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9 January, 1997

Hanging out at McMurdo

It is snowing and blowing today and really feels like the Antarctic. The storm hads grounded all of the flights so the helicopters are all tie down.

Today is helicopter safty school for me. The National Science Foundation requires that all persons traveling to field sites on their new helicopters take a helicopter safety course that lasts about three hours. The course was very interesting and logical if one were to stop and think. Imagine this. You have to get on the helicopter and there is only a pilot. You have never flown on one before No one is there to load your gear or tell you how to even open a door. The engine warms up and the rotor blades are spinning. It is loud and windy with sand and snow blowing. What do you do first? What should you never do?

The first and most instinctive reaction of people is to hurry . As you get close to those rotating blades and that wind and roar of the engines, you want to throw your gear in and slam the door. Your heart speeds up, you start to sweat and become careless. That is when accidents happen. Much of the time in class was spent on looking at what to expect and how to avoid the instinctive reaction such as when your hat blows off in the wind you go after it and end up in the rotor or tail blades. Not a good idea. Since there is only the pilot, each passenger needs to know how to start the locator beacon in case of emergency, how to turn off the engine and other life saving skills. There are two small four seat copters and one that can hold up to 8. Many of the field researchers are taken to the field, dropped off for a few hours and then picked up later. Since the weather can change in an instant here, all passengers take a survival kit along. I could be the only other person on the helicopter when my turn comes to go to the dry valley. Since all of the flights were cancelled due to no visability today, I may have to wait another day. I want to be ready for any situation that may present itself so I am glad for the chance to learn more .These people are really serious about safety here. They also lovetheir helicopters.

They are new and have that new car smell. They shine!

I was invited to attend a reception tonight for the NSF (you know what that means don't you) site visiting team and another team from Goddard Space Flight Center. It is quite fun to talk with all the scientists who have projects at the pole. NASA (you know what that is too don't you) has several scientists here looking at their research receiving stations. I was invited to go with the small group that wanted to hike to observation hill and visit the Scott hut on Hut point. NASAMike, a NASA scientist has a digital camera and has taken pictures of the pole and of our hike to observation hill where the memorial for Scott is situated . Check out his web site. Just do a web search for NASAMIKE. He has some great shots. I am even in there so you can see that I am really in the Antarctic. I might also get some shots of the dry valley for you.

Tomorrow I plan on getting the heilcopter ride to the dry valley and will send the next message from there. However, if the weather remains bad, I will take some time to tell you about PI's. Do you know what they are? Or who they can be? Or what they do? What do they have to do with science? See what you can find out before I tell you.

See who can find the most information using the web before tomorrow. O.K. Bye for now. More tomorrow.

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