Saturday, December 7, 2013

Recovery Epilogue

Talking with a few people reminded me that I never updated the blog after the recovery. We were crazy busy packing up after we came back from the field camp so staying up and making a blog post was pretty low on my agenda, and then after I got back I had, frankly, better things to do.

Long story short -- we got everything back! The conditions ranged from cold but reasonable (-10C, no wind) to bitterly cold and miserable (-40C and 12-14 knot winds) -- luckily only two days had serious wind, and the second one was on our last full day there where we were basically almost done already and only had a few hours of work left to do. On the other days, though, we were working ~12 hour days and just trying to stay warm.

I'm going to let the pictures do the rest of the talking (60,000 words worth, if the old adage is to be believed).

EBEX Recovery Photos

This is the last installment of EBEX In Flight for a while. We're working on analyzing data, and eventually the team will apply for more funding to fly an upgraded version of EBEX. So look for the next installment of EBEX In Flight, coming to an Internet near you in 2016 or later!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Day 7, November 10, 2013 -- Heading out tomorrow?

It's been a pretty uneventful ~week since the last post. Michele and I made it down to McMurdo on Wednesday and have spent the time since then getting our stuff prepared for our trip out to the recovery site. This involved meeting with our field team, James and Nicky, both experienced Antarctic field workers, to coordinate various things as well as getting all of our materials ready. Besides the tools we brought down, we also had to get into one of the containers to retrieve some recovery supplies we had left down here last season.

Our current plan is to take a Twin Otter from McMurdo to Mario Zucchelli Station (the Italian Antarctic base at Terra Nova Bay) and then make two trips from MZS to our landing site. Right now we are scheduled to leave in the morning, assuming the weather here, at MZS, and at the site cooperate. The Italian Pisten Bully will show up a day or two later to deal with the skiway grooming.

And tonight I'll be giving the weekly McMurdo public science lecture -- with the uncertainty at the beginning of the season, previously-made plans were unmade and they were left scrambling for a last-minute replacement. So now they're stuck with me!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Day 1, November 4, 2013 -- ...aaaaand we're back!

That's right folks, it's time for another edition of EBEX in Flight (though as you'll see, the name is a bit of a misnomer)!

Some of you may remember that at the end of last season, we had to leave most of the payload (gondola + cryostat) out on the ice for the Antarctic winter. Now we're going back to get it.

This season's recovery mission almost didn't happen. After making plans during the summer for our recovery, the government shutdown in October basically put our effort in limbo. Luckily for us, the fine folks at ASC (the Antarctic Support Contract, who run the logistics for Antarctic operations), the NSF (National Science Foundation, who fund Antarctic programs), and NASA's BPO (Balloon Program Office, who run the NASA scientific balloon program), were able reschedule our recovery mission once the government reopened, with the dates just slightly delayed.

Unfortunately, other projects weren't so lucky. Due to the effects of the shutdown, there will be no balloon launches by CSBF in Antarctica this year.

Our own recovery is going to (hopefully) be a much smaller endeavor than last year's 3+month deployment. First, the team is much smaller -- it's just me and Michele this time. Our plan is to spend a couple days in McMurdo getting our recovery stuff assembled and then get dropped off (with two support staff from ASC) at the recovery site to camp for 3-6 days while we break down the telescope and get it ready for transport back to McMurdo via the Basler. While we're out there, we're getting some help from the Italian Antarctic program who run a field camp at Talos Dome, not far from our landing site. They will be sending out a Pisten Bully team to groom a skiway for the Basler. If all goes well, Michele and I will be back in the States before Thanksgiving.

I showed up Monday afternoon in Christchurch after leaving Minnesota on Saturday afternoon. Tomorrow is clothing issue; Wednesday is our ice flight. Michele for some reason got put on a different Sydney-to-Christchurch flight, so he won't be getting here until almost midnight tonight.

I can't promise regular updates (I anticipate some very busy days, some very boring days, and some days where I won't have Internet access while we're out at the site), but I'll do my best to keep things here reasonably up-to-date.

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.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Day 92, January 24, 2012 -- The EBEX has landed.

The EBEX flight was terminated at approximately 11:30AM GMT on January 23rd, or roughly 12:30AM on January 24th local McMurdo (NZ) time. I actually found out about this rather on accident, as I had been watching the payload track on the CSBF website and noticed the altitude, which had been at about 110,000 feet not 10 minutes before, was at 86,000 feet! I checked my email and sure enough I had a message saying the flight had been terminated -- finally!

Termination of a balloon payload involves a few different actions. One is opening the helium valves at the top of the balloon. Another is firing the Universal Terminate Package (UTP), which has a pair of explosive cable cutters that release a collar that holds the bottom of the balloon to the top of the parachute. As the parachute and payload fall away from the balloon, they pull a rip line that tears open the balloon to release all of the helium quickly into space.

And after that, after about 45-50 minutes, the payload lands on the Antarctic plateau! Once on the ground, another UTP separates the payload from the balloon in order to prevent the parachute from filling with wind (very prevalent on the plateau) and dragging the payload (as has happened in the past, most notably during the BLAST 2006 flight where the payload was dragged 150 miles and ended up in a crevasse). EBEX landed here:

This turns out to be not a bad place to land. The coordinates are Latitude: 72°22.63 S, Longitude: 159°2.69 E, at an elevation of about 7350 feet on the Antarctic plateau. Relative to McMurdo, it's about about 400 miles away over the Transantarctic mountain range, but it is only 190 miles from an Italian Antarctic station, Mario Zucchelli Base, at Terra Nova Bay. Hopefully we will be able to stage our recovery out of Zucchelli, which should allow for quicker flight turnarounds and more of the payload recovered.

In other news, the BLAST recovery team (Elio) was finally able to make it out to their payload a couple days ago. Elio posted this picture of BLAST on the ice: . Bad weather at the BLAST landing site has prevented more flights out.

Unfortunately, all recovery operations are on hold at the moment, as we have received word that one of the de Havilland Twin Otter planes (operated by Kenn Borek Air out of Canada) has gone missing in the Transantarctics while en route from South Pole Station to Zucchelli. Naturally, search and rescue operations have the highest priority.

No pictures today.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Days 85-88, January 17-20th, 2013 -- McMurdo Life

Again, the past few days, more of the same. The balloon has now come most of the way around the continent, at about longitude -163 at the time of this writing, but in order for it to land in a reasonable spot we have to wait for it to get to about longitude +157, which is 40 more degrees (longitude is measured from -180 to +180, with the prime meridian at 0). Given that it's been traveling at about 16-17 degrees per day, that means we've got a little over two days until our projected termination date/time.

So we just get to wait around in McMurdo and truly experience what life is like in the largest base in Antarctica. On Thursday, Michele and I went out to Hut Point to look for penguins. We saw one sitting on the ice off in the distance, but it went into the water as soon as a helicopter flew overhead. After that, no more penguins, but we did see a skua (boring) as well as what looked to be a seal swimming out in the open water near Hut Point.

Later that day, we walked to Scott Base, which is about 3 miles from McMurdo on the other side of the hill. I had never been to the store so I wanted to check out their selection of t-shirts and other souvenirs. In the evening we all attended a talk given by a doctor/astronaut/mountain climber (yes, I'm serious) who talked about his experiences on seven shuttle flights as well as his two attempts at climbing Mt. Everest (the second successful).

I don't remember what I did on Friday, but on Saturday I decided to volunteer in the galley during the afternoon. At first they had me help washing serving dishes, and when I was done with that I asked for more work -- apparently I'm the first volunteer they've had this season that has done so! I was then given a mop and mopped the entire service area. After returning the mop, I was recruited by the baking team who is currently shorthanded -- I helped with some of the prep work for both Sunday brunch and Saturday night's dinner. It was a lot of fun, and I got a sweet hat (I'll try and remember to take a picture of it for the next post).

In the evening, after dinner, I took part in the 2nd Annual Mustache Roulette. This, though not officially a fundraiser due to NSF rules, was a way to help a couple different charities by submitting one's facial hair to razor-related embarrassment. I was going to type out how it all works, but basically it's an excuse to have fun, shave some crazy 'staches, and raise money for good causes. I ended up getting my mustache shorn in a Batman-logo-style design, and two girls actually shaved their heads. They ended up raising over $1600 -- pretty impressive!

Pictures (including the 'stache, of course):

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Days 81-84 recap, January 13-16, 2013 -- Round and round she goes

EBEX continues on its (very) roughly circular path about the South Pole. Based on the current velocity of about 16-17 degrees of longitude per day, it will take about another week to get back to near (or slightly past) McMurdo for termination.

In the meantime, the remainder of the EBEX team on the ice (Jeff, Michele, Joy, Chappy, and myself) have been basically sitting around with little to do.  On Sunday, I went to the McMurdo fire station expo, where I got to dress in firefighter gear and pull a dummy out of a smoke-filled room, fulfilling every 7-year-old boy's fantasy. On Monday, I went and checked out the experiment of my current roommate, a researcher from NASA's Ames Research Center who is down here to test out a design for a new Mars rover drill system. It turns out that McMurdo's Dry Valleys (on the opposite side of the Royal Society mountain range from Ross Island) are the closest one can get on earth to a Mars environment. In addition, Chappy and Joy started the process of backing up some of our pre-flight calibration data while I took some pictures of the fish in the Crary lab aquarium.

Today (Wednesday), we went out to LDB to continue packing whatever remaining things we can pack without the rest of the experiment. As of now we have filled two of our five 8' shipping cubes, but most of the space in the rest is for things that are currently floating in the stratosphere. Toward the end of the day, I wandered around LDB taking pictures of things like the LDB freezer (basically an ice cave) and the old Caterpillar "Stretch 8" SD-8LGP bulldozers -- which, dating from the mid-50's, I'm told are the oldest Caterpillar bulldozers still in use. They have 54"-wide tracks and can pull almost 100,000 lbs!


Saturday, January 12, 2013

Day 80, January 12, 2013 -- Leaving on a turboprop plane

This morning, Kyle, Kevin, Kate, and Franky departed McMurdo for their respective homes. Actually, they were on two different LC-130 flights; one left early and one left this afternoon after some sort of weather delay. Bon voyage!

There were a few things that happened yesterday that I forgot to mention. The first is that BLAST has come back around and terminated their flight. They have landed on the ice shelf near the South Pole Traverse line (the tractor 'highway' used to get supplies [mostly fuel] to the Pole from McMurdo). Elio, the only remaining BLAST-er left, will be starting recovery operations with CSBF on Monday.

Second, last night Hannes, a former EBEX grad student who is now working at NIST, came in to McMurdo on his way to the Pole to work on the South Pole Telescope. We had been expecting his arrival but hadn't gotten any word from him; I randomly ran into him as I was heading back to bed and we stayed up and hung out for a while. We ended up talking a lot at lunch today while he waited to see if his flight to Pole (which was scheduled for the morning but had been delayed) would actually go out today or would be cancelled. It was cancelled in the end, so he's going to stick around at least until Monday.

Aside from that, most of today has consisted of sitting around and talking, so no pictures.