Saturday, January 24, 2015, I finally made it out to SuperTIGER.
The day started much the same as the past eight had—I woke up, still tired, checked email, and then went to breakfast at 6:30 with the Basler crew. I had a feeling that this would finally be the day, since it took me about 5 hours to fall asleep after I went to bed the night before, and the weather at Pole was bright and clear. Sure enough, early indications were that the weather at Pole was going to be good, and that SuperTIGER was cloudy now but would be clear by the time we arrived.
Sean and I started bringing our cargo over to the Basler. By this point, Thomas had everything just about taken apart out at SuperTIGER and we were just going to pick everything up, so we ended up bringing many fewer tools than we had planned. We also brought another tank of propane and 244 pounds of food for the camp, as well as, most importantly, real coffee and a full box of hot chocolate packets. Once the plane was loaded up, we went back into the main station to make ourselves some lunches to bring with, while the Basler taxied over to the fueling pad and got fueled up. Once they were ready to go, Dereck, the Basler Captain, came to find us and we went out to the plane.
The flight to SuperTIGER from the South Pole is about three hours long. After we took off and flew for a while, I spent most of the flight talking with the flight crew while Sean took a nap. The entire Basler crew—Dereck, the Captain, John the First Officer/copilot, Luke, the engineer, and Tyson, the loadmaster/flight attendant. When we got close to SuperTIGER there were still some clouds—the weather hadn’t opened up quite yet—so we made a few passes so the crew could check out the skiway. We flew over the camp and saw James, Lyra, and Thomas waving at us. On our last pass, we flew by very close to the ground, and then the next time around we landed. The plane taxied over to the camp and stopped close by, close enough that some of the cargo was nearly under the wingtip.
|SuperTIGER camp from the air|
We met with Thomas, James, and Lyra for a bit and then unloaded all of the stuff we brought out on the plane. The camp was set up next to the SuperTIGER payload. When they arrived, the payload was almost entirely drifted in—only a few inches remained above the snow. Nearby, they set up personal sleep tents as well as an Arctic Oven, a large communal tent that served as the kitchen and dining room. There was also a small tent that provided shelter from the wind and privacy for the restroom facilities.
|Lifting a Cherenkov box out of the hole|
During the month or so that the SuperGroom Team was at the site, Thomas managed to dig out a large hole around the payload, all the way down to the top of the payload (which had ended up upside down after flight). Protecting (somewhat) the pit from the wind was a wind wall, and a second wind wall downwind from the pit protected some (bottom of the stack during the flight, on top of the stack in the pit) detectors of the instrument, which were light enough that Thomas, Lyra, and James could lift them out.
|They tried to blame me for spilling the Oreos, but I was already out of the pit and halfway around before they fell over|
After getting settled and dropping off our important cargo, we got to work readying the Cherenkov counters for pickup. We had metal brackets that went on one side and made a harness with a long 2x3 for the other side, and managed to pick the whole thing up and stand it on the side that had the brackets. This let us rest it standing up without crushing the Photomultiplier tubes (PMTs). With everyone helping, we were able to lift it up onto the shelf of the pit, and then off that shelf onto a sled, where we carefully dragged it over to the plane and brought it in.
While they brought the first Cherenkov detector into the plane, I got to work on the one underneath it, adding the brackets and handles, and then did the same for the Cherenkov boxes on the other SuperTIGER module. We then picked up the second Cherenkov box, brought it to the plane, and got to work on the hodoscope and scintillators underneath it. These weren’t in great shape—during landing, they’d come down on top of the rotator, the piece of CSBF hardware that kept us pointed at the sun during flight. The rotator is a heavy cylinder of metal that, when you fall on it, isn’t great for the thin aluminum sheets that covered the top of the scintillators. Two of them were bent by it, and they in turn bent the hodoscope underneath them. We took them out of the hole and moved them over by the plane as well.
After a quick break, we took the other two Cherenkov boxes out of the pit and loaded them onto the plane. With the biggest pieces now in, we started loading the hodoscopes and scintillator boxes that had been waiting, ready for the plane. We also got the hodoscope and scintillators that were still in the pit and brought them over on sleds to the plane. After loading all the detectors, we started adding more stuff to the plane, including most of the SuperTIGER gondola.
|The SuperTIGER camp and Basler|
Once everything was loaded, I took advantage of the opportunity to walk somewhere nobody had ever been before, and wandered out past the wind walls to unexplored country. I didn’t have to walk too far, and it was pretty cool, but kind of anti-climactic. I walked back to camp, we took a few photos, said goodbye to James and Lyra, and then the entire Basler crew, along with Sean, Thomas, and myself, got on the plane and took off for the South Pole.
Once at the Pole, we unloaded the contents of the plane onto a few Air Force pallets that are used for cargo on the Hercs. These weren’t the pallets we ended up using to ship everything, but they got all of our stuff over to the cargo area.
Sunday, the Basler went back out to SuperTIGER and picked up James and Lyra, along with the rest of the SuperTIGER science cargo and most of the camp. Back at the Pole, we got a few things ready for when Cargo opened up on Monday morning.
Monday we palletized all of our cargo and got it ready for a Herc flight. We ended up having three different pallets—one with just the hodoscopes and the two broken scintllators, one with our tools, electronics boxes, and other gear, and one double pallet (called a T-2) that had the Cherenkov boxes, honeycomb substrates (that held up each SupterTIGER module), and non-bent scintillators. This pallet was the most time consuming to put together, but with some help from Lyra, James, and a few guys from the South Pole Cargo department, we were able to get it together in around an hour. My job ended up being holding things and making sure they didn’t fall over, which got a little chilly (the windchill was -45F).
At the end of the day Monday, we talked to cargo about when we could expect our cargo to get out, and were told that it would probably be the last flight of the day on Tuesday, since we were trying hard to make it to the cargo vessel in time.
Tuesday, with everything done (for a while), I went back into my routine of sitting around the Pole with the Basler crew (who couldn’t fly due to weather). We packed up our personal gear and went over to Bag Drag in the morning. Our Herc ended up getting cancelled, so we had another night at the Pole, which we spent playing an epic game of Risk! (which I won).
Wednesday morning I woke up to the news that our Herc had been delayed again, this time until Wednesday evening. We went out and looked over all of the cargo that would be coming on later flights (the gondola, some batteries, etc), and talked it over with the cargo department After lunch (real burgers and fries, but the milkshake wasn’t quite as thick as I’d have liked. It’s a harsh continent.), I watched TV for a while and then got everything ready to go for the flight. We went out to the Poles again after dinner and took some more photos, and then waited for the Herc to arrive.
When the Herc did arrive, we had a brief scare while they worked on an issue with their hydraulics. The plane was fine, but there was a chance that they might not be able take any cargo pallets. After about a half hour, though, they said that everything was good to go, and loaded our cargo on the plane. We got on, buckled in, and the plane took off, bound for McMurdo.
There were only 6 passengers on this flight, so we were able to get up and walk around and look out the windows a lot. We got some great views of the Trans-Antarctic mountains on the way in, and our plane ended up flying closer to Mount Discovery to get a good luck at it, which was really cool. We landed in McMurdo a little before midnight, and had a quick chat with the Willy Field cargo people. Our cargo was supposed to go directly to LDB, and they said they’d bring it over after the night shift lunch. We helped direct them as to where to put everything when they got there, and got everything settled before heading back into town.
We found McMurdo to be a town completely transformed by the arrival of the cargo vessel. Shipping containers were everywhere, in a well-organized but busy spectacle. A new orange plastic fence separated Derelict Junction from the road around it, and the space we normally walk across to get to the Galley was taken up by shipping containers and off limits.
It was also weird how much returning to McMurdo felt like coming home. Maybe part of it was that we got to keep our rooms, and I had a bunch of clothes and other stuff waiting for me, and maybe part of it was that there were actual geographic features to look at on the horizon, but it felt really nice (the non-terrible internet helped too, of course).
We arrived in McMurdo about 2:45am Thursday morning. After not nearly enough sleep, I met Thomas and Sean for a 6:30am breakfast. We went out to LDB and started getting everything ready for the vessel. We had a set of uprights, similar to the ones flown during flight, but tall enough to fit all of the detectors on them. The holes on the uprights were oversized and slotted, which meant things would go in quickly.
Before lunch, we got all set up and stacked up the first pallet, and bottom three layers, two scintillators and a hodoscope. After lunch, we started taking the Cherenkov boxes off of the pallet they had been shipped to McMurdo on, and put the first two on the stack. We kept adding more and more detectors to the stack, and about 5pm had everything on except for the top pallet, which we decided to leave for the next day. We caught the 5:30 transport back to town, had dinner, and then agreed to meet up again at 5am the next morning. I went back to my dorm, showered, and went to sleep.
Meanwhile, the Basler made it back out to SuperTIGER again on Friday, and picked up all of the remaining camp equipment.
Saturday I woke up early, we had breakfast at 5am, and we caught the 6am shuttle out to LDB. We added the pallet to the stack and started making sure that we had screwed everything in properly and tightly, and added some RTV to each of the bolts to keep them in place. We then started packing up everything else that needed to go back to the US, including all the recovery tools and electronics boxes. After lunch, we got a couple of loaders out to help us move everything, and moved the heavy stuff out to the container that had our tools and other equipment in it. They also moved the instrument container next to the building we were working in, and carefully brought the re-stacked instrument into the container. Around that point, the Basler flew over and we waved to the crew, but apparently they didn’t see us. Then, we tied it down with cargo straps, which was fun because I got to climb up on top of the stack and attack the cables on top. Once everything was good to go, the container got closed, everything went on the cargo Kress, and it was off to the ship! It went on the ship sometime Friday evening.
|In the container and ready to go!|
Saturday we slept in and went out to LDB around lunchtime to get our equipment to return to the BFC. We also tied down some plywood, because extremely strong winds were forecast for Saturday afternoon/evening. Back in town, we returned our equipment to the BFC, including our sleep kits and the other things we’d borrowed, and then I came back to my dorm to upload photos and update the blog. Sean is scheduled to leave on Monday, and Thomas and I are scheduled to fly out on Thursday. We’re hoping that our other cargo will come in from Pole soon. James and Lyra were supposed to come back from Pole today, but their flight was cancelled due to weather.
|On the Kress on the way to the ship!|