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If you make it through to open water, you must time your arrival at Mc Murdo Sound between the time the resupply ship arrives (the high point of the Antarctic liturgical calendar, when the entire station is occupied with Offload) and the time a few weeks later when most of the staff have left for home.
But I also start to worry about what the Russians are up to at their ring of stations around Antarctica.
Tours are conducted by NSF volunteers in their free time; if the volunteers are busy, you stay on the ship.
It’s perfectly possible to reach Mc Murdo, sit at anchor and stare at the gift shop, three hundred meters away, without being able to come ashore.
The IGY was all about peaceful scientific cooperation, but in a Cold War context that just meant competition by other means.
The point of building Mc Murdo was to get Americans to the South Pole, part of an unpublicized Antarctic base race with the Soviet Union.
The Shokalskiy is ice-hardened, but it’s not an icebreaker.
And there’s no time in the itinerary to wait for conditions to change.
After the 1959 Antarctic Treaty reserved the continent for peaceful use, the Navy handed over the station to the National Science Foundation, which oversees the entire American Antarctic program.
This program is devoted to science in the same way that the German Air Sports Association in the 1920’s was motivated by a pure love of gliding.
Mc Murdo Station has never completely shed its military origins.
The original base (Williams Air Operating Facility, named after an unfortunate whose tractor fell through the sea ice) was built by the US Navy in the run-up to the International Geophysical Year.
Shuffleboard At Mc Murdo Somewhere below the Antarctic circle, I catch Tatiana, the waitress from the port side dining room, in a moment of leisure.