.  I try to stay out there until I can't feel my fingers to soak it all in.  At 18 F, it wasn't too bad (I realize how ridiculous that sounds).  Later, there was a science mixer at the Crary lab.  Being a transient in McMurdo is a very lonely experience.  At this point McMurdo has been open for about 2 months so the cliques have formed and they aren't interested in taking in any temporary members.  I recognized a few people from previous seasons but I spent most of my time staring out of the telescope at the mountains in the distance.  At one point someone recognized me from my performance at New Year's last year and we started talking about music, etc.  Later on a band called Condition Fun played.  Their name is a play on the weather conditions at McMurdo where condition one is clear, condition two is bad weather, and condition three is a post-apocalyptic wasteland.  They sang parodies of pop songs where all the lyrics dealt with life in Antarctica.  It was very funny and quite catchy.  Luckily, my flight to Pole was on schedule and I left the next day.

I arrived at Pole warmed by my big red and supplemented with excitement.  When your destination is Pole, McMurdo is a hell-hole and Pole is Shangri-la.  I hear McMurdo is an awesome place to be but its sort of reminiscent of that weird town from Twin Peaks.  Pole, on the other hand, is like a space station on some alien world.  The McMurdo crowd tends to be more outdoorsy adventurers but Pole is full of more sci-fi people.  I got out of the LC-130 and once I caught my breath (due to the extreme cold) I passed by my friend Molly from last year who was directing traffic on the runway.  I gave her a big bear hug and then proceeded towards the station.  I was greeted by my group as well as a few other people who I've known from previous deployments.  Arriving at Pole is a really amazing experience full of so much love and excitement.  One of the winter-overs for SPT who incidentally was a grad student on BICEP1 was leaving so I stuck around a little while to say bye to her.  After 15 minutes or so I was too cold and hungry so I went inside and found my room.  Because this is my 4th deployment (and because I'm a grantee, not a contractor) I was given one of the "big" rooms.  It's about 3 feet wider than the other rooms but it actually makes a really big difference.  I've even got a window with a view.  Usually the windows just point towards the other berthing wings but my berthing is on the end so I have a clear view of the endless horizon.

This deployment so far has just been spectacular.  Everything from my room, to the group down here, to my responsibilities has just been fantastic.  I'm the only BICEP2 person deployed and although there are 4 other people from the collaboration, they are all SPUD specific so the telescope is entirely mine!  I do the cryo refills, cycle the refrigerator, modify the schedules, run the schedules, analyze the data, and send all the data up north.  If I were any more productive, I would be powering the station!

Doing a cryo fill out at the lab.  Safety first, y'all.
Last night was my first saturday here and it happened to be Open Mic Night.  Trudy, who I've known from the past few seasons, plays guitar and sings mostly country-folk or bluegrass style songs and Daniel, my bass player from my bands down here, organized everything and set the gym up to look like a coffee shop.  I've been spouting my philosophy about Pole which is "at Pole, the answer is always yes."  This is a safe place to step outside of your comfort zone and have some fun.  In that regard, I played some songs that I've never played publicly and sang a few tunes too.  I was very rusty but the show went great.  The most fun, however, was afterwards when John Carlstrom, the big boss man of SPT (and one of the most renown, powerful physicists alive) and I took over the band room and drank beers and jammed until about 2:30am.  Talk about networking...  He's a helluva physicist and a damn good guitarist.  And a really great guy too (and a possible future boss).

Well, I'm off to play soccer.  Hopefully it will go easier than on wednesday (my second day here) which damn near kicked my ass.

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