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Lesley Urasky's picture

McMurdo has many interesting people. The majority of them are employees of Raytheon, the current logistics provider for the United States Antarctic Program (USAP). Without these support people, science down here couldn't happen. Raytheon employees keep McMurdo running. They provide our food; make sure buildings have heat and electricity; ensure we have clean, fresh water and treat the wastewater; maintain roads; regulate transport of people and supplies; and facilitate communications through radio, phone, and computers, just to list a few of the jobs. Without these people quietly and diligently working behind the scenes, scientific research would be hard pressed to continue.

Support personnel are the people who spend the longest amount of time here; some arrive during Winfly (end of August), and stay until sometime in mid-February. Many of them only work in Antarctica; the remainder of the year, they travel. These are not people you want to play the passport game with (bragging about which countries you've been to); many of them fill up their passports long before they expire. They come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Some of them have quit conventional, corporate jobs for the opportunity to work in Antarctica; many of them were never able to conform to the traditional workplace, preferring instead the adventure of working in challenging environments.

NSF chalet in McMurdohe NSF chalet in McMurdo. This is the building where the United States Antarctic Program (USAP) is managed.

The "temporary" residents of McMurdo are the "Beekers", or scientists. Officially, they are known as Grantees, meaning they are there because they've received a research grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Some of them are here for the majority of the research season (end of October into February), but most of them are here for shorter periods of time (we're here for six weeks). There is a contingent of Air National Guardsmen as well. The C-17s flying to and from New Zealand and internal C-130 and LC-130 Hercules flights are conducted by the New York Air National Guard. They have an entire suite of mechanics, flight support crew and pilots. The final group of McMurdo residents are NSF representatives. They are here to administer the "Program" (Antarctic research and support) and make sure everything flows smoothly. They are also in charge of making sure everyone abides by the protocols defined by the Antarctic Treaty.

Beeker street sign.Street sign on the road in front of Crary Lab.

"Beeker" is the term for scientists in Antarctica. Crary is where scientists "live" and work while in McMurdo; this sign indicates where you can find them. Because of this eclectic mix of people, McMurdo can be quite quirky. The range of talents here are endless. In their spare time, residents practice music and art. Many of the building interiors are covered with paintings done by people who work in them. In January, there is an event where residents create various types of artwork and display them in the Carpentry Shop. The showing is held in the evening with much fanfare. A former teacher, Jean Pennycook, who has spent the past 11 seasons working with David Ainley and penguins created a photo montage a few years ago called "Pearls to Construction Hats". She purchased several formal evening gowns from thrift stores and asked female employees from around McMurdo if they'd agree to be photographed doing their jobs dressed in a prom dress. There are photos of everyone from dishwashers to carpenters to office staff dressed in evening gowns and pearls. There are several bands around town; some of them write and perform original music, while others simply get together for informal jam sessions. McMurdo even has a formal choir that gets together and practices regularly. On New Year's Day, there is an annual event called "Ice Stock" where a central stage is set up in town and any band that wants to perform has a chance to play. There are open mic nights at the Coffee House where people read short pieces they've written; everything from short stories to essays to poetry. Before Christmas, there is a craft fair where residents sell items they've made. There's jewelry, pottery (McMurdo has an art room complete with pottery wheel and kiln), knitted and crocheted pieces, and other miscellaneous handiwork.

Orca welded from scrap metal, McMurdoOn the road to the ice pier, there is a huge Orca that has been welded from scrap metal.

Sometimes, this quirkiness comes out in random, unexpected places. One of my favorites is the seal skull in the display cabinet in Crary Lab. Someone has placed a gummi eyeball (the kind that appears with the Halloween candy) in one of its eye sockets. The taxidermied Adelie penguin and Skua in Crary's lobby were dressed in handmade winter garb. There's a McMurdo monopoly board painted on the floor of the Berg Field Center. Everywhere you go, you see evidence of someone's sense of humor; it's the little things that make life easier to bear in a sometimes harsh and isolated community.

Seal skull in Crary Lab, McMurdoThe rather ordinary seal skull in a display case in the main entrance to Crary Lab. It's only when you look at the other side of it do you notice someone has placed a gummi eyeball in its eye socket.

Taxidermied Adelie penguin and Skua in Crary Lab, McMurdoThe taxidermied Adelie penguin and Skua in the lobby of Crary Lab sport festive holiday scarves.

Macopoly board painted on the floor of the Berg Field Center.Macopoly board painted on the floor of the Berg Field Center. You can see that it is patterned after the famous variations taken on the Monopoly game.