I’m currently in Punta Arenas, Chile, getting ready to head down to Antarctica to recover SPIDER. I’m taking a drastically different route to Antarctica this year, heading through South America instead of New Zealand. SPIDER is currently in the middle of the Antarctic tundra, almost 500 km from the nearest field camp.
This part of Antarctica is largely run by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), and I will be traveling with them. I will take a DASH-7 down to the primary Antarctic British base, Rothera. There, I will wait until weather clears and I get the OK to head further. I will head to Sky Blu, which is a British blue ice runway. This is also the runway that many commercial outfits use to fly people in. (If you have $50,000 and want to go to Antarctica, this is where you’d land.) Sky Blu is a relatively small camp, and I probably will not stay for very long. From there, I will take a twin-otter to the SPIDER landing site.
When I get to the landing site, there will be what is called a “traverse” waiting for me. The traverse is a caravan of specially outfitted trucks that resupply inland sites. They will set up a small field camp and we will break down the payload. The full breakdown will take about four days. After it is fully broken down, the majority of the payload will be put onto the traverse. The traverse will slowly make its way to the coast, where the payload will be loaded onto a German ship and brought back to Punta Arenas.
Last year, the British were kind enough to fly out and get our hard drives for us. They couldn’t do a full recovery because the payload is much too large to fit in the plane, but we got our data back, which was by far the most important thing. They also took some pictures of the payload.
After everything is broken down and loaded onto the traverse, I will take some high value items and fly them back out the way we came in. In Punta Arenas, I will pack those high value items and ship them back to Princeton. Hopefully they make the full trip safely.