Of cakes, movies, fun, festivals: Hyderabad students get a peek into life at Indian station in Antarctica

The Antarctica Experience Room was inaugurated on Tuesday at the BM Birla Science Centre, Hyderabad

Of cakes, movies, fun, festivals: Hyderabad students get a peek into life at Indian station in Antarctica
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HYDERABAD: Students from VIP International School, Oxford Grammar School, and Genesis School in Hyderabad witnessed the breathtaking 'Sunrise' at Antartica while sitting in Hyderabad on Tuesday.You may be wondering how this is even possible in the first place. Yes, you can now witness sunrises and sunsets and even communicate with ISRO scientists stationed at Indian ground stations in Antarctica via the BM Birla Science Centre in Hyderabad's 'Antartica Room'.

The Antarctica Experience Room, which was inaugurated on Tuesday at the BM Birla Science Centre, hosted its first live interaction session with scientists stationed at the Antarctica ground station.Students from several schools participated in the live interaction with the ISRO scientists who were stationed at the Antartica Ground Station.

The students who had the opportunity to talk with ISRO experts were astounded to hear about their real-time experiences from Antartica.The students were amazed to learn about the lifestyle of the scientists, who shared that they were not allowed to step out without wearing three layers of clothing, including jackets, gloves, socks, headgear, and goggles, since temperatures go down to -30 to -40 degrees in Antarctica.

ISRO established the Antarctica Ground Station for Earth Observation Satellites (AGEOS) at Bharati Station in Larsemann Hills, Antarctica, to receive Indian Remote Sensing Satellite (IRS) data.

You might be surprised to learn that Ground Stations provide amenities such as an entertainment room, gym, library, and medical centre. They also have an executive chef, whom the scientists often assist in their free time.

Library at the Indian Ground Station in Antarctica

ISRO scientists Liju Nayak, Bholenath, Chinmay Kumar Patra, and Sahal Muhammad, who interacted with the students, said that they saw their first sunrise two days ago, that Antartica was completely dark from May 20 until July 16, 2023, and that the duration of sunrise would gradually increase and they would see sunrise for the next 20 days.

Scientists interacting with students at BM Birla Science Centre in Hyderabad

ISRO's Antarctic Ground Station for Earth Observation Satellites (AGEOS) operate round the clock in three shifts: morning (7am–3pm), afternoon (3pm–12am), and night (12am–7am). The scientists' routine changes based on their shifts.

Their day usually begins at 8 a.m. with breakfast, followed by a 9 a.m. meeting led by the Station Leader. The meeting's purpose is to monitor station activity, plan day’s work and field surveys for the day, and so on. Following the meeting, individuals resume their regular duties, which include, among other things, field surveys, station maintenance, shramdaan, and medical inspections.

Lunch is often served between 1 and 2 p.m. People who work outside come back to the station in the evening and retire for the day.

During the summer, when the station has more than 40 members, participants are housed in twin-sharing rooms with bunk beds. Once the summer team departs, people are assigned to separate rooms at the ground station. The temperature inside the station is maintained at 20–25 degrees Celsius using heaters, except in the garage and terrace.

Ms. Runjhun Chandra, a scientist and engineer at the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), who was a participant of the 41st Indian Scientific Expedition to Antarctica (ISEA) from December 4 to December 13, 2022, told NewsTAP, "We had indoor sports such as table tennis and other board games to keep members occupied. Doctors also planned gym sessions from 4-5 p.m. to help members stay fit. Community duties begin around 5-7 p.m., with each member expected to clean and maintain the given area (corridors, lounge, library, etc.) on a weekly basis. The day used to conclude with dinner, which was usually served by 8 p.m.

"Movie sessions are organised in the Entertainment Room after dinner by interested members, which is a good way to relax after a long day's work. Members on night shifts and galley duty, on the other hand, remain awake through the night to do their responsibilities and monitor the station's life support systems. People may also go outside in buddy pairs or groups at any time of day to experience the Antarctic scenery if the weather permits," she added.


Prayer room for all religions

Dr. Sudhakar Kandipuri, Manager of Operations and Maintenance at Antartica Ground Stations, who was also present at the occasion, said, "I visited Antartica in 2012. I was there for four months and had an amazing time. Before the expedition, extensive medical checks were performed, including psychological assessments for long-term wintering members. People with cardiac problems are usually not allowed to participate in the expedition.

Onam celebrations in Antartica

"The best part of the expedition was celebrating special occasions and festivals at the ground stations so that the scientists didn't get homesick. We used to celebrate every occasion, including the birthdays of their family members, children's birthdays, and anniversaries," he added.

About the food alternatives accessible in Antartica, Dr. Sudhakar said: "We have everything available there, including most of the vegetables and meat. The ship would arrive with rice, dal, cereals, rotis, frozen fish, meat, chicken, prawns, and veggies to last the entire year. When these goods run out, we turn to frozen foods."

ISRO scientists Liju Nayak, Bholenath, Chinmay Kumar Patra, and Sahal Muhammad, who interacted with the children today afternoon, expressed delight at the opportunity to connect with the students since it was something different from their routine in Antartica.

Runjhun Chandra, a scientist and engineer who also enjoys baking, got the time, opportunity, and creative freedom to explore baking Antartica in her free time in Antartica

Runjhun said, "Festivals, birthdays, and special occasions were days where we would have a party in the evening, which would include a cake, some snacks, and main course items prepared by the chef and station members. I enjoy cooking and had previously made several cakes, but it was only in Antarctica that I had the time and creative flexibility to experiment with baking during special occasions.

"We also played games like Tambola, Dumb Charades, and Antakshari at parties, which was a good way to unwind and keep things interesting during the expedition, as one year away from the mainland is a long time. We celebrated all Indian festivals and national holidays with zeal and enthusiasm. Yoga Day was also observed, and a poster-making competition was organised to commemorate World Environment Day," she added.

Pongal celebrations in Antarctica

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