Friday, December 17, 2010

LDB Site

Greetings! I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday season. There are a number of Christmas events going on here this week and next week, so I'll have holiday photos to post soon. This week, I've got pictures from a tour that I took with some of the other janitorial staff of the Long Duration Balloon (LDB) construction facilities and launch site. The LDB site is located on the Ross Ice Shelf just off Ross Island. The program is under the purview of NASA and the balloons are built and launched by a company called Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility located in Palestine, Texas.

Here is one of the payloads that the balloons carry up into the atmosphere.

The scientific equipment carried by the balloon is powered with solar energy and takes all sorts of readings from the Earth's atmosphere.

Here's the time clock at the LDB facility. The green clock is Greenwich Mean Time and the two red clocks are McMurdo time and Palestine, Texas time.

Here our tour guide shows us the parts from which they construct the long duration balloons.
Long duration balloons are like super-balloons and are different than most of the other balloons that are more frequently used in Antarctica. Most balloons are much smaller and measure data for short periods of time (several hours or perhaps a couple of days); the long duration balloons, however, fly much higher in the atmosphere (100,000 feet or more) and can stay there for three months. Here is an article about the creation of the LDB program in 2008. NASA also uses these balloons to send up equipment that does astronomical research as well.

Initially designed to stare into deep space at the furthest galaxies, this telescopic camera is now used to take pictures of areas of star creation in the Milky Way; its super-sharp camera can capture incredible details of how stars form.

This is part of the launch site for LDB balloons, which (if I remember correctly) is about a half-mile wide. I believe that only five or so of these balloons will be launched this season, but since they can stay aloft for so long, a few balloons go a long way.

Another section of the launch site with the Transantarctic Mountains in the background.

Me and some of my fellow janitors who went on this tour. (L-R): Nikki, me, Sharon, Lolo, Atlee
Part of what makes the LDBs work so well is the circumpolar winds that predominate Antarctica. It's almost as if Antarctica were a self-contained weather unit at the bottom of the planet. The winds here go in a circle (counter-clockwise, I believe) around the continent, which means that the balloons will simply circle around Antarctica over and over until they run out of steam or are knocked out of the air.

Oh, and for those who may be wondering how on earth buildings sit on top of ice, take a look at the photo below. Notice that the buildings are on "skis", which not only supports them while they are standing but also allows them to be moved easily for storage during the Antarctic winter. :)

After touring the facilities, we ate lunch at the LDB galley, a.k.a. Café Desolato, and since LDB is at least a thirty-minute drive from McMurdo Station, it's easier for people to eat lunch there. The food at LDB is definitely a bit better than the food at the McMurdo galley, so eating here was a nice treat. :)

The Café Desolato

Aireana enjoys a cup hot chocolate.

Lolo and Atlee play cards while we waited for lunch to be served.

Joanie is a good friend of Larry's and mine.

A photo of Nikki taking a photo.
After eating our lunches, while we waited for the shuttle to take us back to McMurdo, Sharon, Liz, and I took pictures by two old spherical buildings that used to be used to store stuff over the winter. What they're used for now, we have no idea, but we had fun goofing off. :)

Sharon goofing off.

Sharon and I goofing off.

Liz goofing off.

Here I am on top of a snow pile pretending I can fly.
While I wish I could talk in more detail about the scientific aspects of everything I saw, I'm happy that we were able to see the kinds of research that goes on here. It's nice to know what it is that I work as a janitor for. :)

1 comment:

  1. Awesome! I love, love, love reading your posts! : ) Happy Holidays! And! I always knew you could fly!