Antonio Litterio and the Concordia crew talked with ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano on the International Space Station last week. The Concordia crew, surrounded by 600 km of white space share their experiences with Luca, surrounded by infinite black space. As always Antonio suggests you listen to music by Roberto Cacciapaglia as you read his experience:
On 20 September, our reality was confronted by another reality in a unique isolated location. At 19:50 an unusual place shows on the screen in our living room , it is a small space and a person floats freely right in the centre of it. It is Luca Parmitano, the Italian astronaut currently on a mission on the International Space Station.
Floating. Credits: IPEV/PNRA-A Litterio
We were all listening to him speaking in perfect English, amazed and astonished at seeing a person floating upside-down or stretched out in mid-air. But at that moment I felt the urge to cut myself off from everything. I kept hearing his voice in the background and our voices that filled the room,and I started to think about the similarities between our two experiences. Fifteen people on the Antarctic ice compared with six floating in space. Both experiencing realities that are lost in vast territories, isolated from the rest of civilisation, protected by a hostile environment thanks only to technologies invented by man. The absence of fresh food and restful sleep, distanced from loved ones, seeing unique things, the same visions but from a different perspective. We see the same as Aurora Australis and stratospheric clouds but somethings completely unique to Luca such as his dawn - an explosion of colour that lasts but a few minutes whereas we are the only ones that see the Sun change colour, from green, pink, red, orange to purple.
Multicolour Sun. Credits: IPEV/PNRA-A. Litterio
Two unique and yet similar experiences, but so very different. Somebody asked the question "Will you go back?" and Luca’s answer was "Of course!" as his face lit up with joy. While our response to the same question was accompanied by a sigh: "Some of us would come back but not for another winter ". I noticed surprise on Luca’s face when he heard our answer, as if he expected something different.
Happy to see home. Credits: IPEV/PNRA-A. Litterio
But for me it was all clear, in his response and reaction, I saw myself during the first three months of this experience, in our response I saw me now after 10 months living in Antarctica. Those who reach Mars will understand us and go even beyond this feeling.
At the end of the evening while I was sorting through the photos my attention was drawn to a small detail: our faces lit up at the sight of our house seen from space that appears in the frame of the webcam. It is always a thrill to see something unique.
Melancholy and the infinite Sun
Winter in Concordia seen through the eyes of French glaciologist Albane Barbero. Translated from her French blog.
Everything began on 5 May when the Sun said goodbye. We were grouped together at the Astronomia Laboratory for a brunch with vin chaud. After three months of isolation, this get-together ‘in the countryside’ did us a world of good, but we realised all the same: the winter has started for real now. After taking many pictures of the Sun’s farewell we continued with a trilingual game of Pictionary: Italian, English and French. We ended the day with a visit to the hair salon and continued upgrading our library by adding dividers by letter, we created a very professional-looking bookshelf.
Group photo. Credits: IPEV/PNRA-Yann
We start the winter with many exercises and training: first-aid, fire drills, emergency exits, creating medical teams and so on. These tasks were in addition to some new experiments I am doing so I don’t have time to consider that we are living in the dark, which is a good thing, believe me! The darkness is never total actually, all during winter we see a hazy glow on the horizon for a few hours in the morning. Some of us don’t realise this because their sleeping patterns are unregulated and they don’t wake up in time.
I follow my family’s happenings from afar through Skype and telephone conversations: my nephew is growing up fast. He now can say ‘Babou’ which is my nickname, even though he means ‘balloon’. We are all waiting for his little sister to arrive. I won’t meet her until January or February when she will already be three to four months old, around the age I last saw her brother.
Thankfully Midwinter arrives to break the routine and lift our morale. We realise with joy and sadness that we are halfway through and the Sun will start climbing to return on 10 August.
Amazing Aurora. Credits: IPEV/PNRA-Yann
July goes by quickly, almost as if it didn’t exist. We were so preoccupied by birthdays and finishing the library, making a new television stand, the amazing auroras, creating logos for our t-shirts and ordering them on the internet and of course our daily tasks that before we knew it we only had a few days before the Sun would reappear.
We reached a yearly temperature record: -80,5°C ! Yann, Christophe, Elio and Simonetta and I took a photo in a swimming costume on the roof to celebrate the record cold, we didn’t stay long outside of course! A few days later we reached a new cold record with wind-chill factor: -100,6°C. Brrr, even covered up we could feel the difference on that day!
The mornings are showing more and more daylight and we don’t need to take a torch with us to work anymore. Alarm clocks are not necessary for some, the light suffices. It is magical we can feel the Sun just below the horizon and it will not take long before it shows us its beautiful light. The hazy light offers fantastic skies and at dusk we are treated to amazing colours: red, orange, purple and pink before the night sets in and the Milky Way returns with the Moon covering the scene silver.
When the Sun came back, even the late-sleepers woke up for its appearance. Some went to the rooftop to take photos, we had almost forgotten what it looked like. Others, like myself, had a stroll to the Summer camp not far from the base to have fun in the snow and take pictures. The Sun attracted us all, even the plumes of smoke from the base were drawn to its beauty which was annoying for our picture compositions. To celebrate Luigi the chef prepared a buffet with a champagne cocktail.
On Monday 12 August Elio and I took our cameras and went to the shelter to continue snapping the Sun. We could almost see it fully, it rose fast. By the end of the week we would see it in totality which is great for moral. It reminds us of summer, holidays on the beach but also that the end is near. Sentiments of joy and sadness mix to make us a little melancholy…
Rising Sun. Credits: ESA/IPEV/PNRA-A. Barbero
Contemplating life in a barren world
Self portrait in the dusk. Credits: IPEV/PNRA-O. Delanoë
The last of Olivier Delanoë’s series of blog entries on the end of darkness and living without life around.
Sometimes an alarm will sound at night, waking us up with fatigued eyes. It even occurs that the alarm sounds multiple times, a horrible alarm clock that makes waking up even worse than usual. At this altitude, the ultra-dry air repairs our bodies even less than usual when sleeping. A medical experiment I am taking part in for ESA shows that we are suffering from sleep apnea. I often wake up with a dry mouth so I keep a bottle of water close at all times.
I turn and turn in my bed. All sleep has left me. I turn on the light to read a book. The Sun has disappeared for months and waking up is hard. I must take care not to fall into the trap of floating sleeping patterns. On the other hand it is sometimes better to sleep late and feel rested. Some crewmember’s sleep is no longer in sync and some stay up later than others.
What is the hardest part of the winterover? It is hard to say. We all experience the lack of light and sleep differently. The longest night drags on and on for some, others hardly seem to notice it. Time passes by quickly and the weeks fly by.
I sometimes don’t get out all day but I quickly feel the need to get a breath of fresh -70°C air. If only for ten minutes, getting out to look at the horizon, to impregnate the images, is important for me. I think of nothing, take time for myself. These ten minutes of reflection rekindle my spirits and keep my morale up.
Emptiness. Credits: IPEV/PNRA-O. Delanoë
The amazing thing about this landscape its immense emptiness. No mountains, no cliffs, just a huge white emptiness. Even in a hot dessert, life is always around you, a lizard, an insect, something moving, looking for food. Here nothing like that exists.
Life is 1100 kms away on the border. Life, flora, fauna! For the moment I don’t miss green pastures too much, but I am looking forward to seeing the ocean again. Watching the waves hit the beach and retreat in an endless flux of movement and the sound of birds wailing above my head. It has been over eight months that I have heard any noise from insects, the buzzing of bees, whistling of birds, the meowing of a cat. What does the mooing of a cow represent? When you are used to it, not much, but when we get back it will have a new significance and I realise that the world is rich with all the insects and animals that speak their own languages. The diversity of nature is astounding. Here nothing lives and nature’s beauty lies in its harshness. Without life elsewhere on Earth we could not live here as we are dependent on the riches of our habitable Earth. We live on a small spaceship in a greenhouse that allows life to prosper. Destroy it and we will destroy the spaceship.
We float on a solid ocean. The only waves are build-ups of snow that form from the wind and turn into abstract sculptures sometimes. Like on the ocean the horizon stretches far and at certain times of the day we can see the roundness of Earth. The distinction between sky and ground is clear. The oceans support life, some say they are at the origins of life. Our glacial ocean has imprisoned inside it the history of our climate.
Another aspect of our life here is that there are no smells. Our noses are underused. No smells exist outside to keep our senses occupied. The air is so dry that our noses suffer from irritations. We will rediscover smells on our return that we have forgotten over the last year.
Our supply of fresh fruits and vegetables have run out and we must wait for the first aircraft to arrive for more. No garden exists here to pick a juicy tomato still humid from the dampness of dawn. I dream sometimes, but not for long.
Life back on Earth For over six months I have not had much motivation to know about what is happening in the world. Knowing of all the distress and the bombardment of daily information distracts us from concentrating on ourselves, our own life. My colleagues briefed me on some things but I prefer to read, watch films and listen to music. I sent emails to my loved ones and talked about my stay here. There is not much to say, nothing much newsworthy happens at Concordia! Internet has changed the polar adventure. Years ago, the winterover crew would return and learn of deaths in the family. Now we know within hours of the passing away. Is it better or worse? I don’t know. Bad news can lead to hard times but good news can release people from thinking in circles. Has introducing computers made people less social on the base? It depends on their character. Socialites will continue to seek company for games of poker or ping-pong despite their computers. Solitary persons can use a computer to isolate themselves even more. The 15 personalities that are living on the base have found their own equilibrium, reading, watching films and talking. The most important thing in my opinion is to have a colleague to confide in when morale is low.
Today we saw the Sun return at 11:09. This morning I woke up at 08:00 and I looked at the horizon through the window of my room. A red line ran along the horizon. I went outside and took some photos. The sky was on fire and the horizon seemed to vibrate. The glacial expanse underneath seemed dark and somber. As the redness of the Sun expanded it turned a reddish-brown.
The Sun has returned. Winter is not over yet, the first aircraft will not land until November but we have only three months to wait. The third part of winter has arrived. From February to May the days get shorter. We enter the polar night from May to August. When the light returns we start to return to our metropolitan habits. A winterover in Antarctica with the Summer campaign is 12 months in the cold. It might seem long, but time passes quickly.
Rising Sun. Credits: IPEV/PNRA-O. Delanoë
Return of the Sun
Alex sent us these photos to celebrate the return of the Sun:
'Re-entry' of the sun into the Antarctic horizon breaking the winter darkness. Credits: A. Kumar
View from our front door in the midday sunshine Credits: A. Kumar
Good day sunshine. Credits: A. Kumar
Concordia Style - 1970s flares - mechanic Bruno Limouzy shown. Credits: A. Kumar
Sunday, happy Sunday. Credits: A. Kumar
Behold the light! Credits: A. Kumar
-75C breath. Credits: A. Kumar
Sea of ice. Credits: A. Kumar
Dusk till dawn, Concordia Rooftop. Credits: A. Kumar
If you squint you can see Neil Armstrong's footprints. Credits: A. Kumar
Sitting waiting for the Sun
Today in-between running two research sessions, after lunch I took a stroll outside. There was some light - so for once I did not need a head torch.
Credits: ESA/IPEV/ENEA-A. Kumar
Everything had changed. I was in an alien land. I was so used to the dark, navigating one footstep at a time, only seeing as far as the artificial light from my head torch shone. Around me it used to be pitch black. Now for a few hours a day, the Sun remains trapped below the horizon but you get the feeling that it is bursting at its seams to rise above the horizon. (more…)
Midsummer up north
Credits: Kolbjørn Blix Dahle
Alex writes: During midwinter in the southern hemisphere we try to remember the sunlight and wonder about midsummer. I was sent this text which shows how varied different places on planet Earth can be...
At the Andøya Rocket Range in northern Norway the Sun has been up since mid-May and will not dip below the horizon until July 25.
It is easier to get up in the morning and more difficult to go to bed at night when the Sun hovers over the ocean. It is as if the Sun itself is urging us to stay up.
Just a little bit longer, it pleads… you can sleep in the winter. (more…)
Join the dark side: send us questions and photos
Satellite dish at Concordia Credits: A. Kumar
Alex writes: This week we celebrate midwinter. We are halfway through the darkness and on the home stretch to see the sun for the first time in four months. The northern hemisphere will celebrate midsummer this week. Opposites attract - we would love to see your photos of the Sun and your midsummer celebrations. Share them on this Flickr group.