South Pole Station is totally different from McMurdo - landscape, work, culture, and even atmosphere. The place itself is absolutely improbable. This is the closest to a space station I'm ever going to get. We have the dome itself and a ragged sprawl of Jamesway tents, cold storage, and new construction in the middle of a white desert so large and featureless that the brain tends to cancel it out.

It's been hard to write about the Pole. Maybe because it's even stranger for humans to be here than at McMurdo. There at least there's some of the continuity of life - seals, seabirds, penguins, the undersea critters that the divers bring up. Here we're a small blob of life next to an arbitrary point in the middle of the flat white vastness of the polar icecap. No mountains to look at, no hills to climb. You can walk around the Elevated Dorm. You can ski out to the ski hut that's an arbitrary distance away from the station. You can ski back again. Most folks work, watch videos, maybe play instruments, knit. But mostly work. Construction is going round-the-clock for the new station. Watch out you don't get bulldozed by accident.

I was going to write about how rough it is to live in a 50-year-old quonset-shaped Jamesway tent at 40 below, but then I found the gap in the tent canvas that was letting outside air pour into my cubicle, stuffed a pillow on top, and now I don't have much to write about any more. Nice Jamesway. The Jamesways are preferable to the Hypertats, fancy tin quonset-shaped dorms built by the government at vast expense with plenty of heating but no sound control at all. People can hear their neighbors turn over in bed. Some people live inside the dome, but the station that was built for 50 or so is now housing 220 so most of us are out there in Summer Camp.

The job is plenty of fun though. The big thing is talking to airplanes: we don't do air traffic control, but we track them in and out, relay cargo and passenger information, give them our weather, and turn on and off the blinky light that tells people not to walk across the skiway. We also talk to McMurdo, field camps, and all the local folks with handheld radios. Plenty of knobs, buttons, and dials. I get to say things like "Skier 96, Skier 96, South Pole with the 03 Zulu METAR, are you ready to copy?" It's all very real and very serious of course, but I do enjoy it. I've been told I have an "authoritative" radio voice. We're in a windowless room in the middle of the dome but we have a strange verbal view of all the activity around the station and the whole continent.

It's easy to be a "dome slug" but it's hard to really get your brain around where we are. The place starts with a physical assault: altitude, cold, and dryness get most people down for the first couple of days. My first impression of the Pole was a headachy blur. There's always a bit of doubt of the reality of the whole place. We had a bit of overcast move through and since then it's been bright sunlight (24 hrs a day of course) with ice crystals, tiny flecks imperceptible except for a myriad of bright momentary rainbow refractions. Flat white, sun and sky, and this incongruous construction site that we live in.

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