December 3rd, 2007 | | By Ken Mankoff
I'm writing this from the C-17 on may way from McMurdo Station, Antarctica back to Christchurch, NZ. It is the end of an amazing experience, and I'm sad to be leaving, but I am looking forward to what comes next.
Yesterday morning I woke up and boarded a C-130. This plane has skis, not wheels, and we took off from the sea ice runway at around 8AM. We landed 3 hours later at 90 degrees South latitude, 9301ft altitude. Even though the South Pole is only at 9301 feet it 'physiologically' at around 11,000 feet because there is so little atmosphere there. I felt it instantly, with a pounding heart and a racing pulse and difficulty climbing a flight of stairs.
The nothingness of the South Pole is breathtakingly beautiful. It is white and flat (except for a few structures) as far as you can see in every direction. It is more than 9,000 feet of ice under your feet, with nothing else between you and the bedrock that lies near sea level, and sometimes even below sea level.
I spent most of my time touring all the labs and buildings and science experiments happening there. An amazing caliber of science occurs at the South Pole. One of my favorite experiments is IceCube
, an array of neutrino detectors buried in the ice. These detectors cover a space 1km x 1km x 1km (hence the name) buried with the top starting 1.4km down.
After a full afternoon of visiting the base, I ate dinner, gave my talk, waited in the South Pole International PAX Terminal for 30 minutes, and then caught a flight home to McMurdo. There were four passengers on the return flight and I got to spend most of it, including the landing, sitting in the cockpit.
It was a whirlwind 12 hour visit, 18 hour trip. It happened so fast and was so amazing and surreal and overwhelming that it is already starting to fade to a snapshot memory and feel like a dream. Fortunately I took a few hundred photos.