It is finally happening. We are getting flights! The very first LC-130 of the season just landed. It carried a bunch of firefighters and our ARFF vehicle, both now a requirement for any passenger flights.
After a few days of weather delays we received the first plane load of passengers. Most of them were seasoned veterans who, along with the FNGs, received the typical warm South Pole welcome right on the flight deck.
The crews of the Kenn Borek Basler and Twin Otter were nice enough to pick up some fresh fruit and vegetables in Chile. It was great to shock the system with some vitamins after eight months. We had grilled pineapple for dinner, with tomato and avocado salad and fresh oranges and apples for desert, washed down by a Gin tonic with fresh lime.
A few minutes ago a Basler made the first landing of the 2008/2009 season, bringing our winter officially to a close. The flight had been delayed by bad weather at Rothera Station. When the weather cleared up enough around 1am they decided to go for it. It is a beautiful day down here and the temperature was just above the cutoff of -54°C. They touched down shortly after 8am and took off for McMurdo after a very brief fuel stop. We expect to see them again with 16 passengers tomorrow.
Following yesterday’s post, here is part two of our aerial photography mission.
This set of images takes a closer look at the Dark Sector, where all the telescopes are located. There is SPT, which just had its first successful season, BICEP, which will go into its third and last season, and QUAD, which will finish its last season in a few weeks. The AST/RO telescope was decommissioned at the end of 2005, but the building is still around. The ground shield of the decommissioned VIPER telescope can also be seen. Since all of the IceCube detectors are in the ice, the only things that can be seen is the building housing the readout electronics (ICL) and some of the drillcamp buildings, already positioned for the upcoming season.
The NSF schedules aerial photography missions at the beginning and end of the Summer season. The pictures are a valuable planning tool and make for a great historical record. This time it was my turn to go up. A great belated birthday present. I have dabbled in kite aerial photography before, but this seems to be a much simpler approach :-)
Yesterday the weather looked favorable here and in McMurdo and it was decided that the Basler would bring in the first 15 summer workers. After takeoff the visibility at the Pole decreased below the required minimum and it looked like the flight could wind up as a boomerang. Luck was on our side and shortly before the landing the visibility improved once again and the Basler could land save and sound.
It was great to see some old friends returning and sad two see two of our fellow winter-overs leave on the same plane. Both had decided to leave on the first flight due to family reasons.
With only 15 people arriving, instead of the usual Herc load of more than 50, it was a pretty mellow affair and we had a good time chatting with old friends and enjoying the fresh fruit and vegetables that came with them.
First order of business was getting a flu shot. There is already a flu outbreak in McMurdo and we have only shots for one of the two strains that are going around. Due to our travel patterns we always have to deal with both the Northern and Southern hemisphere strains. Having immunization for one strain is better than none and who wants to get sick after getting out of here?
What do you do in such a case? The Twin Otter pilots helped out in the galley and the rest of the Station just has a little extra time for opening preparations. On my way back from work I ran into Sven and Claire, who were fixing some of the ski way flags.
Yesterday, at 3:20pm, almost eight months after the last airplane left, the Kenn Borek operated Basler touched down at the South Pole, followed two hours later by a Twin Otter. They made the long trip from Canada, all the way down the Americas to Punta Arenas, at the Southern Tip of Chile. From there on to Rothera Station, on the Antarctic peninsula, before continuing to the South Pole.
The Twin Otter stayed over night, but the Basler was on the ground only long enough to refuel and to give us some fruit and vegetables the crew brought from Punta Arenas. These Canadians are always so nice.