Golf Balls, lasers and NASA

“Wanna touch it? Very few people on earth will get to touch one of these.” I feel like even fewer people get asked that question. I’m getting a tour of the NASA facility. NASA has a permanent station on the ice. It’s surprised me a bit how easy it is to get tours of all the facilities on station. I’ve never been on the ice during summer, but everyone tells me the pace is so much slower during the winter that opportunities to go check out other work stations can be much more abundant.

It’s unlikely that I’ll get to travel much beyond the initial stages of the shelf ice or climb Mt Erebus or go on some of the other outside adventures on that are occasionally on offer during the summer. But I got to touch the giant NASA antenna. Officially, it’s a communications transit point for data coming to and from satellites orbiting the earth. Depending on what plane a satellite is in in relation to the earth, Antarctica provides the most contact. Unofficially, it’s a comms link to aliens or Nazi bases, depending on your flavor of conspiracy theory. There isn’t a lot of science happening in the winter, but the NASA guys are always here. They operate their antenna out of the “Big Golf Ball” on the top of a hill, as opposed to the Little Golf Ball which is down a ways from there. The Big Golf Ball is visible from town on clear days. Our homage to science.

The other big project this winter is shooting lasers into space to look at temperature waves to try and better understand climate change. Or something along those lines. Once we go to the part about shooting lasers at space I basically checked out. Whatever comes after “shooting lasers at space” is kind of irrelevant. It just sounded amazing. There’s a great, big, green laser aimed at space. I put my hand in it during my tour of that facility. I still have my hand. But once it gets darker, we can go down and watch the giant, green laser get shot at space. I can think of worse ways to spend an afternoon.

It’s been pretty cool to have all this access. A person can get lost in the day-to-day of just living down here. Get up, go to work, try to not freeze your ass off. Always waiting for the social event. The periodic reminder that we are in Antarctica. We are here in support of science aimed at providing a better understanding of our planet and the changes it is undergoing, providing vital satellite communication is most certainly welcome.

But it’s not all puppies and rainbows and “Yay science!” Unfortunately, sometimes the NASA guys break loose from the Big Golf Ball. And sometimes, when left to their own devices, they lead Trivia Night. Prior to them getting loose, my team had been in possession of the Trivia Trophy for the prior two weeks. It’s a pretty legitimate trophy. People tend to put a tremendous effort into their projects down here, it’s something different to do. It had a spout connected to a middle cylinder for ice and a great cup attached to the top for some sort of alcohol. It’s looks like a smaller version of the Stanley Cup make expressly for doing shots. I wanted to maintain our steadfast grip on the Trivia Trophy.

“What’s the boiling point of this element? What comet blah blah? In regards to this volcano on planet XYZ…..”

Seriously, the NASA guys just fucked us at trivia.

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