Testing Spacesuits in Antarctica, part 2

Our flight down to Rio Gallegos – the majestic C-130. Image credit: M. Marinova

March 9, 2011
Flying South. Maybe.

We were picked up today at noon, to go to the military airport for our flight to Rio Gallegos. We “checked in” by writing our name on a list, and with the other 80 people, tried to patiently wait for our flight with the electricity of excitement in the air!

Flying in a C-130 is a neat treat, and many of the other people on our flight were going to Antarctica for the first time, or were on their way to the Air Force base in Rio Gallegos to reunite with their families. After about 2 hours of waiting we boarded the majestic C-130. These planes are really large, and the workhorse of military transports all over the world. The plane had also been sitting in the sun all day…

As we waited for the engines to start and for take-off – the announcement came that one of the engines wouldn’t start and the flight was postponed for tomorrow. With a huge sigh of disappointment we disembarked. Back to our hotel we went. Tomorrow we will try again.

The Argentinian Air Force C-130. Image credit: M. Marinova

March 10 & 11, 2011
South, South, South

This morning came all too soon, and again we were on our way to the Air Force base to board our flight to Rio Gallegos. After a similar procedure as the day before, we boarded the flight, and waited almost patiently for the engines to start. Soon enough there was the rumble of the engines! Yes! C-130’s are not exactly luxury flying. The seats are mesh straps that fold down from the walls and come down in the middle, ear plugs are a must, and even the military personnel advise you to use to bathrooms in the terminal. But it sure is impressive to be sitting in this giant aircraft, that can carry around helicopters inside it, refuel other aircraft in flight, and fly to the world’s harshest environments.

Inside the C-130. Image credit: M. Marinova

After a 4 hour flight or so, we landed in Rio Gallegos. In any description of Patagonia (the southern end of South America), the description of “wind whipped” is one of the first things that comes up. As the air comes up the western side of the Andes from the Pacific, it drops its snow on the western (Chilean) side, and then drops down on the eastern (Argentine) side. Because of the flatness of the eastern side, for hundreds of kilometers, the wind just blows incessantly in this whole region. Rio Gallegos is no exception to the rule! The Air Force pilots impressively landed the C-130 in winds of over 60 km/h (40 mph).

Our accommodations for the night would be the Officers’ Quarters at the Air Force base. Since our flight was later than expected, the flight to Marambio would be the next day. Crossing the runway in a military vehicle, we headed over to the small collection of buildings. Our bags of Antarctic clothing, with our names on them, were waiting for us: heavy boots, snow pants, a thick hat and ski goggles, and a big yellow jacket. There is no denying where the next stop of the trip is once you have that large jacket in hand!

This project was made possible with support from the NASA Astrobiology Science and Technology for Exploring Planets (ASTEP) program and the University of North Dakota. Travel from Buenos Aires to Marambio and accommodation in Marambio was provided by the Argentinian Air Force and Argentinian Antarctic Program.

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