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Calling all candidates for Concordia

Alex Salam working with sign pointing to London: distance 16547 km. Alex was ESA's research MD at Concordia in 2009. Credits: ESA / Alex Salam
by Staff Writers
Paris (ESA) Apr 26, 2011
They are more cut off than the crew of the International Space Station. They are at Concordia in Antarctica, and one of them is ESA researcher Eoin Macdonald-Nethercott. If you want to follow in his footsteps, ESA is looking for his successor.

The flat landscape around the Concordia research station is 3200 m above sea level and virtually inaccessible from February to November. During the southern winter, Concordia is under almost total darkness. With temperatures down to -85 degrees C and the thin air, aircraft can't land and snow tractors can't reach the station.

Eoin arrived in November in a rugged Twin Otter aircraft, hunched in a cramped seat behind a large battered aluminium case, flying over a flat desert of snow. They made a bumpy landing at the second attempt on the icy strip.

"So this is my home for the next 363 days," thought Eoin, a medical doctor from Scotland, looking at the station's two domes.

He applied last year for the almost-out-of-this-world opportunity as ESA's member of the station's winter crew - an 'hivernaut' as they call themselves, after the French word for winter.

Science paradise
Antarctica is one of the most interesting places on Earth for scientific research. Studies in glaciology, atmospheric sciences, astronomy, Earth sciences, technology, human biology and medicine all benefit from the isolated and extreme environment in the middle of the Antarctic continent.

ESA uses Concordia as a laboratory for fundamental research into many subjects important for human missions to the Moon or Mars, like coping with stress and changes in the immune system, blood clotting and changes in the circadian rhythms.

ESA also supports the French Polar Institute and the Italian Antarctic Programme, the station operators, in medical monitoring, testing life-support technologies and psychological training of crews.

A fantastic adventure
Since 10 February, when the last of the summer technical crew and visiting scientists left, the 14 have been alone with storms, aurora australis, false alarms, a band of uniform blue below the horizon where the features are too distant to be seen, and work.

"The research I'm doing is looking at how our environment here affects our thinking, mood and sleep quality, and whether good exercise helps with all these things," explains Eoin.

"With a bunch of astronomers and cosmologists, just plain nightowls, and on the one hand with a technical crew that is up bright and early for a respectable 8am to 6pm working day on the other, any semblance of normality disintegrates."

Eoin writes about a typical day at the Concordia station in his letter from Antarctica. His own blog talks of eyelashes instantly freezing together and plumbers who make good phlebotomists.

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