As the last LC-130 departed South Pole, I was distracted by a software crash I had just minutes before dealt with at the telescope. I stood outside next to the flight deck and stared into the haze that quickly enveloped the Herc, knowing it was an important moment but not appreciating it at all. I was thinking of the work to be done, and the fact that there is no turning back wasn't crossing my mind at all. We are committed now. In the coming weeks, as the sun lowers and the cold sets in, the 42 winter overs at the South Pole will become the most isolated group of human beings in the universe. The conditions will make an emergency airlift to save a life take at least a week and a half or more to execute, if it is at all possible. In terms of access to definitive care, even the astronauts on the ISS can get to a hospital in substantially less time. Most of the crew has been eager for the final plane to fly out, taking with it the last of the summer crew. The winter means I can get to work doing what I came here to do. I've spent the past year building this new telescope, and soon I will to turn it to the skies and collect data.
It has been an extraordinary summer season. The group of researchers that deployed to help build the new telescope was amazing to work with. We removed an old telescope, installed a brand new mount and control system, and deployed the BA1 receiver which is observing at frequencies we (as a research group) have never before imaged. Everyone worked hard and by the final weeks of the season all the hardware was installed, the software was beginning to function in a stable manner, and we even managed to collect enough preliminary test data to construct a CMB temperature map. First light! Calibration runs will continue into the winter, and by the end of March I'll begin CMB observations in earnest. In just three short months, we deployed a complex instrument in one of the coldest, most remote environments on earth.
The station may be 'closed' for winter now, but there has still been lots of work to do to prepare. We moved out of the A4 wing, which was my berthing area, and closed it for winter. The winter crew will berth in two of the four wings of the main station, one of which houses the emergency power plant. Three of the four wings remain in use. The third wing in use contains the excellent gym facilities. Despite the passing of 'station close', there are still are aircraft transiting through South Pole on their way north. The Ken Borek aircraft that were deployed for the summer to the eastern side of the continent are now making their way back home. These Baslers and Twin Otters stop at pole to rest and take on fuel before continuing west toward the Palmer Peninsula, South America, and onward up into Canada. After the last Herc we don't have any more flight support crew left on station, so volunteers are helping with the 5 remaining aircraft flying through before the winter sets in. Our duties entail collecting and testing fuel samples prior to each flight, as well as monthly inspections and flight support. I was trained to recirculate fuel in the tanks, collect fuel samples, and analyze the samples for quality. Now that these KBA aircraft have passed through, the only contact we have with the outside world until late October is through spotty satellite internet and radio. But it feels good to have most of the push of station close behind us.
During the last cargo flights we received 5,000 lbs of freshies. Most of this is pretty stable, like cream, eggs, onions. Some things will last all winter. Other things we will run out of. Fresh eggs will run out in about June. The greenhouse, though, will provide a fresh salad or two every week of the winter. If it is well taken care of, we will get more fresh vegetables in the winter than we get in the summer when cargo is arriving. There were fewer fresh salads served than I can count on both hands the entire summer. The food the past few weeks has been outstanding with all these fresh ingredients! It is difficult to get fresh produce all the way to Antarctica. Having a greenhouse is a huge morale boost. Not only do we get fresh vegetables from it, but it is also a small oasis in a sterile place. The smell, humidity, and green is a beautiful thing to have here.