Voyage to the most isolated base on Earth

Jan 30, 2012
The white domes of the Concordia station photographed at night with aurora australis, southern lights in the sky. Credits: ESA / Alex Salam

Alexander Kumar, the next ESA-sponsored crewmember to stay in Concordia, has arrived safely at the research base in Antarctica. The voyage to one of the remotest places on Earth takes even longer than the voyage to the International Space Station.

The international outpost’s programme of research includes glaciology, human biology and the atmosphere. ESA uses the base to prepare for future long-duration missions beyond Earth.

Concordia is an ideal place to study the effects on small, multicultural teams isolated for long periods in an extreme, hostile environment.

Alexander left the port of Hobart in Tasmania on 7 January aboard the vessel Astrolabe. The ship is used by the French Polar Institute to supply Concordia and the French coastal Antarctic station Dumont D’Urville.

The twin-propeller plane used to ferry supplies and personnel to the Concordia base in Antarctica. It takes five hours to complete the 1200 km voyage from the French coastal Antarctic station Dumont D’Urville to Concordia. The aircraft has to be maintained meticulously because it flies at altitudes where the air pressure is a third less than at sea level, in extreme cold weather. Concordia research base conducts a programme of research including glaciology, human biology and the atmosphere. ESA uses the base to prepare for future long-duration missions beyond Earth. Situated 3200 m above sea level, it is one of the coldest places on Earth. Credits: IPEV

Alexander’s work started before reaching the base: he had to tend to routine medical problems as the only qualified physician on the ship.

After a week-long journey across the Southern Ocean, the Astrolabe arrived at Dumont d’Urville.

The 1200 km second leg of the voyage called for a twin-propeller plane. The aircraft has to be maintained meticulously because it flies at altitudes where the air pressure is a third less than at sea level, in extreme cold weather.

After a five-hour flight, Alexander arrived at Concordia, a staggering 3200 m above sea level, and one of the coldest places on . Alexander is replacing Eoin Macdonald-Nethercott, who has been at Concordia for over a year.

Once the Antarctic winter sets in next month, it will be impossible to access the outpost because temperatures can drop to –84°C.

Concordia’s 14 inhabitants have to learn to live and work together without help from the outside world. Only after the Antarctic summer warms the frigid surroundings will fresh supplies and personnel be able to reach the site.

Alexander will perform a comprehensive programme of research during his year-long stay. A variety of tests will investigate how the Concordia team adapt to the station. Areas of special interest are sleep patterns, individual and team performance, and exercise.

Alex will also test software tools that could help crews on future missions.

Explore further: NASA's HS3 mission continues with flights over Hurricane Gonzalo

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Concordia calling

Jan 25, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Altitude 3200 m, air pressure 645 hPa, minimum temperature -85°C, completely flat landscape, almost total isolation and virtually inaccessible from February to November. Welcome to the science ...

Season's greetings from the other extreme

Dec 23, 2011

It is summer in Antarctica and the new crew for the Concordia research station will soon arrive. And since the place is second only to space for harsh conditions, they have been trained courtesy of ESA.

Medical research on ice

Jun 12, 2008

New medical equipment recently delivered to the Antarctic station Concordia will help understand how our bodies physically adapt to this extreme environment - knowledge which could help prepare for a future ...

Mission to Mars via Antarctica

Dec 21, 2005

A few weeks before leaving for the Antarctic Concordia Station, the Italian-French crew that will spend over one year in one of the harshest, isolated environments on Earth, attended two days of preparatory ...

Testing spacesuits in Antarctica, part 1

May 23, 2011

In this field diary, Margarita Marinova takes us on a journey to Antarctica in order to test spacesuits Testing the suits in harsh environments on Earth can help future explorers, who will need protection ...

Antarctic expedition checks CryoSat down-under

Dec 12, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Next week marks 100 years since Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. As a team of scientists brave the Antarctic to validate data from ESA’s CryoSat mission, it’s hard to imagine ...

Recommended for you

NASA image: Fires in the Egypt River Delta

14 hours ago

This NASA satellite image is of the Egyptian River Delta. Actively burning areas, detected by MODIS's thermal bands, are outlined in red. Each hot spot, which appears as a red mark, is an area where the thermal ...

Terra Satellite sees Tropical Storm Ana over Hawaii

14 hours ago

Tropical Storm Ana made a slow track west of the Hawaiian islands over the last couple of days, and by Oct. 20 was moving westward away from the main Hawaiian islands and heading toward the northwest Hawaiian ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Tseihta
1 / 5 (1) Jan 30, 2012
Just a day in the life of a Kenn Borek Air Twin Otter aircraft.