Final Call

I wanted to close this out with a few words.
MG1 is fully operational, as is the entire Antarctic Data Acquisition (ADA) link for MetOp.

For the operational demonstration phase.  NASA’s “customers” EUMTSAT and NOAA are very happy with the ADA link for MetOp.
All those involved helped improve weather forecasting for the US and Europe by decreasing the latency of MetOp weather data. Some of us have moved on to other opportunities, as I did, and others remain at NSF, NOAA, EUMETSAT, and NASA maintaining the service.  I know we all will always remember our small contributions to a greater good.

Milestones and Hurdles

Again, I apologize for the delay in posting this, but you’ll soon see why.

On December 23rd I accepted a transfer to the Climate Sensors Project at Goddard, as the Metop Mission Manager–the same mission we were upgrading the 10m antenna for! I had been thinking about a change of career paths for about nine months, but I didn’t want to give up the McMurdo work I’d invested so much of the last three years in.

While I was in McMurdo, a Goddard internal job posting for a Metop Mission Manager came out which is to support the US Government’s instrument contribution to the Metop spacecraft (the same mission I was in Antarctica for the upgrade). I applied, but I didn’t believe I had a shot as it was a complete career change for me to manage flight instruments. Happily I was wrong. The interview on December 16th, by phone from an office at the JSOC in McMurdo, was (to me surreal) as I was completely relaxed and every question seemed to allow me to describe my experience with interagency work and mission focus. I even had my boots off, as we don’t wear them inside the JSOC due to the muck and volcanic grit.

Anyway, on December 23rd I accepted the job offer. I couldn’t say anything to anyone except my wife until January 11th, when the other applicants had been debriefed and a report date to the new organization had been negotiated. This negotiation lead me to re-schedule my departure for January 17th, so I could still have a couple of days in Christchurch and a week full time in my old office with a report date of January 31st, and an agreement I’d support the McMurdo work and some related activities with the Ground Network until my replacement is hired.

Departing McMurdo is always iffy. We had a weather event–it was too warm! The ice runway has to be pretty firm to support a C-17 and while Pegasus Field sits on the permanent ice pack the top layer was too mushy for the C-17 to land duriing the day–it was still daylight 24 hours a day. The temperature at downtown McMurdo was approaching 40 degrees F that day. So the aircraft was delayed till a 4am landing on the 18th.

I couldn’t sleep, so hoping I’d be able to get a few hours on the C-17 I stayed up to the 1:30am report time for transit to Pegasus. I was really wiped out by the time we got to the airfield, and I didn’t feel like doing pictures. The one below is from January 2010 and I don’t think I could have topped this as the weather was identical.

Kevin McCarthy at Pegasus Field January, 2010

I took three nights in Christchurch. My big events were six aftershocks I could feel, one hit as a 5.1, a day trip to Sumner (a beach town 12 km outside of Christchurch) the 19th, and seeing the play “Cabaret”. I’m glad I went to Sumner, it is a lovely small suburb on an amazing beach. It was great to see kids and dogs playing on the beach after two months in McMurdo! On the 19th of January, MG1 took the first Metop pass. EUMETSAT issued this press release this month .

It was fantastic to see my wife and kids at BWI airport the 21st after a 32 hour transit from Christchurch.

We are still dealing with a number of antenna issues and are running full speed at a “wall” of the required redeployment date of February 23rd for most of our the folks in McMurdo that will not winter over. Bonnie, Mike, Art, and Roy are sill at McMurdo working extremely long hours supported by Honeywell at Wallops and L-3 Datron in California seven days a week.

More to come…

Getting Caught Up

I haven’t posted for a long time, but in spite of that this will be a relatively short post. The NASA civil servants, except for me, have returned to the US. Mike Mahon made it home a couple of days before Christmas and surprised his girlfriend. Alvin Yew took leave in New Zealand and stayed through New Year’s. Honeywell, Hammers and L-3 Datron are down to a total of six people—HTSI/Bonnie Kramer arrived on January 7th.

Christmas and New Year’s were two day weekends here. I went to a town play of Charlie Brown’s Christmas in the Chapel of the Snows which was a lot of fun. I guess I’m not surprised it made it to YouTube. I was able to get a hold of my kids and wife on Christmas. My daughter Sarah (12) already had gotten her Maori jade twist necklace and T-shirts earlier while she was visiting my wife (they live with their mom) and my son Jay (16) got some books and he is a waiting has Christmas and Birthday cash when I get home. There was a great dinner, like Thanksgiving, which we all enjoyed.

Chapel of the Snows

December 29th was a busy day. I had arranged to go out to Black Island Telecommunications Facility, NSF’s satellite ground station, with two RPSC engineers. Mt Erebus blocks a direct line-of-site from town. I wanted to see the communications facility that NASA depends on to send and receive data to a commercial geostationary communication satellite. During the summer it is a short 15 minute helicopter ride; in the winter is a 6 – 8 hour traverse in tracked vehicles. Antonio (Tony) Marchetti has been the austral summer Camp Manager each of the last 15 years. The camp is also staffed by a cook. In the winter the station is remotely operated and there are about three traverses per season for planned maintenance. Because of the remote location it relies on wind, solar and generator power.

Approaching Black Island in a helicopter

Black Island Telecommunications Facility

Tony Marchetti on the radio with an incoming helicopter

That evening I gave a science lecture on the MG1 project. It was fairly well attended for a Wed. evening lecture and the audience included some of the trades people and heavy equipment operators that worked on the project. There was no “science”, I focused on the reasons why NASA was at McMurdo, why we were doing the upgrade, the crane lifts and the missions we support/will support.

New Year’s meant IceStock 2011 an annual concert by local amateur bands. I did happen to miss the countdown to New Years; I was in one of the dorm lounges talking to friends. There are an amazing number of talented musicians here. The next night two of the bands, Steel Penguin and Phat Ass Blue Grass, played Gallagher’s.

L-3 Datron/Arturo Morales has been up the hill working on the antenna system every single day, except for one I think. Hammers/Mike Condon has also worked virtually every day. We are pretty much on schedule and the vast majority of the credit goes to Mike and Art.

Happy Camper

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…

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

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)

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 –

                                                      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…

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.