Thursday, July 31, 2008

The monthly drill

Every month we are required to hold an emergency response drill for training the fire and trauma teams. There are many challenges down here to dealing with emergencies. First of all, none of us are professional fire fighters or paramedics. Some get some training in pre-deployment sessions held in Colorado but for most of us, it's all on-site and on the job training.

We're also faced with unique environmental challenges - how often do emergency responders back home have to deal with rescuing a victim in -80F temps in the dark? SCBA gear freezes stiff, we can't take our AEDs outside, O2 tubing becomes brittle and breaks if a patient requires oxygen outside.

And the station design challenges here are just as ideosyncratic. Our exercises yesterday focused on confined space rescues. We were divided into two groups and one was involved in rescuing someone from one of the ice tunnels, narrow corridors carved into the ice for water and sewer pipes. And the exercise that I took part in had a scenario of rescuing someone from the subfloor of the station, an unpleasant but likely situation that could certainly happen.

We met in the gym for a outline of the plan and discussion of the safety aspects of the extraction.

Our victim, Nathan the IT guru, was already conveniently strapped to a backboard and the fire and trauma team members just had to negotiate the obstacles in the cramped space.

They had to organize into teams to lift the board with victim and manuever around the crawl space. There were some awkward tight spots where the victim was handed off to another set of team members.

It's not easy carrying a guy while on your knees ducking to avoid hitting your head on metal beams. And it's a bit dusty and cold down there too - we were all covered in old drywall dust.

The end is in sight for Nathan as he's being prepared to be lifted up out the hatch in the floor of the music room.

It was a good exercise to get us familiar with the bowels of our station and the difficulties we might have if faced with an emergency down there. And it was a nice change from having a fire to put out and an injured hypothermic patient to load up in a Dr. Down bag and a sled.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Hubble vs Pole

My blog entries have been a bit sporadic lately. Most of that can be blamed on a lack of inspiration as the doldrums of winter take hold of everyone here. We’re all still doing fairly well down here although some “toastiness” is becoming apparent in many as tempers flair, little matters blow up into big deals, more division in the crew arises.

Now I have another good reason for my lack of writing…I can blame NASA.

We’ve just been informed that we will have virtually no internet connectivity for 2 days coming up on July 25-26. Seems that our TDRS satellite is being commandeered by NASA to support some space shuttle going up to fix the Hubble telescope. I guess that wouldn’t be so bad normally but last week we also lost our ability to connect to our other satellites, Marisat and GOES, when our dish broke. At first it was just the elevation motor, for which we have a replacement, but now the elevation jack screw broke (just like it did last year) and that problem is proving harder to fix.

So instead of having about 11 hours of satellite connectivity a day, through which we get our internet access, phone connections to the outside world and up/downloading of science and other data, we’re down to about 6 hours a day at the moment using just the TDRS satellite. And now later this week, we’re not even going to have TDRS.

I know this station survived for a long time before “the internets” and communication to the world used to be through short wave radio. But now we’re all accustomed to checking our Yahoo accounts, catching up on the latest news, researching vacation destinations that we’ll be heading to in a few months and calling home for a few precious hours each day. People plan their breaks and lunch times around the satellite schedule.

I guess this is yet another way in which we are supporting science. I can accept that the Hubble telescope repair is more important than my need to Facebook. It’s a good thing that we’re scheduled to get the satellite back for our own use on a Sunday because I doubt any work would get done after 2 days of internet deprivation.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

The truth is out there

Not that I know everything about this place that there is to know, but this old web article from 2006 was news to me:

South Pole Telescope (SPT) — America’s New Planet X Tracker (from

"America is now spending huge sums to deploy the massive The South Pole Telescope (SPT) in Antarctica. The final installation will be the size of a mini-mall and will require a massive C-130 airlift effort to transport pre-assembled modules and a large staff to the most desolate, inhospitable and inaccessible region of the world. Why? Because Planet X / Nibiru was first sighted in 1983 and this discovery spurred the USA to build the SPT — humanity's new Planet X tracker."

Someone printed this article and posted it on the Galley wall where we used to have a joke of the day posted until someone complained that they were a little too offensive. Now we have this joke of an article that shows the entire station being the South Pole Telescope which is not looking at cosmic microwave background radiation from the Big Bang like we always thought, but is actually seeking out Planet X.

"Now we have the corroboration we've lacked for years, The South Pole Telescope (SPT). Far more powerful capable and survivable than the 1983 IRAS spacecraft and Hubble Space Telescope put together, this manned observatory will soon begin tracking Planet X / Nibiru from the pristine skies of Antarctica."

So the guys "manning" the Planet X observatory this winter are Dana who is here for his 4th winter and is one of the best drummers Antarctica has ever seen, and Keith who has a cute Canadian accent and hosted a Canada Day celebration last week with Crown Royal drinks and face painting of maple leafs on cheeks and foreheads. They also are skilled photographers and if you want to see some amazing outdoor shots of auroras and such, please check out their websites.

I don't think, however, that you will be reading much about the latest research on Planet X/Nibiru from the South Pole Telescope but some of us were thinking that the premise would make for a great SPIFF/WHIFF film, our versions of film festivals usually featuring hilarious homemade films about life down here. I'm sure one of us can act the part of a Planet X alien.