In the name of science, there are currently three women and 10 men living on the edge of the world. Outside Concordia Station in Antarctica, the average temperature is about -70°C (-94°F). The crew, who come from France, Italy, Switzerland and the UK, are surrounded by 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) of snow in all directions. Other humans, also at another scientific base, are 600 kilometers away. Given the season, the crew hasn’t seen the sun for four months.
They do, however, have access to the internet, which they used to answer questions asked by Redditors. Below is a lightly-edited selection of some of the things they said about life in such severe, icy isolation.
How do you get water, electricity, and internet?
Electricity is produced with diesel generators and heat comes as a by product. There is a power station here and the fuel arrives to the station via an overland traverse which travels 1,300 kilometers from the coast during the summer.
The internet is through a satellite connection and the speed is 512kbps. It is not consistent and we don’t have it on our personal computers. We have two computers on which we are able to use Skype.
How do you dispose of sewage?
We have a grey water recycling machine here which is a prototype for that used on the International Space Station. I test the quality of the water every 2 weeks in my lab. We add to this water supply by melting fresh snow.
How do you study what happens to the crew over the mission?
We are at 3,233 meters here which makes us 4,000 meters alpine equivalent, so we do experience hypoxia. We have an arterial blood gas machine and take capillary and venous samples to consider our adaptation to the hypoxia at set intervals following arrival.
The psychological aspects of the overwinter experience are of considerable interest to European Space Agency. Once a week the crew complete a video diary entry about their experiences which will be analyzed not only for what is said but also body language and frequency of certain words.
We are also wearing activity watches which detect both where the crew are on the base and also their interaction with other crew members. From this data we hope to monitor the crews preferences for how they spend there time (that is, more time in social places or private areas), which crew members they are interacting with and how this may change over time.
How long can a person last outside at such temperatures even with protective gear?
We go outside every day on foot, taking care of the scientific instruments which are usually in a circle of 2-kilometer diameter from the station. We have heated (8°C) shelters next to the instrumentation with acquisition devices and computers to warm ourselves up when we feel cold. Dressing strategy is based on many clothing layers and you should breathe air only through, say, a scarf. If you work with thin gloves with a screwdriver for example you can resist only a few minutes and after your fingers are freezing.
Has anyone ever been born in Antarctica? What nationality would they be?
Yes, people have been born in Antarctica, but not at Concordia. I believe they would be the nationality the station they were born in. The Antarctic treaty prevents any territorial claims.
What do you do with your downtime?
We all help with communal jobs, for example cleaning and washing up. We have a gym and video room. We also do many Skype conferences and outreach activities to educational institutes and museums (like this Reddit!). In the summer there are lots of sporting activities to take part in outside. We have recently been participating in a trans-antarctic darts tournament with other bases.
Do crew mates hook up?
There haven’t been any relationships during our over winter here. Relationships could be tricky in such a small group.