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Scientific spring in isolated Antarctica - Technology Org

In Antarctica, the crew of the French–Italian Concordia research station are preparing for the winter. They have to survive six months of complete isolation – four in darkness because the Sun never rises above the horizon – while they perform science in one of the most barren places on Earth.

ESA-sponsored medical doctor Beth Healey at the Concordia station in Antarctica. Beth will monitor five experiments that are helping to prepare for long-duration missions to explore our Solar System. Living in Concordia is similar in many ways to living in space, where crews are cut off from the world without normal sunlight and live in reduced pressure – Concordia station lies 3200 m above sea level. From searching for life that could survive in these extreme conditions to monitoring how the crew of 13 interact and cope with living in close quarters, Beth will have her hands full as the crew maintain the station and perform Antarctic science for the French and Italian polar institutes. Copyright ESA/IPEV/PNRA–B. Healy

ESA-sponsored medical doctor Beth Healey at the Concordia station in Antarctica. Beth will monitor five experiments that are helping to prepare for long-duration missions to explore our Solar System. Living in Concordia is similar in many ways to living in space, where crews are cut off from the world without normal sunlight and live in reduced pressure – Concordia station lies 3200 m above sea level. From searching for life that could survive in these extreme conditions to monitoring how the crew of 13 interact and cope with living in close quarters, Beth will have her hands full as the crew maintain the station and perform Antarctic science for the French and Italian polar institutes. Copyright ESA/IPEV/PNRA–B. Healy

This year, ESA-sponsored medical doctor Beth Healey will monitor five experiments that are helping to prepare for long-duration missions to explore our Solar System. Living in Concordia is similar in many ways to living in space, where crew are cut off from the world without normal sunlight and live in reduced pressure – Concordia station lies 3200 m above sea level.

From searching for life that could survive in these extreme conditions to monitoring how the crew of 13 interact and cope with living in close quarters, Beth will have her hands full as the crew maintain the station and perform Antarctic science for the French and Italian polar institutes.

The British Antarctic Survey station Halley VI. Halley is built on the Brunt Ice Shelf, a floating area of ice that is flowing off the Antarctic Plateau some 50 km south of the station’s current location. As the ice flows off the mainland the buildings move with it – the station drifts northwest by around half a kilometre each year. As the ice shelf is pushed farther from the coast it is put under increasing strain by the motion of the tides until eventually a large section breaks off to form an iceberg. The station is made up of eight modules connected by short, flexible corridors. The modules are kept above the snow surface using hydraulic legs mounted on skis. As well as keeping the buildings above the rising snow level, the design allows the station to be relocated across distances of many kilometres. The individual modules are designed to be separated, towed across the ice shelf by bulldozer, then connected again at the new site. This makes it possible for the station to remain a safe distance from the edge of the ice shelf. Copyright BAS–Sam Burrell

The British Antarctic Survey station Halley VI. Halley is built on the Brunt Ice Shelf, a floating area of ice that is flowing off the Antarctic Plateau some 50 km south of the station’s current location. As the ice flows off the mainland the buildings move with it – the station drifts northwest by around half a kilometre each year. As the ice shelf is pushed farther from the coast it is put under increasing strain by the motion of the tides until eventually a large section breaks off to form an iceberg. The station is made up of eight modules connected by short, flexible corridors. The modules are kept above the snow surface using hydraulic legs mounted on skis. As well as keeping the buildings above the rising snow level, the design allows the station to be relocated across distances of many kilometres. The individual modules are designed to be separated, towed across the ice shelf by bulldozer, then connected again at the new site. This makes it possible for the station to remain a safe distance from the edge of the ice shelf. Copyright BAS–Sam Burrell

Checking the data nearer to sea at Halley

Scientific experiments often compare results taken from different places and time periods. ESA signed an agreement this month with the British Antarctic Survey to perform two of the five Concordia experiments at their Halley VI station. If this pilot season runs well, ESA will extend the cooperation.

Concordia offers ESA scientists a place to investigate how humans adapt to living in isolation and at high altitudes. The crew at Halley experience the same isolation and lack of daylight but live at sea level. Performing the same investigations at Halley will allow researchers to cross one factor off the list that might influence data: air pressure.

Concordia research base in the Antarctic. During summer aircraft take off on an almost daily basis. Concordia is a hubbub of activity as researchers from disciplines as diverse as astronomy, seismology, human physiology and glaciology descend to work in this unique location. For the rest of the year, around 14 crewmembers remain to keep the station running during the cold, dark winter months. Copyright ESA/IPEV/PNRA–E. Kaimakamis

Concordia research base in the Antarctic. During summer aircraft take off on an almost daily basis. Concordia is a hubbub of activity as researchers from disciplines as diverse as astronomy, seismology, human physiology and glaciology descend to work in this unique location. For the rest of the year, around 14 crewmembers remain to keep the station running during the cold, dark winter months. Copyright ESA/IPEV/PNRA–E. Kaimakamis

Collaborative science

Over the next six months, volunteers at Halley and Concordia will record themselves in a video diary and have their social interactions monitored. This is working towards  objective computer software that will give clues to an astronaut’s state of mind.

Ask anybody how they feel and most will reply ‘fine’ but, for mission controllers planning a complex spacewalk or spacecraft docking, having an objective second-opinion could be a lifesaver.

The system works by analysing small changes in intonation and grammar, as well as charting how often people talk to each other, to develop an idea of how people feel.

Sunset at Concordia research base in Antarctica. During winter the Sun stays below the horizon for around four months. During the Antarctic summer some 60 scientists live and work on the base conducting research on the icy plateau 3200 m above sea level. When winter comes, they leave a skeleton crew of up to 15 to keep the base running and fend for themselves for nine months – no help can be flown in as temperatures drop to –80ºC. Copyright ESA/IPEV/PNRA–E. Kaimakamis

Sunset at Concordia research base in Antarctica. During winter the Sun stays below the horizon for around four months. During the Antarctic summer some 60 scientists live and work on the base conducting research on the icy plateau 3200 m above sea level. When winter comes, they leave a skeleton crew of up to 15 to keep the base running and fend for themselves for nine months – no help can be flown in as temperatures drop to –80ºC. Copyright ESA/IPEV/PNRA–E. Kaimakamis

The second experiment being run at both sites will test how our eyes adapt to four months of outside darkness and artificial lighting.

David Vaughan, British Antarctic Survey’s director of science, concludes: “We are committed to supporting excellent science in Antarctica in all disciplines. We are hugely excited to be hosting these new experiments that may help prepare for, perhaps, the biggest adventure in history, a manned flight to Mars.”

Click here for a full list of ESA’s research at Concordia this year.

Source: ESA

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