We continue Olivier Delanoë’s triptych on Concordia life starting with the leaving of the last aircraft… 

Early February the last plane leaves. It’s an emotional moment to see our colleagues leave. For the next nine months our group of 15 people will live together with no help of rescue in case of trouble.

Safety is most important and health issues can have dramatic consequences. We are very aware of this fact as we watch the aircraft disappear over the horizon. Winter has begun and we are on our own.

We are completely isolated from the world in an incredibly hostile environment where temperatures can drop to -80°C. Life outside the base is impossible. Fauna and flora do not have a place in this space-like place. Life in general doesn’t really belong here. Under our feet we find no earth, no lichens, no bushes, nothing but 3300 meters of ice frozen to -50°C on average.

To escape the cold ground but also to avoid build-ups of snow our home is built on stilts. Essentially two large cylinders, the buildings will be our refuge for the winter. The Summer camp is 500 meters away which can be used as an emergency shelter if necessary.

Concordia library.

Concordia library. Credits: IPEV/PNRA-A. Barbero

I know I have nine months ahead of me before the Summer scientists come back. I must live through this and not turn the winter into suffering. Like my colleagues I must keep busy, find a hobby. I brought a synthesiser with me and a library is available. Monotony must be kept at bay. Boredom is a formidable enemy here. Time can drag on and I mustn’t isolate myself from the group. Peace of mind is indispensible and it will be easier if relationships with my colleagues are good. I get in the habit of playing table tennis with three colleagues after dinner and this becomes a real moment of relaxation.

I also brought my aquarelles, colour crayons and paper. I painted a single small picture. The fatigue and darkness stripped me of my creative spirit. I have been using my camera to record films to show my family and still pictures might support and inspire my painting when I get back home.

Early May the Sun disappears for three months. We become even more tired and some find it hard to sleep. I am not affected much by the lack of light.

The sky is crystal clear and the Milky Way is magnificent. This place has one of the most stable atmospheres in the world, the air is dry and shows the beauty of the Universe in all its splendour. The sky is there, begging to be contemplated, but the cold is so intense I prefer to stay inside. The glacial air pushes me to return to base after watching the stars for just ten minutes. I can feel my frozen eyelashes. My hands are cold from holding the telescope, the coldness of the metal pierces through my gloves and freezes my fingers. My breath fogs up the binoculars and I cannot see anything.

My colleague shows me the Omega globule and I return elated. These are the moments that make living here worth it. Discovering things that are impossible to see back home in the light of our cities. On another day we climb onto the roof of our base and see an aurora covering 180 degrees of the sky above us. We take some pictures and I film it which is pointless but I don’t care.

Aurora over Concordia.

Aurora over Concordia. Credits: ESA/IPEV/PNRA-E Kaimakamis

These moments give us strength and remind us how lucky we are to be living here in the silence.

Olivier Delanoë