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Unpacking camping gear  








Interview 1:10:25 - 1:22:40 Play 1:10:25 - More
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Andre Fortin, Elizabeth Arnold  







Electronic communications discussion.  

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
25 Apr 1999

  • Canada
  • Resolute
  • 74.6841088   -94.9040222
  • Stereo
    Sampling Rate
  • 48kHz
    Bit Depth
  • 16-bit
    Equipment Note
  • Subject 1 is decoded MS stereo; DPA4006 omni mics; Sonosax preamp

Show: North Pole
Log of DAT #: 2
"Resolute #1"
Date: 4/25/99

ng = not good
ok = okay
g = good
vg = very good

driving to midcamp in Resolute (MS), quiet voices

getting out of truck/van with door slam

backing up truck through snow drifts

walking through snow/wind to midcamp (WW)

Bill breathing and snorting as he walks through the snow with snow hitting mics

voices begin as walking continues (mic is loose inside zeplin)

EA: You all right?
BM: Well, my glasses have frosted over.

¿walking continues¿

EA 14:26
I still don't really see the tent.

¿walking continues¿mic is rattling¿

Arrive at tent
Unidentified Voice: Hello in there! You guys still alive? Can you untie the flap? We just had to walk about half a mile. The snow drifts are so deep I had to park the van back on the road. There's one big one out here we would have never made it through. Can you untie one more?

Unzipping noises

Climbing into tent

How'd it go?

CP? 19:41
It was great. It was great. It was howling wind all night long, but protected from it. It was super.

Talking inside tent, packing up sleeping bags

EA 21:36
So everybody stayed nice and toasty?

CP 21:38
Well, not toasty, but warm enough.

Mike: You've got all those little weird things you do when you're doing electronics out here instead of just whatever¿

Lots of sounds of sleeping bags being packed
(Bad mic handling?)

g- Many zipping sounds

Some speaking, mostly sounds of packing sleeping bags

Back outside tent with winds and snow blowing, people inside tent talking

snow hitting mic/wind blowing

Walking around tents outside, people talking in background

Walking back to van

background voices

shovel in snow (g) , walking away, voices off to side in distance, someone walks by

more voices, walking

tent scraping, people move about, wind

walk back to van

getting into something, people in van, conversation about ice thickness


stepping outside of azzis, walking

g arctic wind

dog whines in background

dog whines again

Door to house opens, Andre and EA approach

EA 1:10:17
First of all, tell me your name.

AF 1:10:19
I'm Andre Fortin, I work for NASA and I'm here to test some communication equipment that we recently developed at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

EA 1:10:28
Now what do you do for NASA?

AF 1:10:30
I'm a software engineer, sometimes I do a little bit of hardware, and work on ground and space network stations.

EA 1:10:40
Have you ever been up here before?

AF 1:10:42
No, no, this is my first time in the Arctic. I've spent some time in the Antarctic with some space network ground stations, but this is my first time this far north.

EA 1:10:49
So what are you specifically doing here?

AF 1:10:53
Well, we're testing three systems that the space network has developed, the smallest of which is a small system called Portcom which is several years old, and it's a very small, portable, transmit-only system, battery-powered, very small, fits in your hand, very small dish, transmits a very low bit-rate, very low data-rate, but it's transmit-only, that's one system, and we use that for demonstrations to show people the capability of the space network and we can take it anywhere. I've taken that to the South Pole and Antarctica before. And then the second system we're testing is a higher bit-rate system that is used on the space station right now. I believe two of them are on the International Space System right now and I've got one here, here in Resolute that we're testing. It's full duplex, it transmits and receives and we've got it tied to a router, so we're running Internet protocols through Tedris, and so we're on Internet whenever we're connected using that system and that's only a 128 kilobits. The other system, and of course that's a little bit larger, it's in a transportable case, about 150 pounds. And then the third system we're testing is a bigger system, twice that size, about 150 pounds each case, but it goes at a higher data-rate, goes up to a megabit. So we have that at the midcamp up the road here, and permanently installed, really not portable to the Pole, requires AC power, and that runs at a megabit again, it's got a router on it, so it's IP. Going back to the second one, the E-Com, that's also not battery powered, but a small generator that we're taking with us to the Pole will power that. So three systems, all different data-rates and different sizes, to accommodate whatever we want to try, depending where we are.

EA 1:12:48
All right, so say I'm a complete layman and I don't know what a megabit, or a kilobit, or any of that is, what does it enable you to do?

AF 1:12:56
Well, we're transferring data.

EA 1:13:00
Like what?

AF 1:13:01
Well, Internet protocols. We can do webpages over these links, e-mails, file transfers, things that people have been doing lately from their homes over a modem. We're kind of an Internet provider in a sense. In this case, these tests we're doing, but over a Tedris satellite, over a geostationary Tedris satellite. So, it's for e-mails, webpages, file transfers, things like that.

EA 1:13:26
Being able to do that from the North Pole¿

AF 1:13:28
Right, right, doing that from the North Pole¿or anywhere¿where ever we drag these and have power¿South Pole, North Pole.

EA 1:13:33
And how does that help in terms of science? I mean, are you trying to find..get..

AF 1:13:39
Well, often we find that scientists are screaming for real-time connectivity. For example, at the South Pole, the place is closed eight months out of the year, I believe, eight or nine months out of the year, and so their data is all time-critical, and after eight or nine months, it's too late. Sometimes we've heard horror stories of after eight or nine months of collecting data, they found out that their instrument was calibrated wrong. And so eight or nine months of all that time and effort wasted, useless data. So real-time seems to be more important these days than the data itself. Latency, delay is just awful, just contributes to a lot of waste and problems and just not timely. Timeliness seems to be the key these days, everyone wants everything instantly, and so real-time connectivity as we're doing the science is a great benefit. And also the education portion of this also provides the kids with real-time interactions, which we couldn't do if we came up here and, all we could do if we didn't have real-time connections, would go to schools and talk after the fact, which I suppose could be a little boring.

EA 1:14:49
But ultimately a goal would be so that a scientist or researcher working in the field could have the data that he or she needed right then and right there.

AF 1:14:59
Right, have both parties here and down in the States, or where ever they happen to be and exchange data in both directions. Sometimes your files are lost or your program doesn't work anymore and you can retrieve that over your link in case you've lost something, so¿

EA 1:15:18
I've heard a phrase, "ground truthing," where you're basically comparing data, pictures, with what you're actually seeing on the ground and I would think real-time would be critical for that as well.

AF 1:15:30
Right, I'm not sure¿I haven't been working on that portion of it. I've been working on the communications equipment, just keeping them running and going, but I believe that the NEC, I think it's the National Eye Center is the name, is providing images to us, but of course those satellites only orbit every 90 minutes, so automatically there's going to be a 90 minute latency to all of their images, so I don't know how much, how bad that is for us to compare with where we're standing, say at the North Pole, how old 90 minutes really is. If the ice moves slowly, I suppose it's not too bad, but if it's moving quickly, I don't know how much that 90 minute latency is going to provide. So, if it's related to satellite images, there's already latency there, so I don't know the impact of that. I didn't think the ice moved that fast there, but I'm not no expert. Maybe Claire or Mike can clarify that.

EA 1:16:25
Now you're going to go, to the Pole and what exactly are you going to do there?

AF 1:16:32
Well, I'm going to be, we're only taking the second system I talked about, which is the only two, the only other two that there are are on space station right now, so I'm taking that, we're taking a generator. And it's called E-Com, and so I'll be setting that up, making sure it works, pointing the antenna, and turning it on when Tedris is visible and turning it off when Tedris isn't. And we'll have an IP link up there, people will chat with us, and we will send video and audio back down to them and anyone can chime in, depending on the day, how that we decide to cast these web pictures.

EA 1:17:09
Will you also be communicating with scientists back at NASA?

AF 1:17:13
I think, depending on the day, I think we'll be communicating more with kids. Excuse me, children that are at the schools that are participating in this and I don't know all the list of schools. Red Cloud comes to mind and a couple of schools in Maryland, so the Goddard Space Flight Education people in Greenbelt, Maryland, the education office has set up schools and passwords and accounts for them to dial in or call in essentially and see our webcast and they can chat with us through their computers Chat with us up there, and I'll see the questions on the screen, and I'll relay them to Claire and Steve and the others, you know what kind of questions the kids are asking. And I think Claire will be doing some samples of ozone and ice cores, you know, live, and so the kids will see that going on, and she'll describe that, so¿

EA 1:17:59
What's the likelihood of this working, or are you encountering some obstacle that you haven't thought of?

With the equipment? No obstacles so far, everything is working perfectly. A couple of¿a bolt or two came out in shipment from vibration, but that's it. Everything has been working fine here, so we really don't expect any problems. We tested out on the ice a couple nights ago with all the equipment out there and we kept it heated with the generator and it came up fine. The equipment was at 0 degrees Celsius, which is what the minimum spec is, so our little heating set up worked. It kept the equipment warm all night and it worked beautifully out there for 13 hours until the Tedris came up and it looked fine, so we're confident about the equipment.

EA 1:18:41
Explain to me what Tedris is.

AF 1:18:43
Tedris is a geostationary satellite 22,000-some-odd miles out in orbit, very far way. And geostationary means from our perspective, where ever we're standing on Earth, it's always at the same point in the sky and so it's not like in a normal orbit as we associate satellites of every 90 minutes going around the Earth. Tedris goes around the Earth every 24 hours and so it's synchronized with the Earth and so it's always stationary from our perspective standing on the Earth. But at this far North, geostationary satellites usually, typically aren't very visible or only a small portion of them and Tedris has a lot of, the first Tedris, Tedris F1, which is what we're using, Tedris stands for "Tracking Data and Satellite System," will get above the horizon for us. It gets above the horizon here in Resolute for 12 hours and at the North Pole it's above for about 2 to 3 hours with good solid contact. And it's a satellite system that's owned by NASA used for ground users but mostly really used for shuttle and Hubble and a lot of big customers like that, mostly used for its orbiting customers, but we have done once in a while on the ground and particularly in these regions.

EA 1:19:56
How do you feel about going to the North Pole?

AF 1:19:58
I guess I'm a little scared, but we've been camping out a couple of nights so I feel a little more confident, but there'll be a lot of people there, and experienced people, so I feel okay about it.
EA 1:20:11
What are you scared about?

AF 1:20:13
Oh, I guess the temperatures. Temperature and weather. The ease of the pilot being able to find us if we're on an ice, floating piece of ice that moves. Just that kind of thing, just simple things like that. Communication equipment, that'll be a no-brainer 'cause we've tested it so many times, at least with us.

EA 1:20:34
Well now, I was talking to one of the pilots last night and he was telling me that GPS doesn't even work once you get past 80. That they basically just drop out- so I was wondering if that has any effect on your equipment.

AF 1:20:47
Well, I've used GPS at the South Pole and I didn't have any problem. And that was, you know, minus 90 degrees latitude. That's kind of surprising. You would expect it to be working. We were hoping it to be working. We simply haven't found that to be true.

EA 1:21:01
So nothing funky happens, right, just because you happen to be at one end of the Earth?

AF 1:21:07
I didn't think so, but the pilot must know something I don't. If that's the case, then the little GPS measurements that we're making, which we're all taking back home, I guess that won't be working. But we'll see¿

EA 1:21:19
But that didn't happen at the South Pole¿

AF 1:21:20
No, it didn't happen at the South Pole. I have these little handheld ones that, you know, anyone can buy in stores and it worked for me at the South Pole, so I would expect it to work at the North Pole. Maybe they turn the satellites off on the North Pole, I don't know. That could be the case.

EA 1:21:35
What's your greatest hope out of this?

AF 1:21:37
Just everything works and we get the webcast working and the kids, the kids have been excited, at least in the chats we get feedback in real-time that the kids are excited, they're watching from auditoriums, so that's my greatest hope, that the kids get excited about science and engineering and communications, which I hear is kind of a weak point in colleges, that less and less people are going into those fields. I'm hoping the kids are excited and I'm hoping the science data we bring back, that GPS stuff and the reports I make back to my bosses about the communications equipment will give them confidence for us to do more of these things in more remote locations where communications are a lot more difficult.

EA 1:22:18
Well you can't get much more remote than the North Pole, right?

AF 1:22:21
That's right.

end of interview

nice howl of wind

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