Guest Post by NASA's Alvin Yew to his Branch at GSFC

We made it!! Mike [Mahon] has been here for a couple weeks already but yesterday, I woke up at 5AM in Christchurch and was shuttled to a small airport. We had to repack most of our clothing and personal items and had to wear a whole bunch of extreme weather gear.

              Inside the C-17 U.S. Airforce Cargo Plane

The plane flew out at 10AM and it was roughly a 5-hour flight. Riding on the military cargo plane was definitely an interesting experience. A lot of the usual protocol for airlines were waived and most of the plane was cargo (sadly, a valuable survival need must be beer because there was a palette full of it). They also gave us a huge bag lunch in case we had to boomerang back to NZ. We landed on 2-meter thick sea ice and then walked into a shuttle bus for an extremely slow ride into the town (it was probably only a mile away)                                                                                              

                        Approaching Antarctica

When we got into town we had orientation. Then we had dinner, which was buffet style. I ate way too much food! Some of it was good but the main dish wasn’t very good. At 7PM, we had a work-related briefing. Afterward I did some unpacking in my dorm and subsequently joined Kevin McCarthy (supervisor) and co-worker Mike Mahon at the Coffee House for a glass of wine. We left the place around 11:30, but with the sun outside, it looked like it was noon!


                             Landed in Antarctica

 Today, we will have a big Thanksgiving dinner. Kevin said that I could rest today and get a look at the worksite on Sunday. I was happy about having the day off since I got to do the annual Turkey Trot 5K! Yes; I won, though my time was horribly slow (19:01), but the course was brutally uphill and windy (and cold, of course). It was amazing being able to race on such beautiful land. Mike also ran and said that it was the first race he’s ever ran with a running bib.


Start of the Turkey Trot 5k in front of the town Chapel (the only building in town with some aesthetically-pleasing architecture) 

After the race, we had breakfast followed by a visit to Discovery Hut with co-worker Tim Reagan (left pretty much untouched for 100 years, with open cans of food and everything) and to the underwater/ice observation tube where you can see some underwater wildlife.


                      The observation tube

Living here the first night is kind of like college. I live with two other people in a small room. I have a top bunk but with only two feet of clearance to the ceiling.   Despite my skin being really dry already and the cold environment, it’s been a wonderful experience so far! I will start working tomorrow.

                  The obligatory picture


Beginning the Upgrade

I guess I need to start out by posting a photo of the ice runway from McMurdo Station as this didn’t get into the last post. It is located a few miles from McMurdo, operates from October to December until the sea ice begins to break up.

                 The Ice Runway as seen from McMurdo Station

The last couple of days on Ice (slang: The Ice refers to any place and every place in Antarctica) the team spent pulling old equipment out of racks, packing the equipment for return to the US as well as populating the racks with the new equipment. The majority of ground station equipment in our operations on the 1st floor of the Joint Space Operations Center (JSOC) building and building 71 below the radome will be shipped back to Wallops Flight Facility for reuse or excess property disposal. A good deal of materials (old racks, cabling, etc.) is being sorted for recycling—NSF’s recycling program is a topic for a later post. The pictures below provide a couple different views of the radome, building 71 and the JSOC.

The MGS radome, building 71, and McMurdo Station down below on the left


                               The radome as seen from town

                                                 The JSOC


                            The entrance to the NASA area

HTSI/William Kambarn (left) and LJT/Chuck Bradford perform manlift battery maintenance inside the radome

All of our cargo has either been received at McMurdo, except scaffolding and replacement radome panels. They are in transit in New Zealand. Depending on the nature of the cargo it was shipped by an air freight or cargo vessel from Port Hueneme, CA where the NSF logistics hub in the US is located, to New Zealand. Any items that can’t be stored outside, such are electronics, are marked Do Not Freeze (DNF) and are temporarily stored in warm storage until they can be delivered and quickly unpacked.

Unpacking DNF crates with ground station electronics outside the JSOC

             Sort of like Christmas morning inside the JSOC

HTSI/James Evans (left) and 567/Mike Mahon installing new equipment in the JSOC

Landed at McMurdo Station!

Inside the C-17
in route to McMurdo

We arrived at McMurdo Monday afternoon after a five hour flight from Christchurch on a US Air Force cargo aircraft, a C-17 Globemaster III .

After a 7:15am check-in at Clothing Distribution Center, we turned in our checked baggage, watched a orientation briefing, passed through airport security manned by New Zealand military, and loaded the C-17. All our baggage, except our hand carry luggage and a bag lunch, had been palletized and loaded on the C-17.

An iceburg in the
South Pacific Ocean

The flight was uneventful and while the seating may look uncomfortable, the leg room is much better than commercial aircraft. In addition to personnel and our baggage, the C-17 was loaded with pallets of cargo for McMurdo. The lack of easy access to windows and cloud cover most picture taking but I did get to see a large iceberg. The photo does not do it justice.

We landed on the sea ice runway just off shore from McMurdo station in the early afternoon. The temperature was a brisk -8 degrees Celsius and the wind was blowing pretty hard so I only took a couple of pictures.

LTJ/Jason Rabon walking to ground transportation after arrival.

After being shuttled up to Building 155 where the galley and administrative offices are, we had an in brief and were assigned our rooms and were released to go pick up our bedding and settle in. Work begins in earnest Tuesday morning.

Apollo 13

I arrived in Christchurch yesterday evening coming off vacation that spanned Auckland and Wellington. The train and ferry journey allowed me to see a great deal of sights and I had a few nights each in Auckland and Wellington.

Apollo 13: Mission Control
at the Downstage Theatre

While I was in Wellington, I went to see the play Apollo 13: Mission Control at the Downstage Theatre. It was quite a find. I was impressed with level of audience involvement in the play as they played the flight controllers (scripts and adlib). One lucky audience member was cast as Jack Swigert—the replacement Command Module pilot. I was encouraged by the interest in space in by both the adults and young people in the audience. It was also a treat to meet some of the production crew and they were pleased to find a member of NASA in the audience. Hopefully, the play will come to the States next year.

The magnitude 4.7 aftershock last night was another interesting experience. It did no damage, but it did wake me up. The aftershock was one of thousands which have struck the region since September 4’s magnitude 7.1 quake.

I’m off to pick up my Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) clothing in a little bit and I’ll have post on that soon.

The Clothing Distribution Center

Entrance to the CDC

We had our Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) clothing issued today. The Clothing Distribution Center (CDC), located near the Airport outside of Christchurch, is run by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) contractor, Raytheon Polar Services Corp. (RPSC) and the employees are New Zealanders.

We had already completed paperwork which provided the CDC employees with our clothing issue equipments and sizes. The process is smooth as it happens a few times each week.

RPSC/Mike McIlroy, CDC Manager, provides the briefing on clothing issue and the flight to McMurdo.

I’d arrived early for the 1pm briefing so I was able to try on most of my gear before the briefing, which comes packed into two orange bags. It is very important to ensure the clothing is correctly sized and all the zippers and fasteners work properly as there is only a limited ability to replace items in McMurdo. Luckily, most of my equipment was new and all of it was sized properly—that and the fact that I had just done the same thing in January 2010 made it go quickly. The good news from the briefing is we depart for McMurdo on tomorrow.

GSFC 596/Mike Mahon trying on his gear.

The last step is to prepare baggage for loading on the C-17 in tomorrow morning. I had spent this morning repacking my bags for personal clothing and equipment into a large suitcase to take to McMurdo, a carry on (including my computer), and a “Boomerang Bag” in case the flight is cancelled or must return to Christchurch, and a bag to leave at CDC—this allows you to have access to some personal clothing and your shaving gear. The palletized checked baggage, except for the “Boomerang Bag” is unavailable if this happens.

In under two hours we were done. I’m off to dinner in Christchurch!

Clothing required for the flight.

NASA Engineer to Blog about Upgrades at McMurdo Station

What are you doing for the holidays this winter? Spending time with family and friends?


McMurdo Ground Station radome as seen from Building 71 at McMurdo Station (photo credit: Seth White)

More than a dozen Near Earth Network engineers and support personnel from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. and Wallops Flight Facility in Va. will be packing their bags and spending their holidays far away from their families at McMurdo Station, Antarctica for the austral summer.

McMurdo Station is one of three permanent National Science Foundation stations in Antarctica. At McMurdo Station, which is the main U.S. station in Antarctica and 1,360 km (850 miles) north of the South Pole, the mean annual temperature is -18°C (0°F). Temperatures can reach 8°C (46°F) in the austral summer and -50°C (-58°F) in the austral winter. The average wind is 12 knots, but winds have exceeded 100 knots.

The team will perform crucial upgrades and maintenance activities to the Near Earth Network at McMurdo Ground Station in support of the European Space Agency’s latest meteorological satellite MetOp-A, which is already on orbit, beginning in March 2011. MetOp-A is the first in a series of three European meteorological operational satellites procured by ESA to serve as the space segment of the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites’ EUMETSAT Polar System. The McMurdo Ground Station will also support MetOp-B and C over the next 15 years.

With a single 10 Meter antenna, hidden inside the radome in this photo, and associated electronics equipment, it has provided countless hours of space-to-ground communications support to dozens of Expendable Launch Vehicles and polar-orbiting satellites owned by NASA, other government agencies, and international partners.

In addition to having a station at McMurdo, the Near Earth Network combines other NASA-owned stations with services purchased from commercially owned stations to provide support to a long list of missions.

The upgrades will involve replacing the majority of the electronics systems in the ground station. The maintenance of the antenna system will be the most difficult and will involve using a crane to uncap the radome, disassemble the antenna, and replacing the antenna pedestal followed by reassembly of the antenna and radome. These activities will allow the Near Earth Network to support not only MetOP, but a host of other future missions.

Goddard engineer Kevin McCarthy will lead this effort, providing project oversight and coordination with the National Science Foundation. In addition to reporting back to Goddard and the SCaN Program on day-to-day activities and status, he will be the primary blogger for the Near Earth Network McMurdo upgrades while in Antarctica.

“I’m looking forward to my departure on November 6 and my scheduled return home on February 5, 2011, as well as sharing my team’s experiences with you on our work and life at McMurdo,” reports McCarthy.

The Near Earth Network is the latest NASA Project to join the rising trend of blogging on day- to-day activities as part of NASA’s Blog Website under the title of “Summer on the Ice,” which will be updated regularly with news and photos of the site upgrades.

You can follow the team’s progress by clicking here.

Well It’s Almost Time…

My flight out of Baltimore leaves tomorrow at 2:35pm. I took yesterday and today off to start packing and run errands. While USAP issue Extreme Cold Weather Clothing (ECW), I’ve packed my own clothing for New Zealand and McMurdo as well as personal items and entertainment (MP3 Player, E-Reader, and noise canceling head phones) and work equipment (laptop, hard hat, safety shoes, etc.).


This season’s USAP luggage tags

I’ll be gone for three months, 2 1/2 on ice and the rest in transit and leave in New Zealand. The flights take more than a full day, and I going to take a few days of leave in New Zealand on both ends of the trip. Normally you fly directly to Christchurch, NZ where United States Antarctic Program’s (USAP) logistical hub for McMurdo and South Pole Stations is, but I’ll be traveling from Auckland to Christchurch on leave by train via Wellington.

The process to get to this point was quite involved. We’ve been preparing for the McMurdo Upgrade/Depot Level Maintenance (DLM) for over three years. This has involved reviews, meetings (including in Germany with EUMETSAT), seemingly countless telecons, as well as a site visit to McMurdo in January 2010.

The process the USAP uses to Physically Qualify (PQ) people traveling to Antarctica involves a medical exam tailored to your age as well as a dental exam with X-rays. Our Health Unit at Goddard routinely does this (for example see Operation Ice Bridge) so that was easy, and I timed my semi-annual dental exam to support the requirements. Raytheon Polar Services Corporation (RPSC) doctors and dentists reviews the material and either approves you, requests more tests, or disapproves you (Non PQ)–we planned for an alternate for most positions in case of a Non PQ of our primary candidates for the deployment. There is also a lot of other paperwork to fill out (clothing sizes, flight and hotel preferences in Christchurch, etc.) as well as USAP Information Technology Security and Environmental Training that must be completed on line. USAP has an extensive web site with a lot of information on the process including a USAP Participants Guide.

Now, it’s time to wrap up a couple of more things for work, run a few more errands, and finish packing. My next post will be from New Zealand!