My First Day Off in Antarctica

Sometimes NASA comes and speaks at your workplace.

Sometimes NASA comes and speaks at your workplace.

My work week is six days, Monday through Saturday, so Sunday is the single day of rest. The days have been full of learning and somewhat doing my job, so I felt a little unprepared to take advantage of time off. But, it's 10:30pm and even though I didn't get to everything I wanted to (who needs exercise, anyway?) today was well-spent.

The below is perhaps a bit mundane at times, but here's the reality of my first day off. If you're bored, skip to the end. That's where it really picks up.

07:30 . Wake up . Unlike most of my compatriots, I opted to not go out on Saturday night.

08:00 . Breakfast . Given the level of late night activity yesterday, breakfast was predictably uncrowded. The breakfast is a bit meager since brunch is the real meal on Sundays, but some granola and peanut butter toast was enough to get me going.

08:30 . Laundry/internetting . My dorm (I happen to live in the main building, where the cafeteria is) has 5 washers and 5 dryers, and Sunday morning's general activity level was the perfect time to do my first load of laundry since leaving. The computer lab is across the hall.

10:15 . Bloody Mary . Sunday is Bloody Mary day at one of the bars. Having abstained last night, it was my time. College football and Cubs/Cardinals on the Armed Forces Network.

11:00 . Brunch . A friend poked her head in my room to see if I'd eaten, and although the answer was yes, I definitely wanted to check out brunch. So we had a good long chat over pancakes and ham.

This is a training session, not a meal. But it's where we eat our meals.

13:00 . Moving . That same friend and her roommate were rearranging their abode, so I provided some (limited) muscle.

14:00 . Music room . Earlier in the week I had gone to music room orientation to learn how to schedule time for playing on the half-dozen or so guitars they have. The schedule was just posted today, meaning that the space was still unscheduled. Perfect time to go plug in. There are a ton of people who play music here, so it shouldn't be difficult to find regular collaborators. And in January there's a music festival with 10 or so bands. Luckily, I've heard the crowds are forgiving.

16:00 . Nap . A Bloody Mary and two beers in the music room really makes a man tired.

18:00 . Dinner . The food... the food here on base is... not great. Not bad, but not great. That's not to question the abilities of anyone involved in food service, rather feeding 1000 people in one of the most hostile yet habitable climates on Earth can be challenging. Most ingredients have been frozen at one point, fresh veggies are a treat, the cookies are excellent, pizza is always available.

19:00 . Shower . The weather is super dry and although I sometimes sweat at work under my layers of warmth, I don't really *feel* that dirty most days. Plus, we're supposed to ration showers to every other day at the most frequent. But after four days, my first shower here was just lovely. The bathrooms are dorm-style, but the water's hot and if you go at the right times, it's not hard to find an open shower.

20:00 . Science Talk . One of the perks of working on a science base is that the science staff gives talks every week or so. Tonight, a NASA scientist talked about developing exploratory vehicles for the Eudora mission to one of Jupiter's moons. The moon has an ice crust and, they believe, an ocean below. So one of the teams is using Antarctica to test prototypes of the vehicles that will melt through Eudora's crust and then explore the ocean.

About every 60 seconds of the hour-long presentation, I kept thinking "This is so effing cool." As smart as I like to think I am (which is usually smarter than I actually am), this is a group of people figuring out how to send a rocket to a moon of Jupiter, get it through 4 km or so of ice, swim around an ocean of unknown chemical composition, then send data back to Earth. I, on the other hand, still can't drive a manual transmission.

Essentially, my job is to give carpenters screws and lumber, but the science talk gave me this feeling of pride in doing something to help a small town near the bottom of the Earth keep running. Because, after all, the entire reason this town exists is to help these badass scientists do their thing. So I like to think the janitors, mechanics, cooks, store clerks, shuttle drivers, equipment managers, and I are helping humanity get to a moon of Jupiter. Just a little.

I often get cynical about what passes for important in this world; selfies, hyper-consumerism, hedonism, and self-righteousness seem to win out more often than I'm proud of, and I myself am not immune from having misplaced priorities ... oof, getting riled up just thinking about it. Anyway, intermittently creeping cynicism means I often have a tough time feeling good about what this whole human experiment is doing if it just leads to political wheel-spinning or turning the Earth's resources into diamond-studded iPhone cases.

I guess my point is that sitting and listening to NASA scientists talk about how they're planning to get to Eudora makes me damn proud to hand out screws and lumber. And I'm thankful for that feeling. It was a pretty good day off.