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December 1, 2019 - Settling In

Time is really flying by. The station is starting to feel more comfortable and familiar. Daily life is great, there is always plenty to do and lots of friendly people around. The food is good, thanks to the hardworking galley staff, who support all the research here by making sure we don't go hungry. They work more than anyone, and never have a day off. In the evenings there is always some community event going on. Take your pick of "Polar Rollers", a uni-cycling club that meets in the gymnasium, "Puzzles And Podcasts", Sci-Fi movie night, Karaoke night, and even an open mic night that was so popular that by the time I showed up a few minutes late all the standing room had been filled. We also had a science lecture on the ICE Cube neutrino detector and the future upgrade which will enable detection of orders of magnitude more energetic particles.

For the first few days at Pole, I was encouraged to take it easy, to adjust to the high physiological altitude (over 10,000 feet above sea level). Luckily I didn't experience any headaches or negative effects other than having a slightly more difficult time walking up stairs and out to work every day. Now that I've been here nearly two weeks I'm having no trouble running outside and using the gym (ok, I'm a bit slower than usual). Running outside... It sounds crazy at -40°F, but the humidity is very low here so the cold air doesn't draw as much heat from your body and with good wind protection it can be enjoyable, if you're into that kind of thing. Today I went cross country skiing with Yuya (ICE Cube winterover), Zach (Sat Comm Engineer winterover), and Christian (Network Engineer winterover). Christian, who goes by Kit, rode a monstrous fat-tire bike. There is a ~3 mile recreational loop set up with a warming hut halfway around. The warming hut is made of wood, painted black, then covered with a layer of plexiglass stood off a few inches from the wood walls. The plexi lets the sunlight through to hit the black painted wood like a greenhouse, and in turn the inner room temperature stays comfortably well above freezing.

At The Warming Hut
Kit, Yuya, and Zach take a break from skiing in the warming hut.
Kit rides the fat bike.

The recreational loop extends away from the station, and at the farthest point the beauty of the landscape without any man made objects is striking. The flat expanse of the ice plateau goes far beyond the horizon, and the sastrugi textured surface looks like the vast ocean.

The open ice
The open ice.

On the BICEP Array front, things are going well. After some uncertainty over when (or if, due to aircraft maintenance issues, weather, and runway conditions) our cargo would arrive, the flights came through and almost all of our cargo has been delivered. Decommissioning of the Keck Array is coming along. It was quite a sight to watch the telescope mount being lifted from the ground shield and out onto the ice by crane. There are still parts of the mount that need to be removed, but that should be wrapped up by the end of this week. At that point we will begin the installation of the new BICEP Array mount.

Thanksgiving celebrations were held yesterday. The galley staff did an amazing job putting out turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, brussels sprouts, quinoa cranberry salad, Caesar salad, roasted carrots, stuffing, apple pie, pecan tarts, chocolate cake, and more that I can't even remember. Dinner was served in two seatings in the galley to accommodate the 138 people at the station. Volunteers helped to transform the galley from a cafeteria into a fine dining establishment. The windows were covered with paintings and stranded lights were hung from the ceiling. Fine tablecloths and runners were set out with battery powered "candles" (actual fire is generally frowned upon at the South Pole). While not able to be home with our families, there was a lot to be thankful for, not the least of which is the community here.