West Lake Bonney, Taylor Valley, Antarctica
Reporting from East Lake Bonney Basecamp
At a 7:15am breakfast the team discussed the current status of our equipment. The bot, the two yellow shipping containers with the syntactic flotation blocks, and two heavy gray shipping containers full of instrumentation and power supplies were still at Marble Point, some 45 minutes by helo away from MCM. These were scheduled to arrive today (gray boxes at 5:35pm on 36H; bot at 10:20am from WLB on 08H; then several white science cargo shipping containers with such things as left over food, dive lead, ice axes, ropes, heaters, rigging hardware, tables, chairs, and the like from Marble at 10:25am on 36J; and two yellow boxes from Marble at 12:40 and 2:45pm also on 36J). Of these, the gray boxes failed to materialize due to deteriorating weather along with one of the yellow crates.
Science lab space, particularly space with an overhead crane, is at an absolute premium in McMurdo during the austral summer, when scores of large projects are passing through and returning to the base from further inland. We were not surprised, therefore, to find that neither our original work area of 2008 in the MEC complex, nor our more recent “A-Team” set-like staging locality for 2009 in the Incinerator building were available upon our return. There were some eyebrows raised, however, when we were issued a key to Building 126, where the bot and our gear would be warehoused until their shipment back to CONUS sometime in January. The building was located halfway up Ob Hill, where the old “SLOWPOKE” reactor had been located, in a building scheduled for demolition—due to asbestos. The place had a thick layer of dust over all surfaces with cracking plywood and deformed, rusting metal plate floors. It was being used for temporary storage of large, mostly black-painted, wood boxes and Triwalls and gave the strong subliminal impression of a 1930s era warehouse where gangsters would have had a shoot out with Tommy guns. The fact that it had been a part of the old reactor complex did nothing to dispel the ambiance. In the late 1950s the Navy, which had first established McMurdo as part of the original “Operation Deep Freeze”, decided that nuclear power was the solution to the base’s growing diesel consumption. The PM-3A, NNPU “Nukey Poo” US Navy power reactor produced 1.75 megawatts of electrical power, and, as well, provided heating and desalinization power. Initial criticality was achieved on March 3, 1962. It was “decommissioned” (shut down, due to chloride metal corrosion) in 1972. It operated on 93% enriched U235. The reactor, its associated building, and 9,000 cubic meters of irradiated foundation were retro’d to CONUS by 1979. Further fascinating reading on this topic can be had here:
The Antarctic Environmental Awareness Page at Southpolestation.com (not an official USAP website)
SLOWPOKE Reactor Wikipedia Entry
1950s photo showing the SLOWPOKE reactor complex on Ob Hill. In 2009 Team ENDURANCE used the right-most building for equipment re-packaging for retro to CONUS.
At 1:10pm we drove up to Building 126 and not long thereafter Tony Buchanan from MEC arrived with the bot from helo ops on a trailer. A large fork truck also arrived with a long extender “Y” shaped gadget that went on the forks to make a shackle suspension point. Using that they picked the bot off the trailer and dropped it in the building inside the role up door. Later Michael Davis at Science Cargo located the big crate ENDURANCE had been shipped in from Port Hueneme and brought that up on a large “duty fork”. We later had to request a “pickle” (green Mk4 2-ton capacity small fork truck) to come up to move this inside along with one of the yellow boxes.
A final team meeting was held at 3:30pm in Crary to discuss 2009 completion tasks. In addition to the above activities, throughout the day materiel was being returned to such places as the BFC, the field outfitting center. This included all of our sleeping bags, cook sets, and… pee bottles (no waste of any kind is allowed to touch the ground in the Dry Valleys). With regard to the last item, each person was responsible for cleaning their own bottles at the “Garofalo Memorial Pee Bottle Sink”.
Shilpa gets her turn at using the Garofalo Memorial Pee Bottle Sink in the Berg Field Center.
Also at the BFC, Emma returns unused human waste buckets.
Later in the evening a final Team ENDURANCE departure party was held at the Southern Exposure bar.
Reporting by Bill Stone