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29 September, 2003

Hello friends!

Well, I am passing the final stages of preparation for Antarctica. Besides the waiting, the hardest part of this program has been the physicals required to assure the NSF that they are not sending a faulty unit (me), into the field. I completed the last tests this past week and all went well. I have had every aspect of my being poked, prodded, and to paraphrase a line from songwriter Arlo Guthrie, " I've been inspected, injected, detected and selected!". It does give me peace of mind however that I am in good shape and am as physically ready as I can possibly be.

With that out of the way, I spend my vanishing free time making sure I am mentally ready for the job at hand. A number of the PI's (Principle Investigators) have sent me their scientific papers that they have published relating to the areas we are going to be investigating in Antarctica. They are generally in the area of paleontology and although I took a few undergraduate courses in college, I find myself consulting various texts to "connect the dots" in these papers. This is because as a high school earth science teacher, I must spread myself among the Earth Science disciplines of astronomy, geology, meteorology, oceanography as well as paleontology, so with a research project of this magnitude, I find myself "boning up" on the latter so I am an asset and not a liability.

With a departure date set for November 14, I have set up a count-down calendar in my office. As things I need to attend to occur to me, I jot them down on the calendar and pencil in a "to be completed by" date. The problem with this is, although some things get completed; often you must revisit them because things change. I was told to expect plans to change once in Antarctica because of the wild card weather and limited resources add to the mix, but I did not expect my plans here to in such a state of flux. For instance, I had set up my internet plans with my school and classes. However, because the turnover of some of the key I.T. people in the district, I have had to reinstate the whole plan again with the new people. Also, because of the Blaster Worm and its variants, our email has be unreliable and all the computers we use with our earth science students have to be patched and updated, another be drain on time. Other things like promised hardware or field gear may not be available as promised so contingency plans must be developed to work around these gaps. This is not to mention the more mundane things like arranging for someone to handle home chores like yard raking snow removal, banking needs and visits with people you will not see for a while. Being gone is one thing, but being in a part of the world that you can not get out of easily is another. You have to prepare to be gone for the duration and make plans that will kick in, in your absence because where I will be, even communications may be infrequent. It is sort of like when they sent the rover Sojourner to Mars, when ground controllers sent commands from Earth to the rover, there is a time delay of nearly 7 minutes between sending instructions up and then receiving telemetry back. (At its closest, round trip to Mars is around 120,000,000km. divide that distance by the speed of radio waves through space, 300,000km/s, and you get 6.7 minutes.) During the interim, the rover must have a set of instructions to tell it what to do during that gap. Well when you are in Antarctica, you need to leave those instructions behind too. You also want to leave with the peace of mind that things are in order (Did I remember to shut off the coffee maker???) because in Antarctica, you must keep you mind on your work and weather conditions. Fortunately, several of my friends have volunteered to be "on call" while I'm gone so my family can call on them to deal with any emergency.

That's all for now, six weeks to go!

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