iceman's South Pole Page

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Winter - 2013

I will be back at the South Pole on Feb 4 2014

View and sign my guestbook

Photo Galleries

last flights Feb 14

Picture of the Week

around sunset

Yuri's Night

Auroras 2013



November 2013


McMurdo - we arrived at 1600 after a nearly 3 hour flight from Pole, it feels so nice to have a bare face and hands and feel the sun on your skin. Yesterday the flights got canceled, but we should still make the C-17 tomorrow, especially with a lot of DVs sitting here in McMurdo an waiting to go North - green world, we are coming.

We got 6 people now for our telescope at Pole and summer is in full swing. They gonna taking all 5 receivers down next week and upgrade them. So by the time I get back early February everything is hopefully all back in place and ready to go ;)
The last days were quite hectic with packing, turnover, clean up etc.

Will be off now for the next 2.5 months and enjoining the warmer parts of these world - even winter in Germany will be warm :)


First team members arriving at Pole today, a few long nights in MAPO to get everything ready and cleaned up, also the cleaned up state will have only a very short lifetime. Beautiful weather still, October had some of the best weather of the entire winter.


First Herc of the season - summer is starting and more winter-overs are leaving - lots of freshies :).

October 2013


Finally changed my provider for my website, which is not easy from down here, but was necessary since you have to look hard to find someone so unprofessional and incompetent. It took about 7 days to move my website with our slow internet. But all should work again, if you find broken links etc. please let me know.
Very busy days ahead, packing up, cleaning, lots of last minute items and some stuff was on hold during the stupid government shutdown.
First plane with summer people is supposed to be here on Nov 1st, less than a week away.

Also working hard on this year's aurora movie, and I made a short sampler, you can download here

or watch on youtube


The shutdown is the most ridiculous thing, what a waste of money since we are having to shutdown and go over to care taker mode, a lot of people are already in McMurdo, there are many articles out there, but this one gives a nice summary.

2 days ago we got a handful of summer people and yesterday we got rid of some very misbehaving crew members, 4 or them had to leave on the first available plane, the plane of shame or ConAir. A 5th crew member had to leave because of medical issues, and to distinguish him from the 4 baddies, we made him a t-shirt ;).


Holiday back home, today is "day of the unification" which is celebrated since 1990 after the fall of the wall. Some people don't get paid anymore after the shutdown of the US government, but still have to work, were others don't work but still get paid ;)

I put some HDR - High Dynamic Range pictures of sunrise up, still some nice color outside and with the low sun nice shadows.

Oh yeah, part of our fire alarm, our life safety equipment is broken, I don't know where they got the current system, but the company doesn't exist for years anymore and no more spare parts, was probably cheap, so they found some used parts on ebay !!! - safety first ;)

September 2013


Time for an update ;) The sun is up for just over a week, and the outside is still bathed in a nice "warm" light, but the shadows getting harder every day as the sun works its way up in the sky.

On the 21st we had our sunrise dinner, which was a great feast again and the sun actually made an appearance. That day we also got news that we should expect an early flight beginning of October. That is by far not the normal big Herc flights but small Twin Otters that will pass through here on their way to McMurdo and refuel here at the Pole and the Pilots have to follow their mandatory rest times. These flights were originally planned for October 10 and no people would get in or out but now it is a bit different, since we have some destructive elements in the crew we will get rid of a few people :) and the area manager and maybe some other people will get here - and hopefully some freshies :)
Normal summer operation will start then as planned 1st of November with regular Herc flights.

August 2013


The last weeks were mostly bad weather with a few nice days in between, lots of wind and snow drifting, one of the worst years. So the nice days are even nicer. Here is the glow of the sun a few days ago with Venus just popping over the horizon and the setting full moon illuminating the landscape.

It's getting really bright out and we gonna lose the auroras in the next few days, which is a real shame since this winter's activity was ok but by far not as good as one might expect, being so close to the solar max.


100 (11K)

months on the ice! By now I spent 100 months in Antarctica, about 98 of them at the geographic South Pole.
Up to now that includes 9 sunsets at the Pole and 8 sunrises, Walking back and forth from the station to MAPO which housed all my 3 big experiments, I walked about 2500miles or 4000km across the Polar Plateau most of it at temperatures way below -50C and in the darkness of winter only illuminated by the glow of the stars and occasionally by auroras and the moon. That distance is more than going from here to McMurdo and back again (that takes already into account the times I didn't walk, because I used a skidoo in summer etc.).
I'm sure there won't be another 100 months coming, but a few more will.


Already August and we are slipping from one storm to the next, very disappointing. Last night we reached this years record with 45kts. SPT had to stop the telescope and put it into a safe parking position.
A few days ago we reached astronomical twilight, i.e. the sun is less than 18 below the horizon now, not that it shows any effect with the terrible weather we are having.
Put some points into the comparison below

July 2013


First EVA - spacewalk for Luca 4 days ago, was awesome to see the little bit our satellite allowed :). I always call South Pole space for the little man or (space for the poor ;) ) and there are quite a few similarities to the life on the ISS but some things can't be more opposite, so over the past weeks I made this little table comparing life at the Pole during winter with life in space.

South Pole ISS
weight higher than on most places, due to the non spherical shape of the Earth and the nonexistent centripetal force because of the trajectory of the space craft you are weightless
day-night cycle longest day-night cycle possible on Earth, one sunrise and one sunset per year shortest day-night cycle possible at the moment, one sunrise and one sunset every 90 minutes
survival outside without protective gear a few minutes a few seconds
food less than 10$ per day and person, but amazing what the cooks can do with it having star cooks prepare your meals in advance sounds nice, but seems to be a bit more expensive, too and eating our of pouch is not the same
freshies (fresh fruit and vegetables last plane brings in a big bunch, and the first weeks you eat a lot, but the freshies vanish very quickly and then nothing until the next flight 8.5 months later not much because of weight issues but on a more regular basis since there are more resupplies
internet for about 16h per day, not very fast especially if 40+ people are online although quite slow and limited
recruitment unfortunately a joke, you got a pulse you good to go for a lot of jobs very thorough
training very little, you learn on the go very extensive
how many people have done it 1388 people wintered at the South pole between 1957 and 2013 534 people went into space up to date, starting 1961 with Yuri Gagarin
sport here we score better, we got a full size gym and a nice weight room 2 hours mandatory work out per day, facilities are limited but they got the better view
showers here we are also better off, although ours are limited to 2 times 2 min per week none
many last things when you embark on a 13 months South Pole tour, or even only for the 9 months winter, there are lots of "lasts": last long shower, last grass, last trees, last kids, last dogs last shopping, last TV and the list is long and continues... pretty much the same plus a few more additional lasts, like last "fresh" air etc.
emergency response we are our own firefighters & trauma team but we have a doctor and a physician assistant, but fire is the biggest danger, we only got the one station pretty much the same, medical abilities are even more limited and they only got the one station as well
emergency evacuation was done only twice during winter so far and takes about 3 weeks preparations on both sides, for us to get equipment ready to prepare a runway, for the other side to bring the Twin Otter planes from Canada down all the way to Antarctica each crew has it's Soyuz life boat with which they could abandon the station in matter of hours and return to Earth
noise there is not really any quiet space on station, constant air movement through air handlers for heating, all the fans on the electronic equipment and outside there is always some wind and if you are close enough to the station you hear the power plant
constant forced air movement is necessary since there is no gravity to mix the air and oxygen throughout the station and to recycle spent air
cooling as strange as it sounds, being at one of the coldest places on Earth, one of the biggest problem is cooling, our barometric pressure is normally between 3000 to 3500m above see level so the air is already quite thin and absolutely dry so not much cooling power, so for example a normal PC is just overheating here
cooling in space is extremely tricky since you missing 2 of the 3 ways to transport heat, you only got radiation but no conduction or convection if you try to give of heat into space
support from mission control a lot of times it seems like Denver (our headquarter and mission control) is not there for us but we are there for them, support is disappointing
something happens on the ISS, mission control is all over it and supports the astronauts - mission control is there for the ISS
publicity very little get's into the press what happens down here, and if something hits the news than it's most likely bad news
everything get's big news coverage

if I come up with more I will add to the list ;)


I guess the auroras were on vacation during June, but it's July now and they are back. A few hours ago we had some great displays and when I was out taking pictures, I saw one of the best meteors I have ever seen, super bright - just fantastic. Since the exposure times were set for the auroras I had to stack to images together, that is why there is a gap in the trail in the picture below.

June 2013


Sun is back on it's way to the South, but it will take a while before we will see anything changing in the sky. We had our midwinter celebration on Saturday. Midwinter is the biggest Antarctic holiday and the only one that is at the same date and time at all stations around the continent. Every station sends out midwinter greetings and an invitation to join them for dinner - of course something impossible during winter time, even during summer. Our closest neighbor is about 1400km away.
We had an awesome meal again and since we still had apples left, not too good looking anymore, but great for Apfelstrudel (apple strudel) so I made 8 strudel and we served them fresh & warm with vanilla ice cream. (have a look at the menu)
We got a big box of presents from some of the managers up Norths, which was a nice surprise, it contained beanies, chocolate, lotion and 3D puzzles for everybody. We started to build the first 3D puzzles of famous buildings in the world and soon we had a frenzy going and lots of people joined in.


Less than a week until midwinter. We could use some more good auroras, June was pretty lame so far, but the last 5 days we had high winds again and lots of blowing snow, MAPO is sinking again. Got a 1m high snow bank right outside the door and we keep shoveling to be able to get into the door. Once temperature and visibility will permit, the heavy equipment operator will come out and dig us out.
Last night we had the first open mike of the winter, we got some very talented musicians down here and they put up a little show with some fun stuff in between. A great evening with lots of laughter.


Already June, not even 3 weeks until midwinter. Had a hot day here, not even 24h ago it warmed up to about -29C now it's back down to -56C and dropping. But during winter hot days are considered bad weather, since it is only getting so warm if it is totally overcasted. But weather is still better than back home, must have been the worst May ever and now many areas in Germany a under water with the highest recorded water levels ever.
Here is the first aurora album for this season, besides a half broken camera and the auroras not at it's best yet, I took about 12000 pictures just in the month of May.

May 2013


Less than 7 hours until launch of Luca's rocket. Some of our crew got together during the last full moon and took the pictures below. Go Luca and may you all have a great and safe trip.
I always called the South Pole "Space for the poor" or "Space for the little man" and living and working down here is a bit like being on a different planet. Just the last few days, I had to think about all the similarities between being down here and leaving Earth, some things are just opposite or totally different but lot of similarities :).

Unfortunately we won't have internet during launch but I will toast to Luca and his crew with my last real chocolate milk I brought from New Zealand four months ago. Human spaceflight is fascinating but if you know one of the Astronauts personally it's even more special and part of me will fly with Luca - all the best.


Last weekend, Earth was hit by a CME (Coronal Mass Ejection, i.e. a lot of particles from the sun) that sparks great auroras especially in lower latitudes. Since we are here at the highest latitude possible a lot of times not much happens here, since the aurora oval the active aurora zone round the geomagnetic Pole spreads to the outside and not inwards, and the geographic South Pole is right on the inner boarder of the oval, note the oval is kind of centered around the geomagnetic Pole not the geographic one. But we still had some good auroras and you can see some activity nearly for the entire 40 hours the timelapse shows.


Countdown - one week until launch of Soyuz TMA-09M to ISS with my friend Luca Parmitano on board. We met during the 2008 ESA selection. Luca is the first of the 6 new European Astronauts to fly to the ISS, followed by Alexander Gerst and Samantha Cristoforetti in 2014 and Tim Peake in 2015.
You can follow Luca's adventure on
Luca's FB page
Luca's ESA blog


Just came back from nearly 3 days out at the lab, had some telescope problems and I wanted to monitor it a bit closer. Had some nice auroras lately and good weather, now the moon is gonna be back up for two weeks. Tonight I was outside with my astronomy class to do some practical astronomy and to point out some stars and constellations with a green laser pointer


Yesterday was a stunning star sky, the atmospheric conditions were as good as they get down here and the sky looked like diamonds on black velvet. So the following picture shows, what I see on my daily commute to work :)

We had a couple of weeks with awesome weather, what a change to the stormy April. Telescope is behaving very well - knock on wood ;) Only aurora activity is a bit low.

I finished a new sunset video from this year, it shows the sun over the course of 18 days blocked with 1 to 2 layers of emergency blanket. A picture was taken every 3 min. you can see the cloudy periods, when the sun is not visible. The video shows nicely how the sun moves in nearly at the same height across the horizon every day but drops a bit lower from one day to the next.

I also realized I made 2 other small videos last year, but I never posted the links, one is another sunset movie, that shows the daily motion of the sun at the bottom of the Earth and a video about SPICE star pointing. Our telescope has very bad resolution in the microwaves and we have to rely on our encoders, but to make sure they are working properly we do a star pointing every couple of weeks where we compare actual star positions with an optical telescope integrated on our mount with the encoders.

some of the videos might not show in Germany because of the stupid GEMA, but I will make another version with royalty free music :)

April 2013

Aurora season is open, yesterday around noon we finally had the first good auroras, a 6 out of 10 on the "Schwarz-scale" :) There were a few faint ones the days before, exciting for the first timers, but nothing to write home about. Moon is up and nearly full so it is very bright again.

The last view days we had some really bright Iridium flares - sunlight reflects of the large antennas of these satellites and this can reach magnitude -8.4, about 100 times as bright as the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius. Check out the picture below, besides the Iridium flare there is a bunch of other satellites in that 30 sec exposure.

April 12, 1961, first human in space - Yuri Gagarin, April 12, 1981 first flight of a Space Shuttle, so since 2001 there are parties worldwide called Yuri's Night and of course we had one here as well. One of our Sat engineers actually worked on most of the shuttle launches and was there for the first and last launch.

Weather continues to be crappy, lots of wind and lots of snow -> lots of digging around MAPO

Heatwave on Easter Sunday, it reached -27C, which is a nice summer temperature here, less than 2 days later it was down to -72C again. Unfortunately Steele and I picked the coldest day so far to change baffles on the telescope again for the last time until October. We were outside for about 4h - it was COLD.

Besides clear skies for astronomy class on Monday with awesome Iridium flares (all m=-8.2, i.e. about 100 times as bright as Venus) the weather sucks most of the time, high winds, lots of snow and much drifting.
Internet is really bad this year, they prioritized certain services, so nothing really works anymore. Took me a week to download a 60MB update for an astronomy program on my ipod and there are more updates but by the time I downloaded them, there are probably new ones out.

March 2013

Easter Sunday, we had an egg hunt around the station and in the afternoon an open house in the dark sector. From the 44 people on station only 12 people are involved in the science experiments the rest is support personal, so the open house gives all of them a good opportunity to see what we are doing down here. About 15 people made their way out to the dark sector for a 3 hour tour.
Really warm day above -30C, a few days ago it was below -65C

Last night we had our sunset celebrations. The galley staff did an awesome job again, but we had to disappoint them a bit since most of us had to give up after course number 9. We had to skip the last 2 courses and go over to dessert.
Quite a few people were hanging out in the galley until the wee hours of the morning and the weather was cooperating and we had some nice glimpses at the disappearing sun. Ross, Kris and I went up to the Met-tower and took some pictures form up there, great sky but cold. Unfortunately very shortly after, the display on my new Canon stopped working, what a bummer, you don't expect that from such an expensive model :(.

Two minutes past midnight: we just had the equinox, i.e. the center of the sun is right above the equator, if the Earth would be perfect sphere without any atmosphere, the center of the sun would be right at the horizon now. But with real conditions we got a few more days of sunlight before it will disappear for nearly 6 months :)

We started our CMB observations a few days ago, telescope still has some problems, but it looks like we are getting there. The past month I spent many hours cleaning up MAPO, our lab, organizing tools and get things ready for winter operations.
The prioritized the internet usage, but as for now it became more or less unusable :( Phone calls supposed to work good, but anything else is a nightmare, trying for days to get some updates downloaded.

Took the big mirror down that enables us to look over the ground shield at a source on a mast at DSL and do the beam mapping for the telescope. We had quite a few problems with the telescope, but so far it was mostly software, electronics and computers. Now we can get the telescope ready for our CMB observations.

Now it's the time of the long shadows :)

Already March. The sun is getting a bit lower every day. Temperatures are about -50C (-60F) ambient. Finished most of the outside work, but still the BAM (Big A** Mirror), the big calibration mirror is still on the telescope and has to be taken off and the baffles put on. The whole beam mapping is a bit of a chaos this year. First the chopper, our beam mapping source broke, because it was never tested in the US, so Steele and I had to redesign it, more computer problems and satellite bottle neck, because we are sending 5 times more data out then our allowance is. But hopefully we get the beam mapping down rather sooner than later and can get the telescope ready for winter operations. With the temperatures now and it's not gonna get warmer it will be already painful to do all the outside work, summer folks seem to always forget that ;). MAPO is still a bit of a mess, but it's getting better every day.

Already had our first leak in the plumbing system in the station, which was expected, of course we don't have a plumber this year and the problem exists for over 5 years and it is very simple - waterless urinals and copper pipes don't go together - no rocket science there, and we had over a couple of dozen leaks the past years, but are they gonna do anything about it up North, nope. Sometimes you can just wonder.

February 2013

Last flight today - closing day, but what a screwed up one, even I haven't had one like that before.
First the closing was pushed one day forward to today, which is not so unusual, but we were still missing two winter-overs, that had a straight through flight from Christchurch, yesterday, i.e. they weren't even taken to McMurdo, but stayed on the airfield and transferred to a plane to the Pole. The only problem the plane had do return after a couple of hours because of mechanical issues. Then one the winter-overs quite this morning, we found a replacement under the summer folks, so instead of leaving today, the replacement stays now for at least the next 8.5 months as well.
Three flights were scheduled for today, the first one with the two new winter-overs and precious cargo made it all the way to the Pole but couldn't land because of mechanical issues. The two other planes were already in the air, big problem, so the third plane had to return to McMurdo as well (it was about a good hour out) and had to wait for the first plane to land there, get the pax and cargo and return to the Pole.
At around 1400 the first plane (originally the second) made it to Pole and took about 20 people out, and then finally in the evening at 1840 the second and last (originally the third) plane made it with the two new winter-overs and the cargo and winter-over mail. The two new guys never been at the Pole nor in Antarctica before. Now that is an example of screwed up hiring !!! I hope they like it here, because the next plane is in 8.5 months :)

WINTER 2013 begins :)

Today the last of the SPUD team left, the last 12 days were long ones and there is still a lot to be done and if then one of the detectors craps out just a few days before end of summer doesn't help at all. But it looks like we got a working telescope now, but if the last receiver will be fully functional, we will know in a few days, when it's cooled down to around 4K.

There is still quite a bit of stuff left over from summer to do and of course a BIG clean up, the lab is a mess...

January 2013

Flight got canceled after being in the evening, it was moved to a back up mission, i.e. nearly canceled, only if they can't go to the prime location they would go to Pole. Then transport time 0715 for an early flight and after hauling everything up there, they told us it was canceled - great could have stayed my extra day in CHC after all...

Heading South - after some pretty bumpy flights around half the globe, with the fasten seat belt signs on for most of the time, I got into Christchurch yesterday afternoon. But I had the most amazing flight from Sydney to Christchurch, quite strong rain in SYD but as closer we got to NZ the weather was getting better and better and as we approached the South Island, barely any clouds showed on the Westcoast and the you could see all of the Southern Alps and a phenomenal view of Mt Cook with Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo.

The C17 weren't flying yet, because the ice runway in McMurdo is still too soft for wheeled aircrafts, so my stay in lovely CHC got cut short to just that night and I had to be back at the CDC the next morning at 0700.
So onto a LC130, that means 3 additional hours of flight compared to the C17, but I was the only passenger next to much needed cargo and I on the flight deck for take off and landing, which was awesome :)

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