Yep, that’s right, last week we were invaded by a group of about 14 Russians. They arrived here on an old Anataov 3 bi-plane intending to check out the station for about 4 or 5 hours and then head for the Patriot Hills base on the coast near Chile. It was quite the collection of dignitaries, including Arthur Chillingrov, the vice president of the Russian Duma. (Basically, the equivalent of our Speaker of the House) Their arrival was quite spectacular, as the did a couple of low high speed passes down the ski-way before they actually landed. They’d come gliding down with the engine at low idle, and then open the throttle wide open and head up again. Well, they must have done some damage to their engine because when they attempted to start their engine for take off later, it would just barely run, and produced an impressive amount of smoke. Well, they all got out looking kind of embarrassed, and headed back to the station. We let them use the radios to call back to their base, and the Duma guy even used our satellite phone to place a call to the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. I have to admit thinking about trying to get that phone number from the Iridium phone’s redial memory, but it had been erased by our management. I figured it might be fun to do a little prank calling, but apparently management frowns on pranks that could potentially lead to world war III. Well, they ended up staying a couple of nights here sleeping on couches in the library the first night, and on cots in the Gym the second night. Only two of them spoke any English, but I had a chance to talk to a couple of them in whatever Russian I remembered from high school language classes. Its been 10 years, but I could pick out about 1 out of ever 10 words they said. I think a new goal for the winter is to brush up on my Russian, and maybe I’ll get a chance to talk to Mr. Chillingrov again if I stop in Moscow on my around the world trip. Anyway, they never did get their plane fixed, so we flew them out on one of our regular flights to McMurdo. They are leaving their plane here over the winter, so of course the winter overs are wondering just how tough it would be to fix it up. A few of us have pilot licenses, so we could potentially get into a lot of trouble. The group was pretty thankful to us, and left behind a large stock of Vodka as a present, which we’ve decided to take advantage of on February 2nd for a groundhog’s day party.
We had our first real fire the other day as well. One of the welders had been cutting a beam in the carpenter shop, and had left to take a break. Apparently some sparks had smoldered behind a pile of wood and they ignited while he was gone. When he got back there were 8 foot high flames up on the wall near where he had been working. Luckily he was able to get the fire extinguished very quickly with a dry chemical extinguisher before the rest of us got there. It was still pretty cool, because I got to use my breathing mask for the first time in a real situation. There was no real damage to the carp shop, so we all figured that we got lucky. We’re hoping that this is our one fire for the year.
Beside the Russians, we also had a contingent of American congressional staffers stop by for an overnight trip Well, it was supposed to be just a day trip, but due to weather, the plane they were supposed to leave on wasn’t able to land. Once again, the library served as an emergency bunk house. Good thing we got new comfy couches in this year! One of the highlights of their visit was a ceremony to place a time capsule in the new station. This is supposed to be opened in 50 years, in the year 2052. Assuming everything in life works out, it would be pretty cool to figure out a way to come back that year and watch the opening ceremony. One of the things that went in the capsule was a picture of the new station that was signed by all the hands on board this year. Its interesting to note that this is actually the 2nd time capsule at the pole. The first one is buried somewhere in the old station, but no one seems to know exactly where. It was supposed be opened in the year 2000, but it just couldn’t be located. The NSF may be putting together funds to actually search for it in a year or two.
Well, as of today there are 30 days left until the station officially closes for the winter. Its hard to believe right now that in less than a month we’ll be back to temperatures of -60. Just yesterday we broke a record for the warmest temperature since December 14th, 1984. We hit the scorching temperature of +5F, which is very close to the all time high of +7.5 recorded on December 27th, 1978. The warm weather is due to a low pressure system that’s originated over the Weddell sea. Its produced lot warm weather, which would be enjoyable except for the wind gusts of up to 38 mph. Walking around outside is awesome in these conditions. It makes you very thankful for the flag lines which point towards the major buildings outside the dome.
The next big thing for me is my week long vacation in McMurdo. I’m leaving the Pole on Tuesday for a week for a well deserved week of R&R. I’m planning on attending Happy Camper School, which is an overnight camping trip to learn snow survival skills, and I’m hoping to catch a morale cruise on the icebreakers that just arrived.Â If that happens I’m quite sure I’ll get to see lots of penguins (finally!), and hopefully a killer whale or two. I’ll let you know how it goes.