Thursday, 11 November 2010

It's a drizzly afternoon, and I have been wandering around a particularly leafy and pleasant suburb of Cologne.  I was so tired I could hardly speak English let alone figure out how to buy a ticket for the tram in German. But this is a very friendly place and people everywhere are willing to take the time to help.

Germany has Europe's only university dedicated entirely to sport. Here, the Sporthochschule teaches the management, economics, physiology and training of sport. It's also the olympic centre for Judo and Hockey, and I walked past glass fronted stadiums with members of the national team training inside.
I've come here to start getting to the heart of why I'm going to Antarctica.  Here is where one of the research teams have been designing the research I'll be conducting at the base.

To say that space is a challenging environment is obvious.   Aside from the engineering involved, existing in space is difficult for humans.  The risk of equipment failure is unthinkable yet has to be confronted daily.  There is no day-night cycle. The monotony drains the crew's ability to think well.  The dry air alters sensation.  The conditions are cramped and inescapable.
        So how to prepare for this?  Well, the European Space Agency realised that the Concordia base in the Antarctic is a very good place to test how all these variables affect people.  It's isolated, there is no day night cycle for most of the year, and we crew will depend on technology and our own resources for survival.  So it sends a researcher each year - me, this year - to examine how the conditions affect the crew, and will use the information gained to help plan how to look after it's crew of five or so when it finally sends a mission to Mars.

Which all seems so very far away from this quiet corner of Europe.
I got out of the hospital after a run of brutally tough nightshifts and got straight in a car to drive to Glasgow, onto a plane, and then another, and then fell into a bed here for four hours. And now having met the researchers and made arrangements for tomorrow, I've got the rest of the day to relax, and take in this nice town.
I'm going to make the most of all my opportunities; I've got a long year ahead. Simple things can all of a sudden seem very pleasant, and I'm very contented wandering round in the rain

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