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!