I am Benoit Joncheray from Nantes, in the west of France, where I was born in 1990 and learnt the tricks of my trade – plumbing. I spent the last winter at Concordia research station in Antarctica as an employee of the French polar institute IPEV. My mission lasted 15 months. I have been attracted to Concordia ever since it was built but I never imagined I would one day work here. This was my first experience working outside of France!
I was the technician responsible for the plumbing and heating at Concordia. Producing water, storing it and distributing it is essential to stay alive but also adds much to our comfort. We need to think of everything in Antarctica as the water we use comes from melted snow, but the snow does not contain minerals and can quickly become contaminated. We add minerals to the water for health and treat it with UV light for safety.
We have to rely on our independence down here and we use many different skills to make, modify and repair all manner of items. Working as a technician on this base we maintain, improve and enlarge the station’s systems.
The most important part of my job is to look after the Grey Water Treatment Unit because all water in Concordia is recycled. Other priorities include maintaining the heating system and water distribution. This often entails working outside in –80°C temperatures. The four-month polar night makes working outside even tougher, especially as most problems are caused by the extreme cold. It was very rewarding for me to as I often had to make do with the equipment and spares we had under extreme conditions. It was not uncommon for us to adapt and improve the machines to the local conditions such as extreme cold, high altitude and low ambient humidity.
Safety always comes first with everybody at Concordia taking part. Every month we do a fire drill and periodic evacuation drills, starting up the emergency camp, exterior rescue and operation-room tests. : I was part of the first intervention team in case of fire, part of the rescue team and part of the emergency summer camp startup team. These exercises keep us on our toes and request we always always are radio standby.
The unique experience at Concordia included a cultural element. We speak four languages but always understand each other perfectly.
The goal is always to economise on resources. Using and maintaining the water treatment facility developed by ESA was particularly interesting for me. Melting snow requires a lot of energy so recycling allows us to save on energy. ESA is interested in this water recycling for future missions to the Moon and Mars. The machine was designed and built by French company FIRMUS.