Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Concordia Base Log
By: Adrianos Golemis, ESA research MD

Time:  L+345 (October 2014)
Temperature: -45 ˚C
Week: 50
Sunlight: Continuous (dusk around midnight)

Morale: So-so

Log Entry #18 – Share

Alex McCandless (also known as “Supertramp”) had reportedly written that happiness is only real when shared. And sharing is important for other feelings, ideas and visions too. Ain’t that right?
Ϡ Supertramp (this time, the group!), “Bloody Well Right”:
These days our DC10 expedition has almost completed 365(.25) days in the white desert. Amazing to realize this – it’s another thing to expect it and another thing to reach the milestone. At some periods time seems to have passed so quickly. In part, because of this sharing of impressions (incoming and outgoing) with the rest of the world. Sharing the great moments among our crew and with our loved ones far away or discussing the hard times with friends inside and outside the Station.
In my opinion, one year in isolation can weaken some relations but strengthen others. It’s nearly a triage – which of them can survive in extremis? Distance and inaccessibility are not always show-stoppers. At least not when there is an end to them, the expectation of light at the other side of a year-long tunnel.

Picture #75 (left): Concordia phone booth – like Harry Potter’s “cupboard under the stairs”.

Picture #76 (right): The e-mail/computer room, a hub of personal communication with the outside, a bridge to the world.

Thanks to technology you can partially make up for not being there with your friends, family or partner. It’s true that we’ve missed a few weddings, births, funerals – not to mention birthdays and name day celebrations (which are as important as birthdays in Greece). But hopefully sharing our own unique experiences from Concordia acts as a counterbalance to that.
Can you keep your friendships alive from Concordia? Sure, if you actively keep in touch every now and then. Naturally, it depends on the other person too. But I am content that my bond with 2-3 close friends was actually reinforced during my stay in isolation. The same goes for my family.
Can you maintain a relationship with your partner from Antarctica? Sure, if you try a bit. And if it’s a mutual decision. In this case, living in separate worlds plays a more significant role. You must restrain yourself to telephone calls and occasional Skype videoconferences. No touch or common experiences for a year. Even calling can be difficult due to the rather inconvenient 6- or 7-hour  time difference with Europe. But pairs have survived before in similar or worse conditions (for example, in times of war). In the end it is a matter of dedication and determination. To keep the core of a relationship alive, to give and receive the fundamental things in life, as Billie sang.
Ϡ Billie Holiday, “As time goes by”:
{Edit: A couple of weeks after this text was written I received a package sent by my girlfriend, Judith, one year ago. It was a collection of cards, letters and gifts from many of my friends who following her suggestion devised this surprise for me, to keep me company over the forthcoming winter. This marvelous little package was stuck in another coastal Antarctic Station for approximately one year and only reached me at the end of the winterover. However, it still made me smile countless times and feel an inner warmth as I read messages and opened presents from France, Malaysia, USA, Greece, Italy, El Salvador, Ireland, Spain, Serbia, Russia, the UK, Canada, Australia, China, Finland, Germany, Brazil and other places. It was almost like a time capsule – thoughts, wishes and gifts prepared in November 2013 and opened one year later. I am greatly thankful to Jud and my family for this idea and to everyone that took part. Astronauts use the same trick while in long space missions – they take up with them artifacts and letters prepared by those close to them and open them one at a time for as long as the mission lasts. And speaking of astronauts…}
A few weeks ago we had the great pleasure to enjoy a live connection with… space. ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst held a videoconference with us at Concordia, with the kind support of NASA and ESA. For many of us and particularly me it was a unique experience and a little dream come true. We discussed a lot of subjects about life in space and life in Antarctica or in isolation in general. Alex had done his own share of living in Antarctica before being selected as an astronaut. Coincidentally, I had met him during his training for this mission (entitled “Blue Dot”) in Star City, near Moscow, Russia. That was on an educational trip with the International Space University and at that moment, naturally, I didn’t expect to talk with him during his stay in space. Then again, I didn’t expect to spend the next year at Concordia!

Picture #77 (over): Call to space from Concordia’s Living room – Alex’s face on the screen is not visible but judging from the position of his arms you can tell he's floating in 0g!

Picture #78 (under): With Alex and NASA’s Reid Wiseman in Star City about 2 years ago.

Alex’s sharing his experiences with us proved again to be something special. We also managed to send him some photos of our Station and the Auroras above it, hoping to kindle some nice memories on his side, making his day a bit exceptional too. Sharing experiences is generally of paramount importance for the space sector – it motivates young people to become active and pursue scientific careers and it explains the importance of ongoing space research and technology development in an era that this is not entirely clear to the public. Few people think for example that it is space technology which gave birth to the hospital MRI scans or that without satellites the GPS on their phone could never function. Even fewer consider that every euro invested in space has a reported return of 1.4 or remember that astronauts undertake a variety of medical experiments in zero gravity to find solutions for pathologies on the Earth. A bit like what we do at Concordia. And we need to share all these facts at a greater scale.
Outreach is vital – and often underestimated. This summer I was very happy to participate in a Greek “space art” competition for children and teenagers in Greece. If you‘re interested in the works, you can have a look at the link below. Some of them are truly captivating.
If you like science, space, art, whatever you are passionate about actually, share it! The effect of your ideas and feelings is multiplied when you share. And with them, share a smile. Sometimes there’s nothing more important than that, as you learn in a winterover.
This blog entry is heartily dedicated to all of you. All of you who follow this adventure and with whom I am happy to share a few unique moments of our life on the ice. Thank you – and looking forward to hearing back from you.  ҉

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