After a two week flight, a year long layover on the ice, one land-train, two boat rides, and a cross country road trip, Theo is back in Princeton. And what a joy it is to see her again. Last I saw her, she was strapped to a magic carpet, waiting to be towed away by the British Antarctic Survey.
The majority of the effort to recover Theo was done by the British. Their pilots flew me to the site. Their Pisten Bully dug Theo out of the snow. Their land train dragged Theo to the coast. And their personnel helped me disassemble the payload while keeping me safe in an harsh, frozen environment. Theo and I would not have have survived the trip without their assistance.
Theodosia got her name more than a decade ago (well before Hamilton became a broadway sensation), when Bill Jones googled the mass budget for our cryostat, 1783-1813. The first result was Theodosia Burr Alston, daughter of Aaron Burr. We knew that Aaron Burr was buried in Princeton, making it an early frontrunner for the name of the new cryostat. And when we discovered that Theodosia was kidnapped by pirates, well it made the name irresistible.
Theo arrived in Princeton in January 2010 and I arrived a little more than a year and half later. And for the first four years of my graduate school career, Theo’s timeline drove my life. When she was running, Anne, Jon, Sasha, and I were at the whims of the cryostat.
Theo flew on January 1, 2015, with the help of the United States Antarctic Program. Theo was housed in a gondola designed and constructed by the University of Toronto and was decked out with components from Case Western and the Jet Propulsion Lab at CalTech. All the science data that will go into my thesis was acquired during this two week flight, a flight that could not have possibly gone better.
The landing, however, could not have been worse. The payload landed about 1000 miles from the nearest permanent camp. This made a full recovery impossible that season. The nearest base was the British base, and they were kind enough to recover our hard drives for us that season. The rest of the payload stayed on the ice for an entire winter. The British flew me to the site the following season, where we recovered the majority of the payload, including Theo.
All the recovered hardware returned to Princeton this Monday, and we have been disassembling it all week. It has been surprisingly fun unceremoniously tearing into the experiment that we worked so hard to perfect. Forgotten memories, both good and bad, were rekindled when I saw components I had worked on years ago. All were mementos of the work that went into acquiring the data that I am analyzing today. When we started this entire endeavor, Bill told us that every byte of data is precious because we will work so hard for it. Theo’s return reminds us all of this fact.