ESA-sponsored medical doctor Vangelis Kaimakamis continues his blog entry on science and celebrations and answers some reader comments:
I would like to begin this post by thanking you all for the continuous support to our mission either by reading or liking this blog or by leaving your comments to posts. Your encouraging words are an inspiration for us all! To answer some questions from previous comments, we use the refrigerators to keep products inside the main building frozen, as the temperature in the base is usually between +21 and +23 degrees Celsius, so there is a need keep some food cool! When we need to store material such as biological samples or ice samples, we put them in special containers outside and the ambient temperatures do the job cost-free!
This year I am in charge of nine research protocols supervised by ESA but organised and supported by research institutes in Europe and the US. Some protocols require administering psychology questionnaires or computer recording applications to the crew , as their mood and state of mind are likely to change during the winterover. Many stressors are present in a confined environment such as Concordia.
Social cohesion and cooperation between team members are also measured through computer based applications that are run periodically. Other computer programs are developeing and testing an electronic partner to rely on in unexpected and complex situations.
Special medical devices are used to calculate the resting metabolic rate of individuals as well as monitoring their daily activity and food intake in order to compare these with mood profiles and their alteration through time. Other experiments deal with the cardiovascular system and postural performance and measurement of hormones and RNA in the blood and saliva. Of course there is a project that requires sleep recordings, as sleep patterns are deeply affected by hypoxia, darkness and isolation experienced here. Finally, some specially designed antimicrobial materials are exposed in Concordia to evaluate their effectiveness and suitability for long term future space missions!
More detailed information about what we study can be found on the ESA website.
But living in Concordia is not only about studying and working! The place is like no other in the world and we are constantly reminded of this every time we step out of the base: the totally-white vast serenity we gaze at during sunlight or the magnificent starry night-sky with the Milky Way crossing the dome above us, everything adds to the concept of Concordia Wonders as I like to call it!
Perhaps one of the most wonderful sightings we can admire here is Aurora Australis, this unique formation in the night sky is caused by Earth’s atmosphere being bombarded by solar wind particles. And guess what – we already saw aurora a couple of times two weeks ago! Words cannot describe the feeling looking at these yellow-green slow-moving subtle formations stretching from one side of the horizon to the other, like the gentle caress of the Sun on Earth’s sleeping surface! I was lucky enough to be outside with the astronomers that night and as you can imagine the cameras were on fire to capture this extraordinary view. And as we are only at the beginning of the darkness period, we expect to witness many more spectacular aurora!
Last week the night was dominated by the moon so the sky had a different face, romantic and full of light! (I should add here in relation to a recent comment, that we do not only see the full moon but the crescent phase as well…). At present the night lasts for almost 14 hours and quite often the temperature drops to -72 degrees Celsius!
On the 25 March it was Greek National Day, celebrating the onset of the Greek revolution – for me it was the first big celebration away from my home. We organised a little festivity in the base, we listened to some music from my country and had a Greek speciality for dinner. I am proud to be the first Greek to live this experience and I hope this can be a little motivation for people back in my country, especially during these hard times for them.
A week ago we celebrated Easter. Our chef Luigi prepared a great treat for everyone. The menu was comprehensive and we all ate a fine assortment of four courses plus dessert, a day to remember from a gastronomical point of view!
Eventually the festivities came to an end and we had to return to our everyday activities. Apart from the scientific duties we try to find some free time to go to the gym, because it is important to work out and maintain our physical conditioning in this environment, not to mention that we had to lose the extra kilos from our Easter meal! Once a week we use the sauna in a tent just outside the base. We may be far from civilization, but we can use some of its comforts even here!
On routine tasks, or admiring the wonders of this wild continent, we feel we are doing something unique and we know that this experience will change our lives forever. With that thought in mind, the Concordia crew wish you all a happy spring! Let me end with a quote from one of the most famous Greek poets, Odysseus Elytis, describing the colour of the sky in Greece during spring (which is much like the sky here – at least as long there is still light!):
Oh, God, how much blue you gave us to hide your presence from our eyes!