17. Nov. 12, 1998, Thursday: Patriot Hills Camp

The day has "dawned" with weak sunlight, filtered through a thin cloud cover, and good visibility. There is no wind, so it seems quite pleasant out. All in all, a good day for making history. Today the project enters a new phase. Yesterday, with no fanfare Nomad started its trek around the eastern corner of Patriot Hills. The immediate goal is Camp Crickett, which had been set up with a single tent a few days ago. During Nomad's travels there is usually someone observing it, but it pays no attention. It is pursuing its goal of reaching a series of points (waypoints) whose geographic coordinates have been assigned following the planned traverse path. It is, of course, alert to the presence of any obstacles that may lie in its path, and is prepared to go around them. It is also, at this stage, still susceptible to radio control for supervision purposes.

Once at Camp Crickett it will demonstrate its navigating abilities by maneuvering around an area containing large rocks. It does this by locating all the observable rocks with its stereo cameras and making a map of the local region. Later, in the valley between Patriot Hills and Independence Hills, it will demonstrate meteorite-finding abilities and rock characterization abilities using Liam's spectrometer. These are the two demonstrations we have set as being essential to the success of the expedition. The fact that these will be done in Antarctica, under arguably the most forbidding circumstances possible on earth (with the single exception of the Antarctic winter), will be the basis on which to claim a note in the history books.

Very early this morning, Matt and Mike went out to Camp Crickett as its first occupants in order to provide a backup comms station for those times when Nomad loses direct contact with the nerve center at Patriot Hills Camp. When they arrived, however, and tried to start their generator, the pull cord was not meeting any resistance. Without tools, they then had to return here, leaving Nomad in a resting mode a few km from here. Certain members took over the camp kitchen for an unauthorized breakfast, carefully washing all their dishes and utensils in the (probably) vain hope that their activities would not be noticed. When I arrived for breakfast this morning, only Nicolas was there -- everyone else was sleeping. Alex came by at 11 a.m., got a siphoning hose, and left for Nomad's current position, presumably to start it up and get it on its way again. He returned at about 12:15, having started Nomad into its warmup mode. Matt and Mike are still in their sleeping modes. Sib's dormant period is at its peak in the middle of the day so, all in all, at his time the Endurance tent is a quiet place. Hardly a place, it would seem, where history is in the making. Yet the computers are here, waiting to be fired up, the generator to power them is purring outside the tent, Alex is taking a quiet moment to read from a novel, and Danilo is carrying out his task of studying our computer codes and making suggestions for improving them. This quiet scene will change as the day progresses.

It is 4:45 p.m. Stewart is at Camp Crickett, monitoring Nomad's progress. Sib is monitoring it too, from the Endurance tent, with his computer named "Sweeper." Sib can call up some snazzy graphics that give quick summary information about Nomad, partly in pictorial form (Figs. XX to be supplied by Sib).