13. Nov. 8, 1998, Sunday:
Pirrit Hills Camp
By morning the wind had dropped to nothing and it was just very cold outside. Everyone is expecting the planes and starting to pack. By 11 a.m. a call comes over the radio: "Bufalo! Misterio!" and in a matter of seconds, an aircraft buzzes the camp. In a few minutes both twin otters are on the ground by the camp and people are emerging to help us break camp. The matter is over in about an hour, we are aboard, we have been rescued and are on our way back to Patriot Hills, a 35 minute flight. The Chilean camp looked almost good.
Patriot Hills Camp
Big changes had been wrought during our absence. The interior of the Endurance tent had been converted to a maze of wires connecting computers. My cot was the only one remaining. I was very grateful for this, especially since I had learned to hate the Expedition 25s. More important still, the stove for the missing Polarhaven shelter, that we had not used last year, showed up installed in the Endurance tent, so it was a WARM TENT.
There was a big party among the Chileans this night, in honor of Commando Day; two days late because the two commandos in camp had been away with us two days before. We were inevitably drawn in because Chilean partiers are even more outgoing and unreserved than their usual style. The wind was howling outside but inside was nothing but warmth.
Alex woke up for lunch and helped Stewart start the robot. The fuel line seems to be a problem every morning, so he taught him how to prime the motor.
After lunch Alex led a discussion of our immediate plans. Liam reported some damage to his equipment, probably as a result of the side trip. He felt he would need a couple of days to debug the instrument code and asked for more time to work with the robot around the camp. After discussing possible options, it was decided to send the robot as soon as possible to Camp Crickett and install the spectrometer as soon as we have good weather, whether that be at Patriot Hills Camp or Camp Crickett. We hope to carry out the navigation demonstration in a week, and this should allow time for the meteorite-finding demonstration and spectrometer use at the moraine. Christian will be responsible for putting together all the elements needed to set up Camp Crickett. These include tents, stakes, blankets, shovels, generator, fuel, power strips and electric heaters.
Matt, Pascal and Mike went to Windy Pass to finish setting up the Inmarsat station. They found that the equipment had survived the last two stormy days and nights. They finished setting up the solar panels and installed the power box that Liam left last season. The batteries in the power box, however, did not hold a charge. Stewart set up a copy of his navigation software for Danilo and Fernando to analyze and, hopefully, improve upon. He is somewhat pessimistic about Nomad's backing - up mode, and sees this as the main area for improvement.
From Comandante Mora comes word that Simon has invited the members of last January's expedition to dinner tomorrow evening at the ANI camp. A lot of our old friends from ANI are back again, so it should be a lot of fun.
Alex and Stewart went to Windy Pass to meet Pascal, Mike and Matt who are working with the Inmarsat setup. They were unsuccessful in making a phone connection. Pascal, Mike and Matt returned to camp; Alex and Stewart fixed the wireless ethernet connection to the camp. When they left, the Inmarsat phone was receiving signals but transmissions do not work. After dinner, Mark and Mike returned to Windy Pass. The small generator was frozen and the box had snow inside. They connected a fresh battery but noticed that the inverter output was only 80v. AC. They returned with the power box, replaced the batteries with two heavy-duty deep charge units, charged them up and installed them at Windy Pass. Their observation about the Inmarsat system is that presumably due to the cold it is using much more power here than it did during their successful trial of it in Pittsburgh.
Matt, Alex and two commandos left around 1 a.m. to set up Camp Crickett. The commandos returned after an hour because they are required to get up early in the morning. Matt and Alex stayed until 4 a.m. They left the camp almost operational, with a tent, power and fuel, and the wireless ethernet connection successfully tested.
In the evening, Mike and Mark carried out some locomotion tests on Nomad. Liam worked all night on the spectrometer and hi-resolution camera codes. At 5 a.m. the survivors prepared a breakfast of eggs with mushrooms, mixed with cheese. Liam, Alex, Matt, Mike and Sib relax and chat over the meal. The robot was left running so that Stewart, our characteristically early riser, could start immediately in the morning with preparations for the upcoming traverse to Camp Crickett.
Alex had written a report earlier in the day that was to be sent over the Chilean hf modem to Santiago, and from there retransmitted to the U.S. and our Chilean collaborators. It was actually transmitted on the 9th. The report follows:
November 9th, 1998
General situation: Robot up and running everyday. Satisfactory progress towards the polar terrain navigation demonstration and about to start the traverse around east side of Patriot Hills. Semi successful side expedition, one meteorite found at Martin Hills. None at Pirrit Hills. Ongoing preparations for Meteorite Classification Demonstration. People healthy and motivated despite severe weather. Excellent support from FACH.
Weather: significantly worse than last season. Average temperature is -20C, wind chill factor has got to -65C. Winds and blizzards of 40 knots and gusts of 50 knots.
Robot: almost fully functional. All computers operating. Takes two hours to reach working temperature every morning. Often problems to start that are solved by priming fuel. Once started runs fine. NDDS still causes occasional problems, but does not crash more than once a day. The robot allows permanent development and testing. Mechanical running very well except for one misalignment of left steering in Punta Arenas, which does not affect the mobility and locomotion. The left rear wheel motor got loose and was tightened.
Polar Navigation Demonstration: Stereo perception useless in most conditions (unless very sunny and good contrast). Laser perception works fine unless severe blizzard (it detects only flying snow). Navigation based mostly on laser (tilted up a little bit to improve early obstacle detection). Back up maneuver improved, laser data processing improved to cope with flying snow, autonomous navigation improved by integration of odometry when differential GPS fails. This last was tested and showed promising results.
Side Expedition: One meteorite (probable chondrite) found in Martin Hills (by Luciano Bravo, one of the FACH field guides) after two hours of search. None found at Pirrit Hills after three days of search. Spectrometer was not deployed at the field. Regular color pictures were taken and rock samples brought back. That activity is finished and the Twin Otter planes might leave Patriot Hills shortly for the season. We used total of ~8.5 hours.
Meteorite Classification Demonstration: spectrometer (not mounted on the robot yet) shows problems with exposure time. Serious (Liam) problems with Science color camera software that is incomplete and difficult to complete and fix. Liam prizes Johnís work with the spectrometer code.
Communications: Inmarsat was deployed in Windy Pass. In one occasion digital and voice comms were possible. It has not been possible to setup the station reliably yet. This file sent through HF modem to Santiago and e-mail to USA. Wireless ethernet communication between robot, work tent, Windy Pass station and future Camp Cricket (south east end of Patriot Hills) up and running.
Experiments: Matt successfully finished code to acquire color panoramic images. Locomotion has not started yet. MMW radar data acquired in severe visibility (blizzards) conditions.
Future Plans: change the order of activities starting with the traverse as the polar navigation demonstration and leaving meteorite activities for the next week closer to the Independence Hills moraine. Starting tomorrow (Nov. 10th) robot navigates through blue ice, scattered rocks and sastrugi towards Camp Cricket. Total of this first leg of the traverse is 5.8 km. Locomotion and mobility tests and panoramic imagery acquisition will be performed during the traverse. Next leg ends in the tip of Independence Hills Moraine.
People: Generally enthusiastic and motivated. Initial shock caused by the severe weather lasted the first three days and the attention turned to the technical work. Integration of new members satisfactory and there is more and more technical participation and interaction. The work time has shifted to wake up for lunch or even later because the 24 hour daylight. Work till 4 or 6 in the morning.
Other: polar haven tent missing from last season deposit. Only the pole bag was recovered, rest of tent lost. Endurance tent is work tent. Stove from cache deployed and keeping us warm.