Questions for Pablo at the Pole – Round One

Hi all,

It’s my day off, so it’s time for round one of “Questions for Pablo at the Pole“! I’ll tackle a couple of the easy ones first:


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“Where can I buy one of those red parkas?”

Viavant, Piedmont CA
The Expedition Parka was designed for the USAP by Canada Goose, and is available retail, if you know what to look for online. For about $625 you can have your very own Big Red, or Big Yellow, or Big Tan, for that matter. You’ll need to sew on your own radar reflective square in the back, along with Velcro and USAP patch on the left breast pocket.

Updated: Barry has found a source selling them online for only $250! http://www.outdooronlinesale.com/canada-goose-mens-expedition-parka_c1159

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“How are you getting all this internet connectivity from the South Pole? Does your cell phone work there? Can you send texts?”

Sharon, Palo Alto, CA

Not counting emergency LF radio, we’ve got three different ways of getting to the outside world.

1) There’s a thin but constant Iridium satellite link available 24 hours a day. Short email messages and phone calls go out on a best-effort basis if there’s bandwidth left over from essential station communications.

2) There’s an old tired GOES-3 satellite that’s still functional, but too slow to be commercially viable, so we get to use that for about 7 hours each day when it’s above the horizon and not frazzled by solar activity.

3) There’s also a spiffy new TDRSS-5 satellite. It’s in demand for stuff like NASA communications and Bob-knows-what, but the station is allocated about 3-4 windows of time on it each day, lasting about 45 minutes each.

We’ve got an intranet page showing satellite pass times, and they’re also displayed on the overhead monitors in the galley.

Cell phones? Not at all, though I carry my Android around to check email when in range of wifi.

Updated: I was remiss in not mentioning Brent Jones, OAE and Polie extraordinaire, who was the source of gobs of information getting me ready for the Pole. Back in the ’90s, it was Brent who first got Pole online – you can read all about it, and see a screenshot of the very first internet connection from the bottom of the world at http://www.southpolestation.com/trivia/90s/ftp1.html

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“Is it like you are in outer space to be on the south pole, because it is so different compared to the rest of the world, and do you ever have to wear an astronaut suit because it is so cold?”

Cymbre S., Denver, CO
Yes, it does feel a little like outer space, I think. Not that I’ve ever been in outer space (I want! I want!), but the remoteness is a huge factor. We’re about 850 miles away from the nearest other “civilization” (McMurdo Station, on the coast), and the physical and emotional remoteness really sinks in. That combines with the harshness of the environment to make it feel pretty alien.
I’m mostly acclimated now, so if I’m just scampering from my Jamesway to the bathroom (24 steps, but who’s counting?), I’ll just put on my thermal boots and Big Red. But going outside for more than a minute or so requires a suiting up ritual that feels like you’re putting on a spacesuit – thermals for top and bottom, Carhartt bib, fleece top over it, Smartwool “Expedition Weight” socks, bunny boots, balaclava, neck gaiter, goggles, Big Red, merino glove liners, leather mittens. Whew. I’m already tired putting them all on. Then through the air curtain, out the big freezer door, and there you are, staring out from the only habitable outpost smack dab in the middle of a sheet of ice the size of the United States. Two miles above sea level. Sure does feel like space.

Of course, I have it easy – I work indoors and only have to go outside for the 10-minute walking “commute” from my Jamesway to the station. The folks who spend all day outdoors have special gear. And all this changes later in the summer, once it gets warmer (-20C). Folks will go out in bibs and hats, and just leave the big parkas behind.

Thanks for writing, all! As I get settled into the routine of the station, I’ll try to answer these more punctually. Some of them (e.g. water freezing before it hits the ground) I want to get to soon, before things warm up too much. So please keep sending me your questions!

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