Packing the Lab
Once SPIDER was over the horizon, the ice team divided their time between two major efforts: flight monitoring (day and night shifts) and packing. The accelerated schedule imposed on us this year required the entire SPIDER and CSBF teams to leave the ice on December 27th and 30th, with the exception of two personnel to assist with recovery and shipping logistics. This meant an intense push by the packing team to get our entire lab inventoried and into sea containers for the voyage home. The packing team did an amazing job, though as one of the first people returning north I didn’t see the conclusion.
The Voyage Home
On Monday the 26th I visited LDB one last time. I sorted and packed a few items to return to Illinois, had a good post-campaign discussion with the CSBF team, and enjoyed one last LDB lunch. Then back to McMurdo to return borrowed skis, visit with the monitoring team, and pack my bags. That evening those of us departing on Tuesday had “bag drag”: we brought all of our stuff up to Building 140 to be weighed, and left our checked bags to be palletized for the flight.
The next morning after breakfast we headed out to the airfield on Ivan (the Terra Bus) for our flight north. On our way in we were happy to see the South Pole flight carrying Sasha and Riccardo take off, at long last! After a little time in the Willy Field galley, we boarded our LC-130 for the 7-hour flight to Christchurch. The moment we disembarked in Christchurch, everyone remarked on how different the air tasted: humidity! life!
We all stayed overnight in Christchurch. The two students I traveled with (Simon and Vy) prepared to set up our new SPIDER ground monitoring station at the airport the next day, so they could take full control while the rest of the team traveled on Thursday. I caught a 6am flight to Sydney, followed by flights to Los Angeles (14 hours!!), Chicago, and finally Champaign. Between flights and layovers, I landed at Champaign more than 33 hours after takeoff from Christchurch (though on the same calendar day, thanks to crossing the International Date Line!), and about 55 hours after rolling out of McMurdo aboard Ivan. It was a long and uncomfortable journey, and neither of my checked bags made it with me (both were delivered the following day). But it was a real joy to make it home and see my family again.
I write this at home on December 30th (31st in McMurdo / Christchurch). The last of our science team has made it to Christchurch, where data monitoring will continue until flight termination. SPIDER swung within 600km of Pole before spending the past few days dithering around the opposite side of the continent, near the edge of the Filchner Ice Shelf. Wind speed are low, and the future path is uncertain: will SPIDER swing around back toward McMurdo, return to Pole, or head somewhere else? In the meantime we’re getting good observation time at a favorable latitude.
I expect I’ll post again when SPIDER terminates, and as recovery plans develop. And then the real fun begins – analyzing the trove of new data SPIDER has provided. But for now we watch SPIDER’s progress, and look forward to the new year.