Didier Schmitt is a member of the space Task Force at the European External Action Service. He is a regular opinion writer in major newspapers and magazines and has published a book on foresight. He will be contributing to this blog during his visit to Concordia:
Hello from Hobart in Tasmania, in short sleeves. I reached the first step: being in front of the Astrolabe – a special supply ship that can break ice up 50 cm thick. No visa needed, Antarctica is not a country! We just need a maritime visa as we start from Australia by boat. No special vaccinations are required either as no bugs can survive the environment in Antarctica. We did pay special attention to clothing as we switch from +30°C in Australia to –30°C on site at Concordia.
You cannot be part of such an endeavour as a tourist of course. The main mission of the team I will join is to bring food, scientific instruments and other supplies to Dumont D’Urville and Concordia stations. Its crewmembers will need to survive the next winter. To be really useful one must also have many skills such as driving huge caterpillars, as we will see later on, or simply giving a hand whenever needed. As I am also a medical doctor – specialised in mountain emergency – I will be the medical back-up. I had a week’s training last September near Chamonix, France, with the medical doctors who staff the French bases in sub-Antarctic and Antarctic Territories – including Concordia – for the year to come.
Sustaining human presence on the Antarctic bases is a complex operation. It is similar to the International Space Station as it needs specific infrastructure investments but also the know-how of specialists with a large range of expertise. In that sense the Astrolabe is the equivalent, and a combination of a Soyuz spacecraft and the European supply spacecrarft Automated Transfer Vehicles.