Hot Air Balloons

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Summer 07
Winter 07
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  Z or Dead
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After the fun of our recent celebrations we came crashing back into work with a base scrubout. A whole afternoon spent cleaning all the gaps and spaces that are left out of the usual rota. I can't speak for everyone, but I can't imagine people really enjoy scrubbing and sweeping, that said, compared to having a house back in England I spend far less time cooking or mopping at Halley, and probably live in a tidier environment eating better food. It's a hard life, this Antarctic lark.

We also got back on track with the ever interesting Doc School, polishing up our medical knowledge in case of accidents in the field. Last week was an overview of blood and, unusually, didn't involve any fainting despite the holes everyone was pricking in their skin. It turns out that my blood is red and contains heamoglobin. Tests for being a shape-shifting alien failed to find any on the base, but after watching The Thing we remain vigilant...

Scrubbing the kitchen
Scrubbing the kitchen

Blood grouping in Doc School
Blood grouping in Doc School

Halley gives you time to think, especially in the space left after the mad rush into midwinter. Recently I've been thinking: "can I make a hot air balloon?"

After a raid on the base supplies of tissue and tracing paper, and a couple of afternoons spent gluing rips back together, I had a fragile but colourful lantern drapped out on the dining room table. The windsock wasn't quite matching my vision, but these things never do, and never will when made with enthusiasm and without, well, any sort of plan. With the envelope already feeling quite heavy, as it was probably half glue and half paper, I moved onto some experiments with burners. Although all my designs burnt their test frames into dusty oblivion I decided to go with the one that lasted the longest, but that was also the heaviest: a sawn through Schweppes can filled with meths and tissue paper.

Balloon frame
Balloon frame

Balloon resting
Balloon resting

Having finished the construction the weather turned against me, with high winds blowing snow and shaking the buildings. Saturday came and the winds relented, so we headed out onto the snow, stood downwind of the buildings, and lit the burner. I was suprised that we didn't have an instant bonfire, and held the frame as we waited for the magical moment of lift off. As the flame flickered inside the lantern it seemed, perhaps, to get a little lighter, to fill itself, and started to swing slowly in the gentle wind. I let go, hoping for flight, but was disappointed with a crunch of paper and snow as it fell down.

I left the lantern burning by itself on the snow, happily supporting its structure but not light enough to leave the ice. As the last of the meths burnt off the glowing tube started to scrape along the ground, drifting in starts until tripping over the edge of some sastrugi. As it fell drips of flame jumped out of the burner and sparked the balsa frame into a brilliant burst of light. Free of its burden and burning brightly the remains of the craft soared into the night then fell to the earth in a tumble of red embers and grey smoke.

It wasn't the most sucessful first step into the sky, but it has got me thinking: "can I make a bigger, lighter balloon?"

Bad balloon, good lantern
Bad balloon, good lantern

Bad balloon, good fireball
Bad balloon, good fireball

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