Thursday, October 8, 2009

Let the Antarctic adventure begin!

Getting there was an adventure all its own!

WOW! Nothing could have prepared me for just exactly how HUGE the C-17 Air Force cargo plane taking me to Antarctica would be! When we came in view of the plane, on a shuttle from the loading area, I think I screamed. I made a noise at least, and a scream is the easiest way to describe it. I tend to not hide my excitement, I've never been describe as stoic or reserved. This trip has not been the exception either. When I am excited, or really happy about something, it shows! The sight of this plane brought to the surface all the bottle up excitement for this trip! I was told it was a military cargo plane, but I was not expecting it to be so big, have US Air Force written on it, and I definitely did not expect to be greeted by the military! The flight attendants, if you could call them that, and pilots were US Air Force personal. They were awesome, and friendly, but intense and serious; they definitely meant business. If it were not for these members of the Air Force making these flights many times a week, we scientists and researchers along with our supplies and the food and supplies to feed and run the little city in the ice that is McMurdo station would never reach the frozen continent.

We took a pair of ear plugs, and they were essential. Once they fired up the engines, you basically had no hope of hearing your own thoughts, let alone your neighbors voice or the air force attendants' comments or commands. I sat in a jumpseat along with others in rows of jumpseats along the sides of the plane and down a center aisle. Others sat in two sections of airplane style seating. Unlike commercial flights, which are cushy compared to a C-17, the plane had all its wiring exposed. We also got the chance to go up on to the flight deck. There were so many buttons, and unlike our few small circular windows, the view from their windshield(?) was extensive and I couldn't believe I was seeing the view of the Southern Ocean on a flight to Antarctica through the cockpit of a C-17. I told them there job must be amazing! They agreed it was quite unbelievable at times, but they were seasoned vets, especially on this flight.

A few hours into the flight, my friend asked me if I had looked out the window recently. I said no why?! and ran over to the small circle in the door. Last time I had looked down we were flying somewhere over the southern ocean... and now there was a sea of ice below us! The Southern Ocean had finally met its match in the cold and we were flying over the edge of the sea ice that spreads from the Antarctic continent. There were huge cracks crisscrossing through the ice, forming a giant floating sea ice jigsaw puzzle. By the next hour we were flying over solid ice... hills and fields of snow and ice for as far as the eye could see.

We landed and I was practically screaming with excitement through my many layers of gear. As we got closer, and began or descent toward the ice runways, people began suiting up into all their ECW, Extreme Cold Weather gear. The pilot announce we were landing into a balmy -56 degree windchill (still not sure if it was F or C but when it is that cold, does it really matter!?) Honestly my heart jumped a little at the idea of that temperature; It was scary to know you are about to walk into that extreme cold and harsh of environment... Off of a C-17 that would not be cutting its engines while we departed, no less! I grabbed the hand rail on the staircase and took my first few steps down and onto the frozen sea ice of the Ross Sea, Antarctica!

Again, nothing could have prepared me for what exactly that temperature feels like! I got off and was met my Antarctic personal guiding us across the ice to our transport from the Pegasus airfield and keeping us from walking or being blown to close to the giant engines that were still running! I was really excited to walk right into Chris, a team member of mine, and see that we could snap some pictures before we got onto the transport from Pegasus airfield to McMurdo Station. Enjoy my shots of the C-17 idling on the ice runway of Pegasus airfield, McMurdo Station, Antarctica!

We took the 30min ride toward McMurdo and I was bouncing out of my seat with excitement. My neighbors who had been down before, pointed out Mt. Erebus, Mt. Terror, the White and Black Islands (named for the presence and lack of snow respectively). We got into McMurdo and put our gear into the cubbies there for coats and such; Then we went to sit for our first of many meetings and briefings on life and work in Antarctica!!!




  1. Emma
    This is Frank Domenico from the ROV team at ST. Patrick's we met at the shed teachers open house.
    What I would like to ask you is that I would like the rov team to follow your adventure in Antarctica with the rov. But I would also like a little background on Who, came up with the idea and What will it be used for. and the typical How mush did it cost and what test will it be performing. I think you are doing a great job on your blog I am not very good at blogging.
    Frank Domenico

  2. One day I will visit the arctic and antarctica. This is detavionna Howard