New Zealand Prime Minister Visits Icebreaker Drill

One of the most frustratingly valuable aspects of testingand working in extreme environments is that nature is unpredictable, out ofhuman control, and hence likely to create unexpected problems and opportunities.  Today, that led to postponed tests buta chance to brief the Prime Minister of New Zealand, John Key, who with hiswife Bronagh Key had themselves planned to go today to the South Pole. 

However, this morning featured 25F/-4C temperatures, 20ktwinds with powdery snow (we now have about 8 in on the ground) and lowvisibility, so both air travel and our tests outside camp were scratched. Thisled the PM and his entourage to visit the science (Crary) lab facility thismorning. 

Team members (Glass, Marinova) brief the Rt. Hon. John Key and his wife Bronagh during their tour of Crary Lab today.

We struggled to get our morning E/PO done, given the weatherconditions and an unexpected software problem.  We recovered in time for a Santa Rosa, CA charter school andits students (mostly homeschooled) to operate the Icebreaker drillremotely.  An article is in theSanta Rosa Press-Democrat ( Since we had gotten the drill running for the students, it was easy toremove the tarps and do a show-and-tell 90 minutes later for the Rt. Hon. Mr.Key.  It helped that we were thelast stop on his laboratory tour, as there was some time left forquestions. 

In challenging working conditions, Bolek Mellerowicz configures the Icebreaker drill control software for an educational outreach session this morning, prior to removing the tarp protecting the drill. 

Hence weather frustrated our original plans… but also createda unique opportunity, as long as we could be flexible and adapt to changingcircumstances (in the best NASA traditions).  

Icebreaker Remotely Operated by Schools

One of NASA’s goals, in addition to furthering humanity’sreach in aeronautics and space, is to educate and foster interest in science,mathematics and engineering by the next generation.  A small percentage of every funded research proposal istypically targeted at “Education and Public Outreach”, or E/PO. 

One of the ways that the Icebreaker team is reaching out tothe next generation is through live video sessions with school classrooms.These include audience-tailored briefs by team members, given live fromAntarctica, with classroom questions and answers.  And… we let the students remotely operate the Icebreakerdrill, here in McMurdo, from their classroom.  This often gets a lot of enthusiastic responses fromschoolkids. 

While half of the Icebreaker team is already in UniversityValley doing science, here in McMurdo we are finishing drill checkouts, minormaintenance and doing E/PO back to the US.  Three days ago we did our first hour-long session with an Arizonahigh school (Verde Valley HS, near Flagstaff).  We managed this despite repairing a broken wire on the drillthat had us working behind the scenes, while live, and outdoors in high 30ktwinds and blowing snow.  Two daysago we did three sessions:  with amiddle school in New York City; another group of mostly-Native American (Yavapai-Apache) 6thgraders at an Arizona school; and with a group of mostly Vietnamese and Hispanic kids at an elementary school in south San Jose,CA.  

Classroom view from Meadows Elementary, San Jose, CA (Glass, Marinova). [courtesy L. Haven]

Yesterday  wedid four sessions, with the first two in Pasadena, CA:  Jackson Elementary and Eliot MiddleSchool.  The first session includedlocal Los Angeles media coverage (see NBC!/on-air/as-seen-on/Pasadena-Students-Help-Operate-NASA-Drill/187231281as well as Followed by a school in Pleasanton, CA and then a link to a company who hadexpressed interest (SpaceX, in Los Angeles). 

We have one more E/PO session scheduled this week (tomorrowat 11am PT, 8am Saturday for us) with a charter school in northern California(Santa Rosa).  Then we will finishdrill and robotics testing near McMurdo this weekend before we join the rest ofour colleagues in University Valley. Two team members (Marinova and Goordial) will leave for there tomorrow,after the E/PO session. 

Explaining drill hammer actuation to a Pasadena middle school (Mellerowicz, Marinova).

We are tentatively planning a few E/PO sessions afterreturning in early February from University Valley, most likely on 4 February(PT).  Contact if you’reinterested, as he’s handling the schedule coordination back at NASA Ames.