Our people work in places where even cockroaches can't survive
The head of unique project, international parachute expedition to the South Pole "Meeting the 3rd thousand" - Oleg Prodan together with leaders of Russia Antarctic Expedition has visited "Vostock" station.
"Within the framework of preparations to parachute expedition to the Antarctic, which should have started on the eve of 2000, we should have landed on the South Pole on 31st December, 1999, I managed to witness the procedure of wintering change and to have personal experience going through all delights of living at "Vostock".
I was very lucky. I could plunge into circle of those who was going to spend a year wintering and those who have already spent a year in such space conditions. Yes I am correct, precisely space conditions. There is no other place on Earth like our famous "Vostock" station.
But let us go one after another.
9 winterers of forthcoming 44th expedition and 4 accompanying (leaders of RAE and Your obedient servant) on the 17th of January flew from St Petersburg to Amsterdam and further on to Sidney and still further on to Christchurch (it is in New Zealand, which we know due to "Ankor" butter). It was rather boring to sit in comfortable airliner of KLM company, to eat, to drink and to watch films without surd translation for more than a day.
From the height of St Petersburg winter we plunged into the summer height of the South hemisphere. Warmth, greenery, great Pacific Ocean. But to every man's opinion our girls were the most beautiful. In general, abroad as it was abroad. We were not surprised at anything - we had another aim. In couple of days we put on polar clothes, given to each visitor of the Antarctic in International Antarctic Centre (with sure return), took places in American military "Hercules" and set off for our final aim - the Antarctic.
In eight hours our airplane let out its skis, looking like goose's feet, on shelf ice near American station Mack-Merdo. I was told that it is a large station, but I couldn't have even imagined such a scale. It is a real town with full set of all necessary attributes - hotel, canteen, dwelling three-storey houses, post-office, telegraph, telephone, bank, Internet, bar, etc. Till 5 thousand people are working there during summer period. Ocean tankers are berthing, though with the help of icebreakers, airplanes are flying oftener than somewhere in Murmansk, for example, 8-10 flights a day (though on the whole it is military-transport airplanes, especially for Antarctic work equipped with ski and wheel undercarriage!)
And at once it enters my head, that our country, where 70% of territory covers with snow, at present moment has NOT A SINGLE airplane with ski undercarriage, not speaking about ski-and-wheel variant. May be this is a reason of disappearance of northern delivery which «doesn't swim to this place, fly as far as it is and crawl so far» for those, who needs it so much. Certainly not, but still we should look into it. Not long ago our airplanes equipped with skis spend thousands of hors in flights over the Arctic and the Antarctic and the projects "Better than Mack-Merdo" have been created...
And what's now?
It is a clear example that to break is much easier than to create.Within 10 years the country, which created nothing but money pyramids and spent all that had been created before "democratic reforms", is trying to solve its geopolitical vanity in a super strategic and fantastically potential place of the planet with the help of few devoted to their business enthusiasts (nowadays this word sounds abusively), who are constantly imploring, wheedling out of this country poor pennies, planned by the budget for creation of image of "great scientific power". (I have raged a bit. It is like "Feel sorry on my state's account". It is time to stop and move on to our penguins).
So, having walked about the base's neighborhoods and having admired wonderful sights of Antarctida coast, we again took our places in "Hercules" and in 3 hours we found ourselves near the fondest post - "Station "VOSTOCK" (78°27'51"S, 106°51'57"E, till Moscow 15 575 km, etc.) It is extraordinary place, arriving to it all the crew put on oxygen masks, as it is great shortage of oxygen here. At once you don't notice it, but in an hour you understand that everything here is not like on the coast. The height 4000 m, shortage of oxygen as though on 5000 m, low temperature cause headaches. We arrived when it was -40°Ñ. The highest temperature here is -25°Ñ, the lowest in winter -89,2°Ñ (it is absolute world minimum!)
Acclimatization throws everyone off balance, but influences everyone differently. Looking at those who had spent a year here, toy can't believe, that you will be able to move freely, rake snow and heave loads too. Newcomers move like in slow-motion shot - the speed is reduced at least twice. Lack of breath appears when you harshly bend. I have never considered a weakling, but I can confess that I had hard time lacking a habit. The experienced have their own way of solving acclimatization problem - properly drink alcohol, have a through rest and balance will come itself. I was sick only thinking about alcohol. No I couldn't compete with professionals - let everything take its course.
On the second day of stay I began to settle down. What a miracle is it "VOSTOCK", about which all the Antarctida explorers are speaking with unconcealed respect? My inspection showed - the station consists of 4 main buildings:
1. DES (at any case I decode - diesel electro station). It is the most sacred place in the whole station. Warmth and light - these things give life to people. All day and night 3 specialists are keeping watch there. God forbid in winter electro station becomes disconnected. I can't bear to think what may come then because 8 months a year nobody can get to the station. Complete isolation! Polar guys joke: "In space if something happens, they can send rescuing ship. If something happens to us, nobody can reach us, such a ship has not been invented yet". And that's that! Our country knows its hero-cosmonauts by name, and hero-polar explorers dissolve among Russia residents after return from the Antarctic. There is no even statistics of consequences of people staying in inhuman conditions.
2. Saloon. Dining room, billiards hall, the room of chief, food store bathroom and lavatory. It is possible to live here, I lived there myself.
3. "Radio house". There live and work specialists: radio operator, meteorologist, doctors, and magnetologist. It is rather cosy and warm here.
4. Famous derrick. It is not working now. They have bored the deepest well here of 3600 meters. Nobody has ever managed to reach such depth, but our Kulibins managed. One is not allowed to bore deeper. 150 meters more and... there may be that famous lake, with regard to which there is so much scientific fuss. It is really unique. One can't imagine that is about 1 million years old and it lived its own absolutely isolated from all other life. And there is a great possibility of life existence in it. And how to learn what is the life there, this is a problem scientists are trying to solve. A drill should get into water sterilized and this can nobody fulfill yet. And if there really somebody is living, right as in Spielberg films. (I am lost in dreams)
That is all simple household. No, there are some another buildings, but they are blocked with snow. In order to get there, explorers make tunnels (as though metro builders). I WAS IN SUCH A TONNEL - BEAUTIFUL, though the temperature there is stable - 53°Ñ. By the way I forgot to tell about one more interesting place - kern repository. There on shelves numbered kerns (pillars of taken out of drill ice) are kept. They were taken from all levels of drill. Investigating them scientists can tell much about the past of our planet, our past, precisely about the past when eve our ancestors hadn't yet lived. Temperature inside the repository is also constant, it is a bit lower than in good Swedish refrigerator - 60°Ñ.
This is who about we should mostly speak. There's no any special mark on them, they seem to be the same with us. But there is something elusively incomprehensible in them. What for are you here? A question suggests itself, but you don't want to ask it. Each of them has own way to the Antarctida, to this hard life. And if you ask the most burning question, how much they earn here, you will think, that you are sitting among crazy altruists. Golden (in direct meaning) days of hero polar explorers are left. The country's problems are their problems, moreover that they have absolutely no possibility to protest and defend. Really, they earn more and yet regularly than those, who don't receive salaries within half a year. But what efforts it costs to their fine management. And whether it is possible to compensate, by these received by their families money, risk and privations of the hardest wintering.
In mark of respect and in order the Country knew her guardians at the most distant outposts; I want to name those, who are keeping the hardest watch at "Vostock" station in our motherland's interests. Let those, who came back with me from 43 expeditions and those who worked and are working in the Antarctic and those who is going along the most difficult and dangerous way from "Vostock" to "Mirniy" forgive me. (I should speak separately about them) Be healthy and alive, let everything you are doing be appreciated according to your desires, be happy!
Participants of wintering at "VOSTOCK" station 44 Russian Antarctic Expedition:
Kuchin Vladimir Alexandrovich - the chief
Popov Valentin Grigoryevich - the chief of DES
Solyanik Vladimir Andreevich - magnetologist
Maulini Alexey Lionelyevich - magnetologist
Muchin Oleg Nikolaevich - doctor
Suprunov Sergey Nikolaevich - doctor
Fandeev Nikolay Petrovich - meteorologist
Gandriev Michail Victorovich - radio operator
Smirnov Vladimir Alexandrovich - DES engineer
Bezzubov Vladimir Fyodorovich - mechanic-driver
Devyatov Vyacheslav Ivanovich - DES electrical engineer
Kuzmin Sergey Nikolaevich - cook.
So there are only 12 of them. Each has own interests, habits, education, upbringing, character. Before the trip I pestered the leader of Russian Antarctic Expedition Valeriy Vladimirovich Lukin with one question: "Just who are they Antarctic winterers?" The answer was always the same: "They are all different the same as we are. When you come there, you will see." On my way there I managed to communicate with many people and to ask questions prepared by newspapers and magazines, which passed their issue numbers to explorers.
The main problem at the station is lack of latest information. As much as I could (correctly as much as my rucksack allowed) I tried to compensate it, thus having earned the respect of explorers. Certainly the latest press was delivered to "Vostock", but I think I didn't manage to fulfill completely the instructions of the editors. Of course I listened to many stories from life of Antarctic stations, regretfully I am not able to retell beautifully polar and sea fables. I managed to persuade explorers to make photos with favorite newspaper or magazine only after long negotiations. They are not photo models at all, besides they have no time for it: they have to clean territory from snow, to saw it for snow-melting machine (to receive water), just play a billiard or to read newspaper but not for window-dressing. Normal and plain wishes far from our fuss and wish to become popular.
So, fact-fable, consonant to the title of this article:
During stay at "Vostock" you realize and can't get used to one regular thing - besides our polar explorers and seasonal researchers coming here, there are no other forms of life. For myself I called it "biologic vacuum". NOTHING! Just imagine there are no birds, slightest animals. So, with regular delivery from "Mirniy" in equipment cases there were brought ordinary, ubiquitous cockroaches. It was an entertainment for winterers - somebody else would run around. They could take care of cockroaches, feed them, speak with in other words to feel responsible for the friends younger. But their joy didn't last long - the inexhaustible cockroaches couldn't stand the conditions of "Vostock" and all died out. The holiday fluently turned into mourning for premature death of cockroaches.
All this concerns the question about conditions of life and work at "Vostock" station.
Though some people succeed in decorating this poor for events life with real event. During short summer (it means sun doesn't set and the temperature is -35°Ñ) the chief of 43rd wintering Alexandr Viktorovich Frank-Kamenetskiy managed to grow on a window sill in dining room tomatoes from illegally received seeds, They were small as grape. Gardeners will understand for sure what I am speaking about. Just imagine there are thousands kilometers of ice around and at your windowsill you see tomatoes. Sheer beauty!
Though I hardly came through acclimatization and was longing for home, but when came the time to leave, I felt grief. We couldn't part as in movies. Everything was at a run. Airplane arrived and didn't turn off the engine (if you turn it off you will not be able to start it again and will have to stay for wintering. And American pilots were looking forward to vacations at Hawaii), unloaded provisions, poured off kerosene to mix it with diesel fuel (if you don't do it in winter you will have to load diesel with spades), waved hands each other and run in to airplane. That was all, we flew away.
And actually what was the purpose of my trip? Now I can tell about it. We are preparing large parachute expedition to the South Pole in December at the eve of 2000. Those parachutists who wish are coming from the entire world, though it is rather expensive pleasure. But desire is stronger than everything - the century ends and parachutists still haven't pioneered the South Pole properly. A serious half-completion. And who is able to do it, certainly we - Russians, as we have wide experience in North Pole pioneering and also our aviation, which we had, but lose. And it should be still the best in the world. But fly directly to the South Pole is not quite correct. Therefore we decided to deliver first cargo to "Vostock" (by cargo parachutes to land carefully), and then we may meet 2000 year by parachute jump to the South Pole to the joy of all parachutists of the world.
That is an idea. Only again we can't cope without problems. It goes easier with foreigners, their wise statesmen understood, how much use they an bring to their states, supporting parachute teams, which are going to make such heroic deeds. Is it a fun, when on New 2000 Year the flag of your country will be raised over the South Pole? And in our country nobody is interested in pronouncing for the entire world that we also have services to the Antarctic researches and besides we are organizing such a tremendous affair.
And if to speak seriously, when we parted with guys from "Vostock", they said they would be looking forward to meeting us in December with our cargo. I strongly don't want to deceive them, May be by joint efforts we shall manage to deliver New Year presents from far motherland for them. Let us try.