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Research in Antarctica

Czech doctor is going to celebrate his 2nd Christmas in Antarctica

Since last December, the Concordia research station in Antarctica has been operated as well by a Czech doctor Aleš Rybka who works there as a medical researcher. Rybka has been selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) from multiple candidates and his task is to conduct experiments to pave the way for long-term manned spaceflights from medical perspective. His return to Czech Republic is planned on January 2011.

The most important experiment that is performed by Rybka at the station is the project CHOICE. The aim is to determine immune system changes during prolonged hypoxia (lack of oxygen) and mental stress arising from the impossibility of evacuation, tight space, darkness, etc. Other projects cover a microbiological load, EEG monitoring before and after physical exercise and discovering frequent identification signs of mental imbalances. The last research project aims to determine the period of re-practicing cardiopulmonary resuscitation by the laic people, which is a procedure that slows down the comming of death during cardiac and respiratory arrest.

"It was amazing to monitor the work activity and lifestyle of Aleš Rybka during his stay at the Concordia station. I am very pleased that we have managed the stay of Dr. Rybka in Antarctica, which, however, would never succeeded without his experience and excellent references. Again, this is proof that our experts are world class and they shouldn´t fear the possibility that brings them Czech membership in the ESA," added Michal Václavík, Head of the Department of Human Spaceflight and Microgravity Experiments in the Czech Space Office.

Below, you can see the interesting fragments from scientist´s notes:

Christmas and New Year

In the Antarctic Summer we celebrate Christmas and New Year´s Eve. But even though it is in the Summer, I was lucky that I´ve experienced white Christmas after a long time. We also got gifts - a certificate of crossing the Antarctic Circle and a T-shirt to PNRA´s (Italian polar organization) anniversary. The chefs prepared a great feast (crayfish, snails, frog legs, steak), so we ate and celebrated into the long "night". The Summer at Concordia is beautiful. The sun shines all day and beautiful halos can be often observed around it. Temperature ranges from -25 °C to -50 °C and the wind doesn´t blow too much. There are around 70 people at the station, so it´s quite a busy place. Technicians modernize the station and prepare it for the Winter and scientists, on the contrary, work on research projects.

I work at the station as a doctor of the European Space Agency, my job is to conduct number of projects (including projects for NASA) which should prepare the humans for a long space flights. I work in Dome C (Charlie) on the French-Italian Concordia station. The station is built on the high ice plateau, placed over 1000 km from the coast and 1500 km from the South Pole. There is 3.5 km thick ice sheet below me and around me there´s just snow, ice, snow, ice and nothing else. What a huge difference it is compared to the Antarctic world in the TV - penguins, icebergs, sea, mountains, killer whales, seals, birds, stones.


Earlier this month, the last plane took off and the Winter started. The first sunset in the mid-February and the first stars in the sky at the end of February. The temperature is gradually decreasing as the days shortened. In April, we measured -78.4 °C, which is quite unusual compared to the local averages. During our Autumn it can be captured the "green light" at sunset, which is a green light refraction caused by the atmosphere.

Season changing is very special here. Some divide them into four, as well as in Europe. Summer means permanent presence of the sun (even at night). Winter on the opposite permanent dark. Spring and Autumn are characterized by shortening or lengthening of the daytime. At the South Pole, there is Winter for 6 months and the other 6 months is for Summer. On the contrary, on the coast, there is Spring for 6 months and 6 months Fall. We are in the middle, so we have all four seasons, every of them 3 months. But the true Antarctic resident distinguish the period only for the Summer, when it is possible to leave Antarctica and Winter, when you remain trapped and wait for the next Summer.

4th May, The Last Sun

It was such a strange feeling to find myslef finally in total darkness after first three months in permanent dusk. I also started to suffered from sleep disorders and fatigue that I've controlled by the use of light lamp. But the night is beautiful. Dome C is the best place to observe the stars on the planet. The Milky Way is really milky. The galaxies are beautifully purple. There was a large number of falling stars, occasionally I saw a satellite flying over. The astronomer showed us the Saturn with its rings, using a powerful telescope of course, and it's really like in the images. This year has been successful for astronomers, in the local project ASTEP there is searched for planets around the other stars, successfully.


At the end of the month we orgaized a big four-day celebration of Midwinter. We played a number of games, our chef prepared tuns of food, we shaved our heads, bathed in the pool at -77 °C and we also exchanged wishes with other stations. As the pool we used a container in which we melt the snow which is then used as drinking water. This so-called melter is heated to a temperature of +42 °C. But to run out of the station just in shorts in -77 °C , with winds of up to -100 °C and run about 30 meters, it takes great courage. Jump into the pool is easy, to get out is worse. Once you stick out your hand, the steam starts to rise immediately. At very low temperatures, it is necessary to dip your head in the water every 15 seconds otherwise you end up with chilblains. During the isolation we are busy, in addition to work and regular cleaning we play pool, table football and other games like cards, Playstation, we make movies, exercise at gym, etc.


July was tough. We knew the sun was comming, but the time passed so slowly. I have never imagined how much I would miss the sun. The fatigue escalated. On the other hand, we saw a beautiful aurora, which is not present in the area over Dome C as often as on the coast. We also broke temperature record from 1982 in the Dome C, -84.6 °C is really cold.

Stay on Concordia is not easy. The first month you have to get used to the high altitude and associated health disorders - sleep disorders, headaches, physical inefficiencies, etc. Another factor that makes it difficult is the dry air. Six percent humidity causes bleeding from the nose or skin cracking. Permanent light can be easily handled by black shutters that are installed in the rooms. And for extra low temperatures we are equipped with really great polar clothing.

12th August, The First Sun

Amazing feeling. As if it poured a new energy into the veins. We have reached a new temperature  record of -84.7 °C, which was the fifth lowest temperature in measurement history of the whole planet. From personal experience I have to say that in polar clothes there is not much difference between -80 °C and -60 °C. More important is the wind speed that can make the stay outdoors really uncomfortable. Once the sun came out, life at Concordia started tu rush. It´s the Spring. Little by little the day lengthened, the night shortened, it was getting warmer  and at the end of of October we saw the last the sunset.

17th November

Summer has finally arrived. That means the first plane landed here after long nine months. No one can imagine what a wonderful feeling is to bite into a fresh tomato.

3th December

I´ve celebrated one year in Antarctica, one year on one of the most extreme places on the planet.