8. Nov. 3, 1998, Wednesday: Patriot Hills Camp
The winds seem lighter this morning, but it is still very, very cold. The pilots were inclined to take off this morning but conditions are not good and the surface definition is very poor. The only real time constraints on our trip are the arrival November 15 of the FACH Commander-in-Chief, who is making a trip to the South Pole in a helicopter. The twin otters will support this excursion.
By 3:30 the air was calm, but no call came to fly. Patriot Hills is somewhat indistinct in the distance, enveloped in a mist, so maybe the satellite photos show a weather system drifting our way. Alex visited the Adventure Network International camp and found that Simon, our field guide from the last expedition, was camp manager in the absence of Steve, who had just had his appendix removed. We are good friends with them, and they got us a weather report that confirmed poor current conditions. We should be careful to pick a good time because it is a chance to find a meteorite concentration and open the door for next year's expedition and the robotic meteorite locating demonstration.
We took quite a few group photos during the day, posing next to Nomad.
Alex, Mark, Matt and Mike were in the tent during part of the day doing obscure things. Actually, they were trying to deal with a joystick that doesn't control Nomad properly, possibly because of the low temperatures. Mark was networking computers, trying to control Nomad with wireless commands. The plan is to drive it out of the camp area, fire up its sensors and put it into autonomous travel mode. As part of the firing-up process, Stewart will activate the laser beam and the stereo cameras which will be used for obstacle avoidance. He is not worried about the laser -- it's designed for temperatures down to -30°C -- but the stereo cameras are good only down to 0°C and therefore need heaters. He has already seen ice crystals forming on the inner surfaces of the lenses, and these will melt on heating. Hopefully, the equipment will still work.
As the day moves on, I see six people, counting me, sitting in the Endurance tent. Four of them are operating laptops. Pascal describes the environment as getting geekier and geekier.
Liam just came in with the news that we should be ready to leave for the side trip in an hour and a half. After some discussion with the pilots, we decided to leave instead next morning, so we would not be working in the field all night. The meteorologist said that it looked like clear weather in Pirrit Hills for the next several days, so it was not a case of taking advantage of a small window. Anything can happen, of course. Here at Patriot Hills the weather is dead calm.