Monthly Archives: December 2010

Happy Camper

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Alvin and I took Field Safety Training Program’s two day Snowcraft I (also known as Happy Camper here) which is a basic requirement for anyone in USAP who is going to one of the remote field camps or whose job may get them in a situation where they could be stranded. It is a course in basic risk management and survival techniques, spent almost entirely outside on the ice shelf, including an overnight.

Our class (Mike had gone the previous week) was on 12/17 & 18. We all took the class on a space available basis as we really didn’t need it but it part of the Antarctic experience. After a two hour lecture on risk management and cold weather injuries, we boarded a Delta with all our ECW gear, picked up bag lunches and went out to the ice. When we got out there was a ground squall with winds >30mph but luckily it cleared up quickly. The weather turned out to be balmy (~27-35 degrees F) and after the wind died down it was a dead calm for the remainder of the class. Our instructor commented it was the best weather for the class all season.

Out on the ice shelf we learned how to set up the two kinds of tentsused here, protect the smaller mountain tents with a snow wall, dig asurvival trench for sleeping, and cook with the white-gas stoves. Alvinslept in a survival trench that night with just his ECW gear and sleepkit. I opted for a comportable mountain tent.


Alvin digs his sleeping trench

The mountain tents

The next morning we ate breakfast and broke down the camp, had some more classroom instruction in an old Jamesway hut (portable and easy-to-assemble hut, designed for arctic weather conditions ) which included the kind of High Frequency radio that is used in the UASP. Later in the afternoon we went back to the Berg Field Center, cleaned up and restocked the gear and had a short class on helicopter operations. There are many blogs on the internet if you want to learn more about Happy Camper school in McMurdo…


Dr. Sarah Das (front right) makes breakfast for the class.

Alvin making a radio call to the South Pole Station.

We wear our sunglasses at night…

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We are done with the riskiest part of the project—opening the radome and destacking/restacking the antenna.

My initial optimism at the end of the last post was crushed by the weather here. On December 4th, based on observed winds Lift #2 (Radome uncapping) we dismissed the crane operators and ESSCO before even going up the hill. The winds were blowing and reached a gust of 56mph. Sunday 12/5, the winds were worse and hit 67 mph in one gust up on the hill–very little got done that weekend. On Monday 12/6, the weather forecast was for winds to die down today. They did not.

Based on our wind observations we decided to start work just after midnight on Tues. 12/7, the winds had usually lower between midnight and 7am. Since the Galley offered, midrats at midnight we took advantage of this to have this as our breakfast. As it is daylight 24 hours/day till the next subset on 2/20/11, we wear sunglasses at night.

We went up the hill at 12:30am on the 7th. This worked well and we made the critical lifts of the radome cap and the antenna reflector with no problems at all. RPSC/Bill Gollehon operated the crane and made both these picks look easy, but they weren’t. The radome cap and the reflector are relatively light, 3600 lbs. and 5800 lbs. respectively with a large surface area—in other words they make great sails.


The radome cap coming off

The reflector clear of the radome

With the radome cap and the reflector secured by tying each down to a series of large concrete blocks to ensure the wind doesn’t cause catastrophic damage to them.

The radome cap about to placed for storage
The rest of the long morning went well and we quickly finished four more lifts and transferred the antenna dish support arms to the new pedestal.

Removing the one of two counterweights

Removing old pedestal assembly

Removing old train assembly

It was approaching noon, the winds were picking up, the guys were tired so we stopped lift operations and ESSCO proceeded to brace the open radome while Datron used the crane to install the new X-band feed.


New X-band feed (vertical tube in reflector)

Me between lifts

All the day’s activities had gone extremely well and the weather forecast showed winds on the 8th to be in the 8-18 mph range we were pretty confident we could finish the next day. We were wrong.

The winds were low on the 8th just before 1am and the lift of the new train into the radome went smoothly until the bolt holes were lined up, and well didn’t align. HTSI/William Kambarn and Datron/Steven Sciacca spent thirty or more minutes trying to align the wholes and insert the bolts to no avail. The bolt hole pattern on the new assembly was slightly larger than the diameter of the bolt hole pattern on the pedestal riser. Several solutions were proposed but the use of smaller hardened bolts was selected as the most advantageous, given the limited resources at McMurdo and the need to close the radome ASAP. HTSI personnel located a source at McMurdo for the bolts needed. The bolts located were too long to allow tightening the Train assembly to the pedestal riser. However, a RPSC machinist stayed late to manufacture a spacer for each bolt so that they could be used. They will be replaced one at a time after replacements arrive, but this allowed us to continue the next morning.

Again we went up the hill after midnight to begin a new work day on the 9th. I was very relieved when the new pedestal went on without a hitch.

Datron/ Steven Sciacca (right) tightens a smaller temporary bolts and is assisted by HTSI/ William Kambarn

The lifts of the counterweights went well, but because the way the hung, it was very difficult and time consuming to mount them back on the pedestal. However, later that morning we were able to lift the reflector and reattached it to the pedestal.

The first counterweight being installed

The reflector being reattached

Again, as it approached noon, the winds picked up and we had to abort recapping the radome when the cap began to oscellate from the wind gusts. Again, we called it a day and planned for another 1am start.

The 10th the wind was marginal for the lift but at least it was steady. As you can see below the wind can have a significant effect on a 3,600 lbs. sail.

Lifting the Cap

Lowering the cap back on to the radome

Preparing to complete the attachment of the cap to the radome structure

It took ESSCO several hours to complete fastening all the bolts but by lunchtime they had completed it and we were done for the day!

Weather Delays

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It is December 4th, and we are three days late starting the uncapping of the radome. As the wind requirements are 12 mph or less, a delay is not unexpected.

The preparation of the antenna went almost without a hitch. The old antenna electronics and cabling were removed as well as the wave guide that was in the way of the lift points on the antenna reflector. L-3 ESSCO and L-3 Datron worked the weekend of out Saturday Thanksgiving to prepare for the lifts. On Monday we had an all hands lift meeting and a safety walkthrough of the site by everyone involved. We also began to get our three day weather forecasts. Unlike back in the States, a forecast of three days is the best we can get here. It makes planning a weather dependant activity very hard.

L-3 ESSCO Scaffolding inside the radome

L-3 ESSCO constructed the scaffolding, which can be moved around the radome, required to reach the level where they need to remove bolts in the radome panels to allow separation and lift of the radome cap. Five bolts remained fastened on each panel in a ring around the radome for structural support.

L-3 ESSCO/James McClellan prepares
the randome for opening.

The lift operations, with the 75 ton capacity crane, entails the unloading of the new pedestal and train assemblies from their shipping containers, opening of the radome, destacking the antenna pedestal, replacement of the X-Band feed, restacking the antenna pedestal and closing the radome. On November 30th, Lift #1 (Pedestal Placement) was completed this morning in -25 degree F wind-chill. Crane operations were suspended afterward due to winds. We were in great shape to uncap the radome the next day.

HTSI/William Kambard (Left) and RPSC/William Gollehon guide the new pedestal into position next to the randome.

On the morning of December 1st we had very good conditions but the three day weather forecast predicted winds 15kts to 25kts with gusts to 35kts for the next two days. After consulting with our prime contractor site lead, THC/Michael Condon, I cancelled the planned lift. Once the radome is opened, it has greatly reduced structural integrity. Since we did not anticipate being able to conduct the lifts for two days, leaving the radome open was not prudent. The actual winds for December 1 – 4 were worse than first predicted.


Summary weather data from the Building 71 Weather Station.

While we wait for good weather the team did as much work as possible, including some activities originally scheduled for after the lift operations were complete, such as removal and replacement of the S-band feed.

LJT/Chuck Bradford (left) and HTSI/William Kambarn on the service platform after removing the old S-band feed.

This afternoon I got some good weather news! The storm is predicted to clear up Monday afternoon and the winds should die down to allow us to conduct lift operations on Monday afternoon and Tuesday. This evening Michael Condon and I will lay out a plan for Monday and Tuesday and hope the forecast holds.

A Small Town (in Antarctica)

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I grew up in Lanham MD, outside the Beltway of DC. While I’ve lived in NC and FL, I’ve never lived in a small town before. I’d visited McMurdo last January for ten days, but now that I have been here for almost two weeks, I can say I live in a small town. To me, it feels like a Pennsylvania mining town, without the niceties of homes, families and pets. When I was in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway in 2009 (where we contract for ground station services) it was like a small ski town (with shops, hotels, schools, and restaurants), but this is different.

McMurdo Station was originally built by the Navy for NSF to support the International Geophysical Year and officially opened on Feb. 16, 1956. The dining facility is known as the Galley and serves four meals a day (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and mid rats for the folks working the night shift. There are three gyms, a store, library, two ATMs, and three bars, and a recreation office which loans out gear, TV (Armed Forces Network, New Zealand and Australian TV channels as well as two movie channels) and radio. We are housed in dorms, like college and have one or more roommates. Most of the guys, HTSI/Bonnie Kramer does not arrive until January (the only woman on our team) have two roommates. I’m currently sharing a room with L-3 Essco/Brian Peppin who is one of the radome riggers. I’ve decided not to decorate my room with anything as a reminder I’ll be leaving in January.

McMurdo from the McMurdo webcam – http://www.usap.gov/videoclipsandmaps/mcmwebcam.cfm

                                                      My room

                                  Breakfast is the best meal of the day

                                        Population count for 11-26-10

                                  The only ATMs in Antarctica

The normal work schedule for McMurdo is six days a week, and nine hours a day, although we and many of the workers normally exceed that. Once we begin lift operations Tuesday or Wednesday, we will work every day for up to 12 hours per day until we finish the DLM. This weekend was a rare two day weekend, as Thanksgiving was celebrated on Saturday.

While I’d rather have been home with my wife and kids, the Thanksgiving Dinner exceeded my expectations. Much better than the Thanksgiving dinners I had on active duty in the Army. Our team dinned together at the 5pm seating. I managed to forego dessert for a second King Crab leg, although the pies were tempting.

The scientists, to a great extend pass though McMurdo en route to field camps and the South Pole Station, although I think there a couple of hundred of them here. The majority of the McMurdo population are blue collar workers and support personnel. I continue to be impressed with their positive attitude, courtesy, and helpfulness of everybody we’ve met and worked with. Maybe it is the small town atmosphere…