Home Sweet Summit

Summer’s science and construction efforts complete, a small crew settles in to caretaker mode up on the world's roof

Summit Station's Big House. Photo: Bill McCormick

By the time the last of the Air National Guard’s LC-130s glides down the long skiway at Summit Station and climbs into the sky, signaling the end of the summer season, the tiny group left behind must feel some relief. They’ve spent several weeks accumulating tasking from a multitude of colleagues while assisting with end-of-season resupply and close-out activities—the usual August bustle and hum.

As they wave that last plane off, the CPS crew turns to a station suddenly transformed from a summer camp into their winter home. With no planes in or out for several months, the five will have the place to themselves as the sun spends more and more time below the horizon (and the mercury* drops as well). They will focus on buttoning the place down for the dark season, conducting maintenance on well-used equipment and gear before putting it to bed on the cargo berm or in the storage warehouse, sorting inventory, and closing summer buildings. At the same time, two technical staff will monitor, troubleshoot, maintain and report on a host of year-round experiments for scientists “back in the world.”


Prior to closing, the crew at Summit wrapped up an ambitious construction season: they relocated the Green House and berthing module, installed a new, insulated garage with new mechanical systems and floor, upgraded electric voltage from 208 to 480 and installed a new fuel tank in the shop.

The structural relocation and upgrades are part of an integrated, large-scope project that aims to make Summit Station more efficient to both maintain and for conducting research, said Jay Burnside, construction manager for Polar Field Services (part of the CPS team).

The new garage is large enough to provide a scientific balloon-launching facility and space for other science activities, accommodate the largest heavy equipment, house the power plant, and provide adequate storage.  It will also serve as Summit Station’s central power production and maintenance area.

Burnside raved about the crew’s hard work and said the construction caused “no unexpected conflict.”

“In general, having people up there working construction is an innate conflict with the science work,” he said. “But we worked closely with the scientists to minimize the impact.”

Summit Station: new and improved. Photo Jay Burnside

*Mercury freezes at about -40 degrees, at which point we have to measure the cold via alcohol, platinum resistor, or other solid-state thermometers. Clearly at that point we know it's cold.