Been here about 58 hours so far and the reason I am counting in hours instead of days is that my sense of days is pretty shot. I have a screwy sleep routine: 10 hours awake, 3 hours asleep. Lather, rinse repeat. I am trying to be up at night (we keep New Zealand time here) for the satellite hours but usually that entails a long nap in the middle, which curtails my sleep during the day. I’ll figure it out.
Despite the goofy schedule and the altitude, last night I felt well enough to walk with Dave out to drill camp and watch the nineteenth and final IceCube string deployment. Being outside reminded me of how beautiful it is here and how hard that is to see until you are actually out in it, seeing the changing sky, the sastrugi, the myriad structures scattered about the snow, structures which do not qualify as architecture but are solely and completely engineering.
Seeing the last deployment was a real pleasure, partly because I didn’t have to work it — I was a tourist, a real treat after having worked on perhaps a dozen or so deployments myself. It was also sweet because the drilling and deployment went so well this year… and also bittersweet, perhaps, because it was the last deployment I’m likely to see. I took photos and some video which I will post as soon as I can.
Around midnight we decided to head back. A bunch of the drillers were driving back in the “Ford Gran Neutrino” (the modified van which IceCube uses to shuttle back and forth to the Dark Sector), and Dave and I squeezed in. After we crossed the skiway, the van stopped and the drillers started discussing the expedition which was camped near the station. A small handful of jacked-up and modified Toyota trucks have driven here from a Russian base in support of a ski race across Antarctica. It was decided to pay the campers a visit, so we drove the van over there and piled out, admired their trucks, and started talking with a member of the expedition.
Apparently about 300 people have skied, walked, or driven to South Pole this Summer. These people live in a sort of parallel universe which is disconnected with that of the station. They are allowed a cup of coffee inside and not much else; and few people walk over to their makeshift camps near the Pole marker. So it was a treat to talk to this fellow who has had a pretty different experience in Antarctica. After a few minutes of conversation he pointed to Sven and said, “Hey, you’re Sven!” Then he handed him a note written on a scrap of paper from a case of beer. It was given to him by a member of yet another expedition which he encountered during his trip, to give to Sven at the South Pole! We all laughed. Even though it is nearly as empty as Mars (i.e. nearly zero people per square kilometer), Antarctica is a small place!
After delicious burgers at Midrats, we started work. There is ever so much to do and I am starting to get acclimated enough to be able to focus on it. The task at hand is to connect the nineteen new IceCube strings to the rest of the detector, and to calibrate them to prepare for the new physics run starting April 1. Also to carry out a variety of software upgrades and make sure everything works correctly. Also, to report progress to the north and to coordinate all the activities to minimize conflicts.
This evening, after another short sleep, we watched highlights of the Obama inauguration, hand-carried on a DVD on today’s flight. (The CBS news clips carried over the Armed Forces network carried the word “Live!” at lower right, which was certainly ironic in this setting, days after the fact.) It was pretty amazing to see our Hyde Park neighbor take the oath for the Oval Office.
Now for a first foray to the gym, and to start into work again.