16. Nov. 11, 1998: Patriot Hills Camp
Stewart arrived early this morning and tried starting Nomad, but it was dead and could not be revived. Last night it had shut itself off and then, after repeated attempts to restart it, it had started again but had only run for about five minutes before again shutting down. And now it appeared to be down for good, definitively. Mike, Alex and Stewart tinkered with it until their hands were freezing and then came into the Endurance tent to warm up. There followed a rather tense discussion of alternatives, during which Alex apparently developed a case of "the nervous eats." He called for the last box of cookies, grabbed a handful and passed it around. Soon everyone was infected with the same condition and sat around munching cookies while discussing the situation. The on-again, off-again nature of the final failure suggested a loose connection somewhere in the electrical generating system. The history of this system is that the original generator was found to be inadequate, so a larger generator was installed. This larger generator could almost fit into the volume allotted for the smaller one, but some components had to be demounted and installed elsewhere in the robot -- no one was sure where. "Have some more cookies?" "Thanks, don't mind if I do." The entire generator is so centrally mounted that the robot would have to be torn down to get to it, in any case in which an effort was made to locate the loose connection. There was also a component consisting of a little black box with wires leading into it and wires coming out of it, for which no one really knew the function. "Cookies?" "O.K."
"O.K., so what's our backup plan?" from Alex. The only alternative seems to be bypassing the entire generating system and hooking in another generator. This generator could be pulled on a sled behind Nomad, which would work, but which would be a rather humiliating situation. "My god, who ate all the cookies?"
Lunch was a rather depressing, introspective affair with some intense discussions with the Chilean mechanics. Ricardo (combat name, "Peta") produced a wiring manual for a different Honda generator, which showed an oil reservoir with a cutoff switch that activates to turn off the motor when the oil level gets too low. This had actually happened to Nomad during the Atacama Desert campaign on some occasions when the oil was a little low and it tried to descend a steep slope. Sib and Mike were further stimulated to check this switch by the fact that Stewart had added an entire bottle of oil the night before; just before the troubles began. There was no real evidence, but it was suggestive. They found the oil switch stuck in the off position, and once it had been unstuck Nomad started right up. Rebirth! Rejoicing all around! The Patriot Hills campaign can continue!
More card- and letter-writing this afternoon, as the ANI flight has not come. We had near-whiteout conditions for most of the day, so they must have canceled the flight, at least until tomorrow. With apologies to Mawson, this story might be titled, "The Home of the Whiteout."
Last night Simon had told Alex that Dimi had called, asking for a call-back. Alex called back today, but only got Dimi's answering machine.
At about 10 p.m., Nomad left Patriot Hills camp, heading for a waypoint 2 km straight ahead of it and in autonomous mode (i.e., it is being monitored, but not controlled with a joystick). Once to the waypoint, it will receive further directions. It is traveling at 30 cm/s, so should take 111 min, or around 2 hours, to get there. I suggested we should get Stewart to pipe it out of camp, but he protested that he was only learning to play the bagpipes and couldn't do an adequate job of it.