Friday, 27 September 2013

Concordia Base Log
By: Adrianos Golemis, ESA research MD

Time:  L-60 (September 2013)
Temperature: -
Week: - 
Sunlight: -

Morale: High

Log Entry #04 – A Planet that is Farthest From and Little Ode to Fiction

September, the beginning of Autumn in the North Hemisphere, Spring in the South. I had just begun to think more globally since the day I decided for certain that I’ d join the forthcoming Concordia winterover expedition

Ten days of vacation with Judith in the Greek island of Santorini were really refreshing and helped shame my decision. After all, there is nothing you fear in the presence of the summer sun, and with nice people around you!

After graduating from the International Space University in Strasbourg at the end of August, I had one week to spend with my family in Greece before I set out for China, where with other colleagues we were to attend the International Astronautical Congress, one of the greatest annual events for the space community. This year, the hosts were Beijing.

That same only week was all the time I had to pack my belongings for one year! So with my parents’ help I dedicated most of the time to preparations. When you travel to Concordia, the luggage you can carry with you is limited, same as when you travel to any country by plane. Still, to endure the isolation of the winter it is practical to carry a multitude of other things with you, personal memorabilia as well as useful tools. All these you have to pack and send to the French Polar Institute, IPEV, located at Brest, Bretagne. From Brest they will be loaded first to planes and then to ships, in order to cross half the Earth’s latitudes before they arrive to a coastal Antarctic Station, like the French Dumont D’Urville, in Terre Adelie. Then, the most exciting part of the journey begins: The containers together with fuel and other commodities will traverse the Antarctic mainland to reach Concordia, on raid vehicles. It is a journey of 8 days, in complete solitude, navigating by GPS and using radio communications as the only reference. I would love to participate in such an adventure, although given my post at Concordia, this is rather unlikely. At least my belongings will enjoy the experience! We are allowed to ship up to 120 kg to Concordia in this way. Among the things I packed were two bottles of Greek Ouzo which I hope to share with my winterover companions, provided they survive the frosty temperatures and come out intact.

There were a few funny moments as I bought supplies for one year on the ice. For example, I had never before thought how much toothpaste I would need for a year. I just went to the nearest supermarket to buy some when the tube was out. Yet next year I would not have this luxury! After finishing the packing for Concordia, I began packing for my trip to China. It was trivial in comparison.

The IAC conference at Beijing was very rewarding on the professional side, but what was invaluable was the meeting with old friends from every corner of our planet. I treasured those moments, knowing that it would be long before I am reunited with them again. Luckily we had the chance to visit parts of China too before we left – and with my Greek friend Dina, we dared also the trip to Lhasa in Tibet. The massive cultural experience aside, it was a great journey because it allowed me to prepare better for Concordia: the 4000 m altitude of Lhasa is equivalent to the 3200 m at the polar regions, like Dome Circe. This is because Earth is not entirely spherical, but (as the name suggests) possesses the shape of a geoid. The bad sleep, headaches, fatigue and shortness of breath that I would experience because of the altitude at Lhasa would give me a glimpse of what the start of my stay at Concordia would be. It also provided me with a useful piece of advice: to completely avoid alcohol until acclimatized to hypoxia.

Picture #6: A journey to “the roof of the world” was good preparation for Concordia
On the return journey from Beijing, I had to transit through Munich and Lyon. Despite the very distinct accent between German and French, little did I understand that I was constantly entering a different country; instead it all blended into my mind and I had the sensation that I was merely “back home, in Europe”. When you return from China, all the European languages appear to be so similar, based on related sounds and etymologies. The European Union flag, proudly waving in the middle mast on the top of Concordia Station, emits the same ambience and gives birth to a similar feeling: Europe, united.

Considering my future abode, I soon began to ponder the truly astonishing similarities it bears to a human outpost on another planet, especially as depicted in science fiction. Scenes of many movies flung into my mind, until I revisited in memory the imaginary planet Hoth, a barren icy world, home only to a few isolated daredevils, who survive in the (mostly revered amongst fans) Echo Base. That is how the following score by the musical genius, John Williams, came to my mind…

Ϡ A planet that is farthest from, by John Williams:

To paraphrase a popular expression from a modern work of science fiction, “If there’s a bright centre to our planet Earth, Concordia is the spot that is farthest from”. The above musical piece was originally written for a desert planet, but I reckon it will do just as well for our remote shelter in the heart of Antarctica. 

Among other things, next year I would have the privilege to live in a place almost inspired by a fiction novel. I cherished this thought and immediately wondered about the much underestimated value of fiction. I sincerely doubt I would ever be nominated for the Concordia post if I had never indulged in reading science fiction books or if my imagination had never been captivated by the exhilarating new worlds conceived by vivid minds, and shared through means of prose or picture.

Fiction and imagination is what bridges dry reality with the exciting potential of the future. Unfortunately, there are many people that dismiss science fiction today only because of its “unrealism” or on the grounds that “these things would never come to be”. Even worse, many people watch a fiction film and focus only on the optical effects or the action. But in fact there are grains of impressive ideas in many science fiction works, grains that are worth cultivating in our minds and see the future spring out of them. But they usually lay in the background behind the action, harder to understand or to trace – and that’s also a mystical thing about them.

Arthur C. Clarke was one of the most renowned science fiction writers of late and also the Chancellor of the world’s first international university for space. Here’s a way to bridge a vision with reality… 

Great ideas that enrich the present have been born out of fictional visions and dreams for the future. Let us not forget that the great visionary, Jules Verne, was once writing fiction, before much of his imaginary creations sprung to life, to take hold of the present. Fiction stretches the vectors of reality to make them fit a larger, more complete perception of our world. So, next time you watch a science fiction movie or read a novel that touches upon new ideas for the future, give it some thought, it might lead you to the most improbable of places!

Soon I will be able to share my thoughts from my own “fictional” experience, in a place far, far away…҉

Twitter: @Astrovenator
Call Concordia Station!  See how here:

No comments:

Post a Comment