Tuesday, December 27, 2011

We had to be rescued - kind-a-sort-a

Tuesday Dec. 20, 2011 a new set of frantic scientists arrived in my perview.  (Don’t’ tell them I called them frantic).  Anyway, they have a limited amount of time to get all their science done so they are eager to get to work.  So Wednesday, Al and I escorted them to where there equipment is in the RF Sector (on the other side of  Summer Camp from the station) riding in one of the famous track vehicles around here called a Piston Bully.  It is a lot like driving a tractor designed to carry people instead of the things tractors do. 

The weather was rather forboding.  We came out Destination Alpha (the front door) and the wind was blowing the flags straight out towards the entrance.  Generally its blowing 90 degrees (crosswise to the station).  This is the direction that the worst storms come from.  The snow was blowing also reducing visibility to a mile.  Marcus happened to be taking the same exit and asked us where we were going on such a fine day.  I had some reservations but my supervisor Al was a veteran of the pole and we were staying within the “Operational Sector” of the station.   I actually came closer to questioning the actions when he commented that the machine was not driving quite right, remembering my friend Deidra in Alaska many years back, aborting her solo flight because something didn’t feel right and indeed the craft had a potentially fatal malfunction.

We forged our way, Al driving and I am riding shot gun so I could have a refresher on driving this beast.  Training on it was two weeks stale and it is a mildly complex vehicle.  Al picked an isle down the “burms” and driving to the other side and approaching the VHF antenna field, finally stops and is not sure which way to go with the limited visibility and having been a year since he had been there.  The one science member who had been there before remembered it was on the other side of the antennas so we made a right hand 90 degree turn and soon Al recognized where we needed to go.

We approached with the wind blowing across our path and slowing down as we approached the vehicle stopped (it has no brakes, you just take your foot off the peddle).  Al says “Uh oh.” And plays with the controls a few times; it won’t go forward.  I suggested trying reverse.  No luck.  He turned the wheel (which drives the tracks at different speeds) and still nothing.  But we were basically there, so we go out and took some new flags and the scientists decided where they wanted the new hole and flagged it off for the surveyors and the labor crew to dig a new hole.

Al tried the vehicle again with the same result.  So we all hoofed it back the direction we came to an equipment shelter by the internet satellite dish.  Called the Comm’s to report the problem and then for a shuttle to come get us and the vehicle department to report the broken vehicle.  All told we were gone from the station for just over an hour.

At the safety meeting earlier in the day, Al gave us his standard warning, “the pole can kick your butt anytime it wants”.  We heard you Al, you didn’t need to give us a demonstration.

Behind the Piston Bully (mid-ground object) to the left (small speck) was our refuge.
Indeed, we would not have gone any farther from the station given the conditions none-the-less conditions can get so bad (more often in McMurdo then here) that in the same circumstances we could have been stuck along the way....Antarctica!  Click here to see a few more shots from our brave adventure.

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