Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Day 7, October 31, 2012 -- Halloween, Antarctica

Lots of activity at the high bay today. Kyle and I continued our alignment of the "instrument" optics and were finished by 2PM and have started finishing up the rest of the instrument (putting on the shielding, cryogenics, and wiring). Jeff removed one of the baffles from inside the cryostat and removed our neutral density filter, used in Palestine to attenuate the signal so our detectors wouldn't be saturated and useless there, in preparation for flying at balloon altitudes.

On the ACS/gondola side, Britt continued rewiring the solar power crates and Chappy continued work on one of the star cameras, preparing to purge the pressure vessel with nitrogen gas. We also brought our rotator in and Michele set about cleaning and re-lubricating the bearings. Jeff had a little bit of time free so he helped Britt by drilling some holes on the gondola for the charge controller covers.

We also had a subset of the Aussie crew stop by to check out what we were doing. And in the evening a few of us went to a screening of one episode of the "Frozen Earth" documentary series. Even though it is Halloween, McMurdo's big Halloween party was last weekend, and I missed it. In the spirit of the day and the location, though, Chappy dressed as a penguin.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Day 6, October 30, 2012 -- Made to measure

Today was my first full day in Antarctica, which meant that I actually had to do some work. Kyle finished up connecting the detector wiring inside the instrument's RF shielding towers and Jeff did wire checks on the HWP assembly. I started disassembling the cryostat optics stack in preparation for eventual lens alignment measurements.

In the afternoon, Kyle and I started the often frustrating and lengthy task of lens alignment. We got the first two lenses aligned before we had to leave the high bay for the day. Luckily, we got to take the more-comfortable TerraBus transport (nicknamed "Ivan" in "Ivan the TerraBus". Yep.), which takes about 35 minutes to get from the LDB camp back to McMurdo. The route to and from McMurdo winds around Ross Island, passing by the New Zealand base on Ross Island, Scott Base, before heading out onto the ice shelf in the shadow of Mt. Erebus.

We were joined in the morning by Zak, Jamie, and Chin-Lin from the Keck Array experiment, a competitor in the CMB polarization game that's based at the South Pole. They are 'in transit' on their way to the Pole to work on Keck, but have been delayed getting out due to plane mechanical issues. There are a lot of people at the base that are supposed to have already left (including the 54 Aussies who were headed out to the Australian base but had to return to McMurdo due to bad weather), making McMurdo pretty crowded. Hopefully those people will start filtering out over the next few days (assuming the plane gets fixed!) and things will settle down a bit in town.

In the evening, after dinner, we attended an outdoor safety briefing which highlighted some of the hiking routes around McMurdo and the necessary safety precautions one must take when out and about. We're planning on taking a hike maybe tomorrow or Thursday.


Monday, October 29, 2012

Day 5, October 29, 2012 -- Ice, Ice, Baby.

I awoke at 4:30 AM in order to get ready for our 5:30AM pickup to go back to the CDC for our flight to the ice. I decided to redistribute some of my clothing in more usable manner for flight. Basically the way it works is you get one carry-on bag and as many checked bags as you want as long as the total weight is under 150 lbs. You designate one of your checked bags as a "boomerang" bag -- if the plane has to turn back to New Zealand due to weather conditions at McMurdo, you're given back your boomerang bag but your other luggage is left palletized for easy loading. And you have to carry on or wear on your person a fair amount of your ECW gear. Anyway, it requires a bit of thinking to figure out how best to distribute all of your stuff.

At around 8AM, after a video briefing, we boarded a shuttle bus that took us across the street to the plane, a C-17 Globemaster III cargo plane. The plane itself was outfitted with a section of airline style seats along with a row of jump seats along each side of the plane. Besides the roughly 100 passengers on their way to Antarctica, we were joined by a large cryogenic tank of liquid oxygen in the cargo hold as well as a bunch of other, less dangerous, cargo in the rear of the plane.

The flight takes about 5 hours, and was completely uneventful. If not for the exposed ducting and wiring, it feels a lot like being on a regular airliner. It's not even much louder.

Stepping off the plane is a sight to behold. We land on the Ross Ice Shelf, and walking out we see Ross Island in the near distance (which is where McMurdo is located) as well as the majestic Mount Erebus, an active nearly-13,000-foot-tall volcano that is something like 30 miles away but looks like it's just behind Ross Island. And we were lucky enough to have absolutely stunning weather, with clear blue skies and relatively warm weather (I'd estimate it was about 15 or 20 degrees F). I met up with the CSBF LDB program coordinator in Antarctica, Dave, after our post-flight debriefing/orientation and we headed out to Williams Field, where the LDB program is located. I was able to meet up with the rest of the crew that had already arrived and found a high bay already organized and set up for efficient working. The gondola outer frame is sitting in the high bay while the inner frame is still in the shipping container. The cryostat is open and Kyle and Jeff have been working on assembling the instrument.

We left the LDB camp at 5:30PM, taking a ride on one of the older people transports (called "the Delta") and headed back to McMurdo for dinner, etc. Kyle helped me reset the bed height in my room  -- apparently McMurdo is very crowded this year, and I am the third person in what is supposed to be a two-person dorm room, which means I have a top bunk and no place to store my belongings. One my roommates is a CSBF rigger, but the other is a scientist who is scheduled to leave for a field camp in early November, so hopefully we'll have some more breathing room after that.

Word to your mother.


Day 4, October 28, 2012 -- The clothes make the man

On Sunday, I went to the USAP Clothing Distribution Center (CDC) to be outfitted with my Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear that everyone deploying to the ice is issued. It was there that I realized I had brought way too much stuff -- one of the advantages of living in Minnesota is that I already have a whole bunch of clothing suitable to significantly sub-freezing conditions (though probably not the"extreme" cold that Antarctica can have). So I brought a fair amount of that stuff with me...and once I got to the CDC I realized it was mostly redundant with clothing we were issued. Ah well.

On the way to the CDC I met up with a few members of another CMB telescope, the Keck Array, who were also heading to the Antarctic. While their final destination is the South Pole Station, they have to go through McMurdo first. I also met up with Franky at the CDC. After we got our clothing, we went to grab a beer at a bar just outside the City Centre area. Afterward, Franky and I went to a place called the Brewers Arms which offers a "Wild Meat Plate" that includes pork, kangaroo, ostrich, and venison, all served on a hot stone. For what it's worth -- kangaroo is delicious.


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Day 3, October 27, 2012 -- I want to ride my bicycle

With another whole day free, I had arranged yesterday to rent a bicycle for the today. Christchurch is a relatively flat city, for the most part (though surrounded by hills), so cycling is a relatively easy way to get around, and the drivers are quite conscientious and courteous to cyclists. Many of the major roads also have bike lanes. The bike I was given was a Specialized Hardrock hardtail mountain bike -- solid, but heavy, especially as I am used to riding road bikes. Still, the fat tires were welcome since I didn't bring any cycling clothing. Less welcome was the consistent squeak while riding that was coming from the front brake.

I started off heading roughly eastward in order to hit the coast and see the Pacific Ocean at Brighton beach, where I also found a lovely library and was able to check my email. From there I headed down along the estuary to a village called Sumner (fighting strong wind much of the way), a charming little hamlet of shops and houses right on the ocean. I had a lunch of fish and chips, which has been probably the first reasonably priced meal of my entire stay so far, at approximately NZ$10 for two pieces of fish, a plentiful 'half' order of chips, and a canned soda. At the current exchange rate, that works out to about US$8. Pretty much everywhere else, the food seems to cost about double what you might expect to pay in the States (i.e. something that might be US$15 would be NZ$30). I guess that's the (literal) price one pays for being on an island where much has to be imported.

From Sumner, I headed back along the coast/estuary and then westward, intending to climb a fire road called the Rapaki Track and get a view of the city from on high. Unfortunately for myself, I was already pretty tired from biking around (I had already done about 40km) so I only made it roughly 1/3 of the way up the trail. Still, even from there I got a pretty good view of the city before heading back down and into the City Centre area again.

In City Centre, I once again availed myself of the free wi-fi in order to check my email (on my phone) and got myself a smoothie from one of the food vendors. I then headed back to the hotel, tired but happy to have been able to enjoy being outside all day in a city as lovely as Christchurch. In the end I biked a little over 50km total.

Speaking of lovely -- the people in Christchurch are probably the nicest people, as a whole, that I've ever met. Everyone is super friendly and helpful, and it's really a joy to experience.


Day 2, October 26, 2012 -- Off to the ice...for everyone else

On Friday morning, I was up at about 5AM (jet lag) to see the rest of the team (Kyle and Jeff from UMN; Britt, Michele, Joy, Chappy, and Seth from Columbia) off to their 5:30AM shuttle taking them to their flight to the ice at 9AM. Because I arrived later than they did, I hadn't completed all the preliminaries for traveling to Antarctica, so I'd be spending the weekend in Christchurch. And with them gone, I was left to my own devices.

I wandered away from the hotel at about 7AM to find some breakfast. Unfortunately, I wandered in the wrong direction, and there were no breakfast restaurants along my chosen path. There was, however, a supermarket, so I bought some breakfast supplies and headed back to the hotel. After a quick bite, I puttered around for a bit trying to get the hotel wi-fi to work (it didn't, hence the lack of posts). I finally gave up and asked the reception desk where I could go to get a bit of internet, and they pointed me in the opposite direction to where I had gone in the morning. After about a 20 minute walk, I found myself at a cafe in the Merivale district, finally able to check my email.

I kept going in that direction in order to get back to the City Centre area, but this time I had a mission. I had heard that post-earthquake Christchurch had set up a temporary 'downtown' area with businesses using repurposed shipping containers as buildings. This area, on Cashel Street, was awesome. Food vendors, businesses, and people bustling about made for a lively scene. AND -- free wi-fi in the entire area! The container buildings were super cool -- brightly colored and interestingly arranged.

From Cashel Street I wandered over to the Christchurch Botanic Garden. While quite lush and with a wide variety of plants, I have to say I didn't find it very compelling -- especially on a slightly chilly, overcast day. And maybe I just hate plants. I spent about 20 minutes wandering and then left back for the hotel.

Once back at the hotel, I made some arrangements for the following day, showered, and then went across the street to one of the numerous takeaway food establishments near the hotel. This particular place was basically a no-brainer, since it was called "Burger Wisconsin". Yep. How could I not try it? I brought my food back to the hotel, ate, and then went to bed.


Day 1, October 23, 2012 --A long day

Apologies for the delayed posting -- I have had nearly no internet access while in Christchurch.

This log starts with flying -- lots of flying. I flew from Minneapolis to Dallas to Los Angeles to Sydney to Christchurch. For me,  I left at 1PM on Tuesday in Minneapolis and arrived in Christchurch at about 3PM on Thursday (the 25th) in New Zealand for a total of about 32 hours of travel. Despite NZ being 18 hours ahead of Minneapolis, I'm going to call this (long) day Day 1 for the purposes of this edition of the blog.

Once I made it through NZ customs and to the hotel (completely knackered, by the way, since I slept very little on the over-Pacific leg of the flight), I met up with the rest of the crew that arrived the day prior. For dinner, we took a bus down to the City Centre area of Christchurch to find a brewpub that Jeff had picked out. Christchurch was quite badly hit by an enormous earthquake in 2008 (?) and subsequent aftershocks. A large part of the City Centre area, in particular the older buildings, were rendered unsafe by the quakes. Walking through this area to get to dinner was a bit saddening. On the bright side, the place we ended up at (Pomeroy's, if you're ever in Christchurch) was a treat, with excellent house-brewed beer and great old-world ambiance.

No pictures today -- the only one I took was a blurry one of downtown Sydney from the plane, and not really worth posting!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Day 0, 10/22/2012 -- Prologue to Antarctica

Well, everyone, it's time. At this very moment, the first members of the EBEX team are on their way to McMurdo base in Antarctica by way of Christchurch, New Zealand. It's a long trip -- about 32 hours for the Minnesota team and 36 for the Columbia team; having left today, they won't arrive in Christchurch until the evening of Wednesday, the 24th (NZ time). I myself will be leaving tomorrow; as usual, I will endeavor to provide daily updates on the team's progress along with pictures of our experience. I think it will be an exciting adventure, hopefully culminating in a successful ~10 day flight circumnavigating the Antarctic continent and eventual recovery of the payload.

As you may have noticed, I've updated the blog color scheme to reflect our new situation -- nearly white with a tinge of blue, in honor of our upcoming icy home and its permanent austral summer daylight below the Antarctic circle.