Monthly Archives: November 2009

Pole at last!

Today I finally made it to the Pole!

We had an easy C-130 ride from McMurdo, which lasted about 3 hours. The C130 is very noisy, so you have to wear earplugs the whole time. The view was great; we flew low over the Transantarctic mountains, up some huge glaciers, to the polar plateau. There are some videos posted here:

On the C130, getting ready to leave

Flying low over the Transantarctic mountains (1)

Flying low over the Transantarctic mountains (2)

Arrival at Pole

Look for the shadow of the airplane in those mountain shots!

Sorry about the shaky video of the Pole arrival… I wasn’t sure the camera was on, and it was a bit cold! -35F or so… I wasn’t sure the camera was going to survive for long. :)

Update 11/20: I finally downloaded some photos from my camera. Below are two from the C130 ride – one of me in my seat, and the other of the seating area to give you an idea of what it looks like – we’re all in our cold weather gear, sitting in those nice comfy red web seats… not exactly first class, but much better than walking!

The Pole is high (9500ft or so, with a higher pressure altitude) and very dry (2% humidity), so I’m taking it easy the rest of today, getting acclimated. Tomorrow I’ll head out to the telescope… we plan to start warming the receiver and pull it down off the telescope to start working on it.

Stay warm!

At last!

Ice at last!

This morning we reported early to the Antarctic Center, got dressed in our cold-weather gear, and after a long wait we boarded our beautiful C-17 headed for McMurdo. The C-17 is a pretty large military jet, much more comfortable than the C-130 (a propeller plane) and C-141 (an older jet) rides I’ve taken before down here. It was a treat.

I still have to download pictures from my camera, so here’s a link to some videos taken with my ever-handy iPhone:

Boarding the C-17
Looking out the window as we flew over Antarctica
Inside the cockpit of the C-17

You’ll notice that McMurdo is actually pretty warm – when we got off the plane, people had their jackets open, etc. The jet landed out on the “annual sea ice” runway, which has a nice hard surface that works for its wheels. We took a big “delta” vehicle (huge wheels) in to town, which is on Ross Island. The island has lots of black volcanic rock which, once it’s clear of snow, catches the sun and further melts the snow. So the base itself (“town”) can get pretty muddy. Today is a nice warm day – two days ago they had snowdrifts everywhere.

We report early tomorrow morning for our flight to the South Pole… let’s hope the weather stays nice so we can get there!

Beach day

Flying the Antarctic Airline can be frustrating, because you don’t get much information about what’s happening. Yesterday (Saturday here) I heard that we’re not flying out until Tuesday… not sure why, but that long a delay isn’t about weather. It’s mostly likely about someone else getting to jump in front of you in line.

What can you do? When life gives you lemons… go to the beach. I took a short bus ride to New Brighton beach, where they have a marvelous sandy beach, great pier, and get this… a *library* right on the beach! Very cool, and here’s a few pictures, of me, of the beach and hills, and the pier. What a great day!

Food and Coffee

Well, one thing the New Zealanders do a good job of is making coffee. Regular “drip” coffee like we drink in the US isn’t available. Everything is espresso-based. The two unique drinks here are called a “Long Black” and a “Flat White”.

The long black is a double-pull of espresso into a cup that’s already holding a few ounces of hot water; it’s kind of like an americano with less water, and is really really good.

The flat white is like a latte, but with far less milk. Here’s a picture of this morning’s “soy flat white” (yes, I found soy here!) along with my morning fruit bowl. And below that, yesterday’s lunch of a bowl of cooked vegetables… healthy food at last! Both of these pictures are from the Metro Cafe’. I’ve also been eating a lot of Japanese/Korean food, which is everywhere since there seems to have been a significant migration of Asians into Christchurch over the last decade.


(By the way, rumor has it we’re not going south tomorrow either; more chance to catch up on work reading, and more chance to eat. :)

Delayed in Christchurch

You never know how long it’s going to take to get from Christchurch to McMurdo, which is my next stop. McMurdo is on the coast of Antarctica, and frequently gets big storms with lots of wind and snow that prevent aircraft from taking off or landing there. And then it can take a couple days after a big storm just to clean up the runway so it’s ready for use.

Apparently that’s what’s happening now… for the second day in a row I got a call at 4am letting me know our flight was cancelled… so I didn’t have to report at 6am. It’s nice to get some sleep, and nice to get work done while here in Christchurch enjoying the good food… but I’d rather head south!

Meanwhile, it’s fun to notice things that are different here than in the US. Here are two photos related to that. The first shows one of their firetrucks (this one is for Henry!), which looks very different than the trucks we see in the US.

The second picture shows a *paperback* copy of a normal everyday book that might cost $15 (at most!) in the US. If you look close at the price tag on the bottom left, you’ll see this one is marked $38.99 in New Zealand dollars. The exchange rate is about 0.70 US for $1NZ, so in US dollars that book costs something like $27. Much more expensive here! I saw a regular hardback book for over $70NZ !!! I asked about this, and apparently because NZ doesn’t produce their own books (they have to be shipped in), and because they’re a small market, they cost a lot. That said, most things do seem expensive here, food included, even at the grocery/convenience stores.

All for now – off to enjoy a sunny day in Christchurch.

Warm Clothes

After a long sleep to catch up from the long trip, I wandered around Christchurch today finding good food (great coffee, nice japanese/korean restaurant) and enjoying the botanical gardens… the last flora I get to see until I return!

This afternoon I went to the USAP clothing distribution center, where a whole bunch of us were issued our cold weather gear. Here’s a picture of some of my gear laid out on the floor. You’ll notice the big red warm parka, the white “bunny boots” which are very warm, and the black insulated pants. Off to the left is some warm fleece, and to the right are the two orange bags we pack this all in, and some ski goggles that we’re required to carry, but I prefer sunglasses.

Tomorrow we report here at 6am to get ready for a 9am flight south on a C-17, which is a bigger, nicer plane than I’ve ever taken south before. One of the orange bags and my big bag of warm stuff I brought with me will be packed on a pallet and not given back until we get to McMurdo, even if we don’t make it there tomorrow. I get to keep my carryon bag and a small “boomerang bag” with me here in Christchurch if we don’t make it or get delayed a couple days.

To tomorrow morning, hopefully we’re off!

Henry’s class

Before I left, I had the pleasure of going in to talk with Henry’s class about my trip. They were very interested to hear about Antarctica, and Space. After I left, they drew what space looked like, and made a telescope complete with a control console… what great stuff! I look forward to seeing them all again (and especially Henry of course, along with his little brother Gilpin who is too young to build a telescope, but I’m sure would like to play with one)!

Arrived in NZ

I made it safe to NZ, though tired and weary from the many flights.

A few fun photos from the trip (which was mostly in the dark over the pacific)…

All of 30 minutes in Sydney, all inside the airport… do I get to say I’ve been to Australia now, or is that a cheat? Quite nice-looking coastline, leaving there.

And when we got to New Zealand, the snow-capped mountains of the South Island were visible below the clouds.

Now off to get some sleep; I go get my warm clothing at 1pm tomorrow.


After a couple weeks of frantic preparation (last time I went down there was before Henry was born) in between numerous deadlines, I’m finally off. In a way, in fact, I’m half way to New Zealand; sitting in LAX, I’ve now finished 2 of my 4 flights to get from Cleveland to Christchurch. (My itinerary, courtesy of the United States Antarctic Program (USAP) agreement with American Airlines, takes me from Cleveland to Dallas to Los Angeles (done!), then to Sydney Australia (oops, went too far), then back to Christchurch, New Zealand. 33 hours, airport to airport, if I make that 30 minute connection in Sydney.

So far so good. Unfortunately it’s dark here in LA already, so I can’t get a good picture of a big airplane for Henry and Gilpin. :( Here’s a picture of me in the airplane from Cleveland to Dallas, though… still smilin’!

On the plane from Dallas I sat next to Ben Bixby, the CEO of a startup company called Earth Aid ( that is building tools so that consumers can more easily track their household energy consumption; you sign up, and if your area is covered they can download your utility information so you can track and plot your usage, expenses, etc. It’s free to you… looks pretty cool!

Next stop, New Zealand!