The White Mars adventure begins

Credits: ESA/IPEV/PNRA–C. Dangoisse

Somewhere in Antarctica. Credits: ESA/IPEV/PNRA–C. Dangoisse

Dr. Carmen Possnig is the ESA-sponsored medical doctor spending 12 months at Concordia research station in Antarctica. The station is a collaboration between the French Institut Polaire Français Paul-Emile Victor (IPEV) and Italian Programma Nazionale di Richerche Antartide (PNRA). She facilitates a number of experiments on the effects of isolation, light deprivation, and extreme temperatures on the human body and mind. In the following post, Carmen introduces the start of her adventure.

A year somewhere south of the end of the world: Concordia is lovingly called White Mars for a reason. The white desert of the Antarctic plateau surrounds us for hundreds of kilometres; there are never ending horizons as far as the eye can see; the nearest living beings are at least 600 kilometres away; the oxygen content in the air is low, the humidity also extremely low (which makes life even more uncomfortable here), along with the months of darkness, the isolation of the comparatively small crew, the hostile environment surrounding us – all this makes our experience here the best analogue to a base on a foreign planet that exists on Earth.

ESA sends a doctor down here every year to do this research – and this year, the 14th hibernation on Dome C, I am that doctor. Twelve other adventurers are my crew. Concordia is our space station, and the Antarctic plateau is our white Mars.

The journey to Concordia

Here we go! Credit: ESA/IPEV/PNRA –C. Possnig

It is the middle of November 2017, the city wrapped in a thick cloud cover, and I enjoy the few raindrops and the pleasant warm wind on my face. A last look back, passport and flight plan in my hand, I can hardly believe that after the long months of preparations my journey actually begins.

Arriving at Vienna Airport, a friendly lady smiles and pushes my ticket towards me at the check-in counter: Vienna – Paris – Hong Kong – Melbourne – Christchurch.

While I eat a last chocolate cake in front of my gate and say goodbye to friends and family by phone, my own smile gets wider and wider, because in my mind I complete the list:

Vienna – Paris – Hong Kong – Melbourne – Christchurch – Terra Nova Bay – Concordia, Dome C.

On the plane to Concordia. Credit: ESA/IPEV/PNRA –C. Possnig

My home for next year. The adventure can begin.

I meet my new colleagues at Paris airport. Their faces reflect my enthusiasm. I notice on closer inspection that some of my colleagues seem to have worried faces. Was it the right decision to spend a year with twelve strangers in the midst of Antarctic isolation? But the escalator ends, the moment passes, someone makes a joke, everyone laughs with relief, and we are full of anticipation for what awaits us, whatever it may be.

To read Carmen’s adventures at Concordia in German, see her personal blog.

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