I've received several questions from one reader so I thought I'd answer to the group. Many of you may be wondering the same things!

3. Clearly you are in an institutional situation-- and institutional is must be! Given that context... You describe your room as being 6 X 7 feet,

with a ceiling which goes from 3 feet to 8 feet tall. In some alternate institutions I know, a "room" like that would be called a "cell." You can decide whether those "alternate" institutions would be prison, monastery, or convent.

Actually, our rooms are smaller than the federally mandated size for prison cells. And life here has some similarities to a monastic life-- it is truly communal living.

4. You describe your residence building as being octagonal, with a central hallway, 10 rooms, and your room being in a corner. I find it difficult to imagine the corner room in an octagon with 10 rooms. Can you add to the description?

Ah, good question. Viewed from the top, the building is a rectangle, hallway down the center the long way, with rooms on either side. Viewed from the "front door", the building is sort of octagonal--instead of seeing two straight walls and a flat roof, one sees a straight wall about about 3 feet, then it slants towards the center and is straight for another 3 feet, slants again for another segment. Can't recall if it actually has 8 sides, and of course the bottom is flat on the ground so its only half of the geometrical shape. i'll try and get some digital pictures taken and on my website for clarity. I've just added a sketch--better than nothing!

5. The dome has several buildings in it? How big is the dome. The imagination roams to science fiction with whole cities under the protective dome. I assume that the 4-story building 500 feet from the dome is not itself under another dome, but is out in the elements. However, you mention domes (plural) in relation to the 4-story building. I assume that there is a series of observtion domes atop the 4-story building.

The dome is perhaps 30m in diameter. The buildings are normal two story buildings, maybe the size of an average store building found inside a city (not a suburban store!!). The other building, called "sky lab", is outside the dome, but is connected by some undersnow tunnels, so I can get over there from the galley without having to fully gear up. The temperature in the dome, but outside the buildings, or in the tunnels is probably 30 or 40 below, but there isn't any wind. I never wear gloves or a hat, and I have a few small "burns" on my hands to thank for that. All the doors to all the buildings are industrial refrigerator doors with metal handles. Most of the handles have been taped so they can be grabbed without one's skin sticking to them, but the tape falls off, or doesn't cover the whole handle.

The domes on top of the building are a few feet across, I think. I haven't seen them yet--they are all covered with blankets and plywood for the summer, to protect the light-sensitive equipment inside.

6. You refer to "the feedings" and bring to mind the very popular "feeding time at the zoo." I assume the food is relatively standard and simple fare. That is, for those of us who love ethnic food with great diversity, I imagine the mass feeding scene there is more like Lyons or Denny's in the parking lot, rather than the international food court in the mall.

The food is excellent, actually. There isn't a huge ethnic variety, but the meals are very tasty and there is a good variety, and a huge quantity. There is usually a meat and a vegetarian option, and everything is "a la carte" or cafeteria style, self serve. For example, last night there was beef chili and vegetarian chili, rice, cornbread (with or without jalapenos), chicken curry soup, and a vegetarian side dish I can't remember. For dessert there was peach bread pudding, jello, cookies, and I think one other thing. They have probably the world's largest supply of hot chocolate--a very popular beverage!

As far as the feedings go--being free and self serve, we all tend to eat more than if we were preparing our own meals, similar to freshmen at a college dorm. Luckily the environment here helps us from gaining the "freshman 15"--existing and keeping warm in an extreme environment requires more calories. The people who work outside all day need probably 5000 calories just to maintain. I don't need quite that many! Most people lose weight here at pole.

7. What is your role? What are your duties? What is the purpose of the project(s) on which you are working? You referred to your experiments. Does that mean that you are to do work by assignment, but also have personal experimental interests? You were studying "new" materials, from an engineering perspective-- as I recall. You have mentioned the wondrous warmth of the issued clothing-- new materials. So, are you able to do any work related to that earlier interest and study?

I am a science tech, the Aurora Tech to be specific. I am responsible for running about 8 experiments--doing daily checks of the equipment, changing out backup tapes as needed, brushing snow off the domes mentioned above, fixing anything that breaks, uploading data to the researchers.

The experiments are a variety of projects, many of them studying the aurora (hence the name), a couple of them studying winds in the upper atmosphere. More on this as I learn more. None of the research is "mine". I like this job-- I get to learn about several different research projects, but not so much that I get bored. The clothing isn't actually high tech at all--just good. I have two down parkas, and one quilted, insulated parka. Many sets of expedition weight long underwear (as well as my own personal midweight and expedition weight), fleece pants and jacket, lots of thick socks, and about 10 pairs of mittens/gloves. I'm wearing long underwear, fleece pants, and standard army "arctic issue BDU pants"--the cargo pants we all can buy at a surplus store. On top I have an undershirt, a midweight long underwear, a t shirt, a fleece jacket, and the insulated (not down) jacket.

8. By the time you get this you may have started to settle into your own routine-- bag drags done, on-the-job training by your predecessor, learning the rules are done. What is your typical day? What do you do in your "off" time. From the size of your room, there is not much space for more than a bed, and a "closet" type rack for hanging a few clothes, and probably a small dresser-like piece of furniture. So, it is not a place to relax and spend a lot of time.

Not totally clear on the routine yet. I have to change the paper on the seismology helicorder everyday at zero GMT (about 1 pm here), and I have to check the other equipment every day, whenever I want.

In my off time, I read books and magazines, I hang out in the lounge on the third floor of skylab where there are many musical instruments (bought by the company or left by previous polies) and people come and play. I hang out in the galley talking to friends. In my room, I have a twin bed, a metal cabinet (the kind that many offices keep office supplies in--two doors, a few shelves inside), and a wooden bookshelf. There is also a set of three hooks for my coat, and I have a window (which is still frosted over--that will melt by mid summer). I do hang out there and read. I need to have some private time every day, and my room suffices. It has an accordian style folding door.

9. Clearly, as an outlet there are both the library, and the public computer room. Can you describe the library?

Its upstairs in one of the buildings in the dome. There are a couple thousand books, based on a quick scan. Half hardback, half softcover. So far they don't look like my style but I havne't really looked. The paper back library has a pool table in the middle of it, so it isn't a super quiet lounge.... The hardback library room has a giant (35" ?) TV in it.... There are magazines all over the station (mostly in all the bathrooms, which are all co-ed). I shipped two boxes of books to myself.

10. The computer room.... How much time are you allowed in the computer room. How much time on-line. Do you use those public computers only for personal purposes, or do you also use them for work-related matters?

Not so much--there is a line and I should vacate! The satellite is up about 16 hours a day, so that's when we can be online. There are 8 public computers in this room. I do have my own computer in my office, but that's on the fourth floor of skylab and I tend not to want to climb up there unnecessarily. I use my office computer for work purposes--uploading data, writing reports, etc. And I will eventually use it for personal!


copyright 2000 Andrea Grant

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