Friday, February 22, 2013

Day 109, Februay 11, 2013 -- Leaving on a jet plane

This update is a bit delayed, sorry about that!

The rest of the EBEX team (Michele, Chappy, Joy, and myself) left McMurdo on Feb. 11th. We were fortunate enough to be on the first C-17 flight of 2013 from McMurdo, which meant it was relatively quick (5 hours instead of 8.5) and spacious. We were transported out to the Pegasus airfield by Ivan, which caused a moment of worry when the airbrakes suddenly engaged on the way down the hill from McMurdo out to the ice shelf. It was a good 5-10 minutes before the driver serendipitously got the airbrake disengaged after opening and reclosing the door (presumably the door is also operated by the same pneumatic system, so opening and closing the door seemed to have fixed something).

On the way out to the airfield, we passed by LDB where we saw that one of the payload buildings had already been moved up onto the snow berm where it will spend the winter. After arriving at Pegasus, we were able to watch the C-17 land and then taxi back towards us, at which point we were dropped off so that Ivan and the other transport (the Kress) could pick up the passengers from the flight and take them back to town. Then...we waited...for probably about an hour on the ice while they loaded cargo and did who knows what else. Once we boarded, Michele and I got two of the inward-facing jump seats on the right side of the plane (lots of legroom) while Chappy and Joy picked a pair of airline seats towards the front of the plane. After about a half hour, we were off and on our way back to New Zealand! I spent another 8 days in New Zealand and have been back in Minnesota for a couple days.

This will be the final update for this edition of EBEX In Flight -- I hope all that have followed along have enjoyed hearing about the campaign over the course of the 2012-2013 Austral summer.


Friday, February 8, 2013

Days 101-107, February 3-9, 2012 -- Wrapping up

Well, we're basically done here.

We ended up not getting another recovery flight out to the payload, which means the cryostat and gondola are going to be spending a cold, dark winter out on the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. The surface conditions were pretty marginal for landing the first time, and the Kenn Borek Air crew was not comfortable trying to land a Basler there again without having a ski-way prepared by a Twin Otter crew with a grooming team.

With that, we packed up the rest of our material, including the things we recovered, into our shipping containers for the slow sea transport back to the USA. Chappy has been occupied over the past days making copies of our flight data for redundancy and so both UMN and Columbia will have copies.

Aside from that, we've just been livin' la vida Antarctica. There's not much for us to do, actually. We saw the icebreaker come in and clear a path for the resupply ships to come in, and today the research vessel Nathaniel B. Palmer was moored at the ice pier.

We are scheduled to leave in just two days, on February 11th, and we just received word that we are assigned to a C-17! This will be the first C-17 of the year, having been significantly delayed due to the poor condition of the ice runway. The C-17 flight will be much shorter and significantly more comfortable than the LC-130s that others have had to fly in recently.


Friday, February 1, 2013

Day 100, February 2, 2013 -- Recovery Tales, Part 1

After much waiting, we finally got out to the payload today.

We were picked up in the morning at the LDB site by the Kenn Borek Air crew flying one of their Basler Turbo Conversions BT-67 aircraft, a turboprop-converted Douglas DC-3 equipped with skis for snow use. After loading up the Basler with all of our tools and supplies, we lifted off and headed to the landing site. On the way, we were treated to views of Ross Island from vantage points not normally seen as well as pretty amazing scenery as we flew over the Transantarctic mountains.

We landed on the part of the Antarctic plateau that is part of the East Antarctic Ice sheet. While it looks quite flat from the air, there is a fair bit of texture to the surface that made the landing (and subsequent takeoff) a bit rough. The pilot first did a touch-and-go to test the surface conditions, then came back around and landed 4 miles away from the payload and taxied over the surface to reach EBEX.

Once out on the ground we set to work immediately. After taking pictures to document the condition of various bits of the payload, Jeff started by removing the star cameras and their important pointing data while Michele and I worked on the bolometer data disk vessels. After that, we then proceeded to remove nearly every single piece of electronics from the payload (except one we forgot -- oops) plus the two mirrors in the three and a half hours we spent on the ground. The CSBF crew removed their hardware and then helped us get our hardware off. We finished off the day by doing some prep work in order to speed up retrieval of the cryostat once we get back out to the landing site.