10. Nov.5, 1998, Thursday:
Pirrit Hills Camp
Rose around 11 a.m. and had a standard (Chilean) breakfast: a sandwich of dry bread, tasteless sliced ham and tasteless sliced cheese, along with some Zuco (no pisco) and coffee or tea. Then we took a walk over to a moraine that bounds the basin to the west. The sky was overcast, there was a medium S wind and the seeing was bad. Most of the rocks on the ice appeared to be granites but there was a scattering of dark meteowrongs to make life difficult. There was nothing more to be done, so we huddled in our sleeping bags in our tents until dinner time and then retired. The wind came up very strong during the night, shaking the tent. I was in a double sleeping bag that I could not zip up over my chest, so threw my parka over the exposed top of me and weathered the storm that way.
Patriot Hills Camp
Nomad is functional today. Stewart started it early, at 9 a.m., but then had to wait for Sib, who had been working late. Finally Sib appeared, and around noon Nomad started to work well, trying to avoid obstacles. It was slow to detect some obstacles and had a problem with the backup maneuver: it always turns right after a back up, so if the obstacle is to the right of Nomad's center line it can require a few repetitions to get around it. Other than that, the robot handles the mildly rough terrain without problems.
We had no communications with the field party. Alex spent the morning trying to get a phone patch with Commander Salazar to see if we had obtained a reduced rate on our communications, and with Comandante Barrueto to see if a package he had agreed to send to the U.S. had actually gone. Also tried Ramon Camiroaga, from ENTEL, to check on the status of a possible deal to reduce the price of communications. All attempts at communication were failures.
After lunch the group met to decide our approach for the next weeks. After checking possible routes to the other side of the Patriot Hills, it seems inadvisable to attempt to tow Nomad on a sled, so we will drive it around the eastern end. The original plan was to carry out the navigation demonstration at the end of the season, but with this change of plans it will be convenient to do it during the early traverse. Nomad will also accomplish some other goals along the way: it will interrupt its traverse to visit and operate within a field of scattered rocks. Panoramic images for landmark navigation and obstacle avoidance experiments will be performed in an area about five kilometers from the FACH camp.
The control tent will be mounted in a place that has line of sight communications with the entire area that Nomad will traverse in this first leg. The control tent will have the GPS base station, Sweeper (Mark Sibenac's computer) with the user interface, and Shivali (Stewart's computer) to display navigation information.
In the afternoon, Nomad drove close to the camp. The log indicates it drove a total of 1349 m. We parked it close to the "gas station" before ending the day's activities. Stewart has been working to fix the backup problem.
We finally solved the heating problem in the work tent: the kerosene heater we bought for last year's expedition, and then
never used, came in very handy. In a couple of hours it was running on the JP-1 fuel that FACH "gave" us for this purpose. It might seem strange that they burn jet fuel to heat tents, but it works fine.
A comment related to the meals: at the beginning they were very poor and we wondered if that was going to be the rule. The extreme conditions that FACH had when they first arrived were so severe that they lost most of the food, buried under a snow drift. In the last two days, however they relocated most of it and this has dramatically changed the amount and quality of the food. We hope the meals will keep improving, but we are already much better off than before.