Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Castle Rock Hike

Since we are making our final preparations for leaving here, we squeezed in our hike up Castle Rock. Castle Rock is about 3.5 miles from town. It is the highest point on the peninsula we are on. In order to do Castle Rock, you must take an out door safety course and then sign in with the Fire Station. The Fire Station gives you a radio in case you get in trouble and you have to let them know when you are going to be back. If you don't report back in, all sorts of procedures get started, with the eventual dispatch of a search-and-rescue helicopter. In addition to the radio and signing in, we also were warned repeatedly not to deviate from the marked trail or we could fall into a crevasse - that's a big crack in the ice. We were basically walking across the top of a glacier. As you can imagine - this was WAY cool!

Henry and Jill on the trail. You can see observation hill in the left side of the photo.
There are two survival huts along the trail called "Apples" (hmmm I wonder why). The weather can get nasty very quickly out here so these are provided to allow you to jump in and take shelter.
They have sleeping bags, food, a camp stove, chairs, and water. It almost looks like it would be kind of fun to get stranded out here for a day and stay in the apple.

Our objective in sight, we press on.

We arrive at Castle Rock, ready for a great climb.

The whole group, half way up. We got this photo thanks to Henry's timer on his camera. Our group includes Jill, Rich Joss (the LDB camp manager from Raytheon), Dwayne, me, and Henry.

We made it to the top! On top of Castle Rock, there is a Geo Cache. We all signed the log book. There were only a few pages used since the cache was placed in 2003. Jill found the place where she signed back in 2004.
A great view of Erebus from on top of the Rock.

The obligatory "Mighty Explorer Pose".

This was a real live (although not very long) mountain climbing experience. The trail was equipped with ropes to help us get up and down. Surprisingly, the ropes were much more useful on the trip down than up.

Yes, I went down this! (photo by Henry)

We made it down alive!

Gathering at the base.

Just a quick 3.5 miles across the ice and it's lunch time!

About half way to town, a helicopter was heading out to Erebus. They spotted us on the trail and did a low pass over us. Henry was the only one who got his camera out in time. They passed about 10 feet over our heads. Oh yeah, we loved it.

Here's our New Year's greeting from on top of Castle Rock!

Monday, December 29, 2008

ULDB Launch!

Yesterday afternoon we did what I came here for. We launched the superpressure balloon prototype. The whole balloon layout and inflation process felt really good. I got in the zone and literally forgot where I was for a while. I focused on the things that I always focus on during these launches. I guess that's what "getting your game face on" is all about. With the exception of small glitches that you always work through on the spot, the launch was absolutely flawless. The CSBF guys always make it look so easy and I know that it isn't. I have such respect for their experience and knowledge in launching these balloons. It's always a privilege to witness it.

Inflation went as smoothly as any ULDB launch I have participated in. The weather was perfect the whole time.

Here is a panorama of the flight train stitched from four separate photos. Too bad those trucks were in the way. Oh well, this is a balloon launch not a photo shoot.

Just after spool release.

Off the pin! Great job Mark!

Almost three hours later, we were fully pressurized and at float altitude. Thanks once again to Dr. Gorham's telescope, I got some really sharp photos of our balloon at float. It just looks proud up there doesn't it?
Now that we're launched, I am doing shifts monitoring the balloon performance, which is "right down the pike". Everything is working out just as we had hoped. I will be here a few more days and will be getting home some time the first week of January.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Christmas Day I'll Never Forget

We had a few things to take care of out at the base so we all took a Delta in. Since there were no shuttles that come out from town on Christmas, today's trip was a "charter". Several of the CSBF guys are qualified to drive Deltas, so it was an all-LDB trip. After an incredible lunch from our galley chef (not a cook, a real live chef), we headed back to town.

The LDB crew about to finish out a half-day of work and head back to town on "our" Delta.

After getting back to town, the hikers in the group headed up Observation Hill or "Ob Hill" as they call it here. Ob hill is an 800 ft. climb and gives fantastic views of McMurdo and the surrounding area.

I found a great little nook to sit and take in the scenery at the top of the hill. We just sat and didn't talk for what seemed like fifteen minutes. I didn't know that Henry snapped this picture of me.

This was my view. The Royal Society Range is on the continent, across the permanent ice shelf from Ross Island.

At the top of Observation Hill is a cross that was dedicated as a memorial to the R.F. Scott party.

This wooden cross is almost 100 years old and the wood is not grey. The lack of mold, bacteria, and other wood eating insects make wood last a very long time here. I guess I shouln't have put my hand on it.

The Hikers: Dwayne, Henry, Jill, and Mike

A few hours later, we were treated to the famous McMurdo Christmas Dinner. What a feast this was! The menu included crab legs, roasted duck, shrimp, scallops, and prime rib. The guys in the photo above are slicing the prime ribs as thick as you want.

The dessert table was fantastic. I've never been on a cruise ship, but I would bet the food tonight was just as good.

These were "Raspberry Cream Filled Skuas". A Skua is a local bird that is a little bigger than a sea gull, but shaped like one. Instead of white, Skua's are a tan color.

The LDB guys sat together for Christmas Dinner. I really enjoy working with them. That's a good thing since we spend so much time together.

Merry Christmas!

I just attended the 11:00 p.m. Christmas Eve service here at the McMurdo Base Chapel. The chapel is aptly named “Chapel of the Snows”. It is listed in the literature as the southern most dedicated place of worship on earth. Attending the Christmas worship service here was an experience I’ll never forget. Imagine singing Silent Night at almost midnight on Christmas Eve with sunlight pouring through the stained glass windows. The chapel is aligned so that the sun shines directly through the window at midnight. It was absolutely beautiful – both the sight and the experience. When we started this campaign, I knew there was an outside chance of getting home by Christmas. Due to a variety of circumstances, most of them weather related, it didn’t pan out. I know that there is no such thing as a random occurrence. God is in control of everything. If the weather had been good and I was home by now, I never would have had this experience. Being home would have been very nice. We would have attended Christmas Eve services and had our traditional Christmas Eve gathering at our house just as we have done for years. Tradition makes you comfortable, experiences make you alive. My soul is alive tonight. I thank God for the blessing I have received from Him. My heart is full. Merry Christmas everyone!

The Chapel of the Snows. Note the anchors out front signifying the Navy origins of McMurdo.

The very unique stained glass window above the altar

Monday, December 22, 2008

Where exactly am I?

It's a little tough to visualize exactly where I am on the globe. Here is a little geography lesson. The Ross Sea is just about due south of New Zealand. I'm not exactly on the continent of Antarctica. I'm on Ross Island. McMurdo Station is on the southern tip of the island. For you Google Earth users, the exact coordinates of our dorm are:

Lat: -77.845418 Lon: 166.662462

Google Earth image with the McMurdo area at the center of the globe here.

This is a recent satellite photo of the sea ice. The green arrow is pointing at McMurdo. As you can see, we are completely surrounded by ice.

The mainland of Antarctica is visible all around us from McMurdo. This view of Ross Island shows where Mt. Erebus, Terra Nova, and Mt. Terror are on the island. McMurdo is on the southern tip of the long peninsula coming down from the island. The entire island is built by volcanic action, so it is just a bunch of black dirt. There is no native vegetation. McMurdo Station has the nickname "Dirt Town" because of its lack of snow and lack of vegetation. It looks like a dirty old mountain mining town.

Here is a map of McMurdo. I have labeled some of the landmarks in town. It has basically everything that a small town has except all of the residents live in communal living and eat in a central dining hall. In the 1950's, when this was a Navy base,it was called "Little America". In the Navy days, the power for town was provided by an aircraft carrier sized nuclear reactor. Today, the power is produced by a bank of huge diesel generators. I'm not too sure about why the waste water plant is so close to the fresh water treatment plant.

If we zoom out a little, you can see the whole tip of the peninsula. McMurdo is on the west side and Scott Base (NZ) is on the east side. We take a van or bus across to Scott Base where the "transition" is from the dirt road to the sea ice. The weather has been very warm lately with highs in the mid to upper 30's F. The transition is getting very slushy. Van traffic has been shut down now so we can only travel to and from Willy field in vehicles that have big balloon tires like Ivan the Terrabus or Deltas.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

ANITA at Float

After a beautiful launch, the ANITA mission ascended to its planned float altitude of 121,000 feet and is merrily making its way west toward the heart of the Antarctic ice. Just as it was going into float, I took these photos of ANITA through Peter Gorham's telescope. I sure am glad he brought it down.

The balloon is amost completely full here.

Just about to start venting at peak altitude

Fat and Happy!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

ANITA Launched!

The ANITA mission was launched today in perfect weather. The balloon climbed straight up for quite a while after launch. Let's hope this very favorable weather holds out a bit longer for the ULDB launch. The ANITA instrument has very sensitive radio receivers on board "listening" for neutrino hits, so they would prefer to have some distance between them and the ULDB telemetry transmitters. We hope that the winds at altitude for ANITA will carry it over the horizon so we can take advantage of these great conditions as soon as possible.

Dwayne looks like a proud papa

Inflating a balloon to 10,000 lbs of lift takes about an hour.

Just after spool release

Good Luck ANITA!

Friday, December 19, 2008

ANITA Launch Attempt

Today, we went out to the pad for a launch of the ANITA payload. ANITA stands for Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna. Here is the link to their web site:

The ANITA instrument is looking for the very specific radio emissions that are created when neutrinos hit the Antarctic ice. The structures that look like loud speakers on the payload are very finely tuned receivers that are looking for very short spikes of energy that would indicate the presence of the neutrino impacts.

ANITA on the pad

Each year, they have a contest to decorate the battery box for the payload. Here is this year's winning entry. Notice the figure inside the antenna on the far right.

Since this is a group from the University of Hawaii, they added a hula girl to their payload.


Our Sulphur Springs Wildcats are playing in the State Championship football game on Saturday. Even though I'm not physically in the stands to be obnoxiously loud, I'll be there in spirit, and on the phone. Susan and Taryn keep me informed of the score by cell phone text messaging. Isn't technology wonderful? For all you Wildcat fans who are in the stands Saturday: LETS MAKE SOME NOISE! ! !

Your southern most Wildcat fan

CREAM Launch

Today was the first launch of the three balloons in this campaign. CREAM stands for Cosmic Ray Energetics and Mass. The launch was beautiful. You can track the position of the balloon on the CSBF web site over on the links menu.

A perfect launch in perfect conditions. Photo by Gary Marchant, CSBF Electronics

I'm not holding my belly because I have a tummy ache. I had to hold my camera under my coat when I was not using it or the battery would freeze up. I think a good way to test camera equipment for use down here is to put it in your freezer for an hour. If it still works, it might be ok for Antarctica.

Dr. Peter Gorham, Principle Investigator for the ANITA experiment brought his telescope. I took this photo with my camera by holding it up to the eye piece. The balloon is 450 feet in diameter at 128,000 feet in altitude.