ESA-sponsored medical research doctor for Concordia, Evangelos Kaimakamis, or ‘Vangelis’ for short, continues his chronicles:
The Concordia summer crew has left the base and only the 15 to stay all winter remain in the base now! About three weeks ago we saluted the last plane that took off from our ‘skiway’ leaving us alone in the middle of nowhere for the next nine months. It was like an old movie scene: the DC-3 Dakota airplane firing up its engines and moving away in the smoke, the snow lifted by its propellers. We waved goodbye with mixed emotions thinking about the long winter ahead. It was something like the closing scene from the movie Casablanca!
Before this goodbye, the last Raid Traverse came with 120 tonnes of food, fuel and equipment and it kept us busy for five days. We had to unload the Raid, organise supplies for the winter and place them in appropriate containers and refrigerators for the next ten months.
Talking to the Traverse staff, who had travelled 1100 km on the ice to reach us from the coastline, offered a different perspective and a nice subject for discussion until their departure a few days later.
On their day of departure the smoke from their engines rose into the sky covering the abundant Antarctic Sun for a while. Watching these impressive tractors moving together and pulling large fuel tanks, containers and living compartments reminded me of humankind’s desperate efforts to conquer nature and harness its forces in the wildest of the lands.
Over the next days, the temperature began to drop, averaging -45oC while the Sun was considerably lower in the horizon. We witnessed our first sunset on February 12. Cameras were ready and the official end of the summer had arrived!
The last plane has now departed and we have all the time in the world to organise our everyday lives and our technical or scientific tasks. All of ESA’s biomedical protocols have started, some technical issues have been resolved. Conducting research related to space medicine in this isolated settlement is fulfilling. I am a test subject for the various experiments, so I have a hands-on approach to the difficulties, constraints and solutions related to this type of research.
The rest of the people in the group are very helpful and morale is high. Apart from the purely scientific work, my duties involve participation in everyday communal chores and of course, during our free time we usually play games and socialise to form a robust group ready to face the difficult winter ahead. A few days ago we took a group photo outside the base with the setting sun under the ice in the background. I raised the Greek flag (perhaps for the first time in Antarctica), that made me proud and has boosted my morale for the rest of my campaign here!
A few days ago we saw the moon rising for the first time as well, a marvellous spectacle, a clearly symbolic event marking the imminent prevalence of night in the polar region. We will have the privilege to enjoy a night sky impossible to see anywhere else in the world! I cannot wait for this view! Our families and beloved ones are thousands of miles away and we are still at the beginning of this adventure. We hope for the best and struggle to be efficient and functional, both as individuals and as a group.