Update on South Pole Situation
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Two ski-equipped LC-130 aircraft arrived Oct. 10 in Christchurch, New Zealand, a key staging point on a global-girdling mission to the South Pole. One of the aircraft will bring Dr. Jerri Nielsen, the physician at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, back from the Pole. The aircraft, flown by the 109th Airlift Wing of the N.Y. Air National Guard, will proceed to McMurdo Station, a National Science Foundation (NSF) facility that serves as the gateway to the Antarctic interior, to stand by for favorable weather to pick up Dr. Nielsen.
Dr. Nielsen discovered a lump in one of her breasts in mid-June. The U.S. Air Force parachuted medical supplies to the station in July and she has been carrying out her normal responsibilities. However, her physicians have recently recommended to us that Dr. Nielsen be returned to the United States at the earliest safe opportunity. The onset of summer in Antarctica, with its gradual increase in sunlight and temperature, makes it feasible to evacuate her and to replace her with another physician.
Once the aircraft can proceed from Christchurch to McMurdo the aircraft will wait at McMurdo station until the weather and temperature allow a safe mission to the South Pole. Once mission planners have deemed that the weather is sufficiently cooperative for the flight to take place, one of the aircraft will leave McMurdo to fly the roughly 800 miles to the Pole.
In deciding when to dispatch the aircraft, the key factor is temperature at the station. Mission planners will wait until temperatures are at least -50 C or warmer to ensure the aircraft functions properly on the ground. Technical specialists consulted on mission planning cannot reliably gauge the effect of lower temperatures on fuel performance or on hydraulic systems operation. Lower temperatures also reduce the sliding ability between the ski and snow surface and could make it difficult for the aircraft to generate sufficient speed for take off.
Once Dr. Nielsen is onboard, the aircraft will return immediately to McMurdo where she will prepare for the return flight to the United States. As has been the case throughout this ordeal, Dr. Nielsen considers the details of her medical condition to be personal and has requested that no specifics regarding her medical status or treatment be made public. She also requests that there be no contact with the press during her travel. The National Science Foundation is respecting that request.
The 109th provides logistical support to the U.S. Antarctic Program, which is administered by NSF. It is the only organization in the world that flies the ski-equipped LC-130s, which are the only aircraft capable of landing at South Pole at this time of year.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2016, its budget is $7.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $626 million in professional and service contracts yearly.
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