After four months of darkness, the Sun finally rises on August 11, 2020, at Concordia research station in Antarctica. The crew is understandably reverent.
ESA-sponsored medical doctor Stijn Thoolen (left) and engineer Wenceslas Marie-Sainte (right) are part of the 12-member crew spending an entire year at Concordia. For nine months they are holding down the base in one of the most isolated, confined, and extreme environments on Earth, with no way in or out of the station.
They run experiments in human physiology and biology, atmospheric physics, meteorology, and astronomy, among other disciplines, as well as maintain the base – one of only three to run year-round on the Antarctic Peninsula.
Four months of complete darkness is quite the challenge, one researchers are very interested in studying from a physiological and psychological point of view. From questionnaires to blood and stool samples, the crew is poked and prodded to understand how better to prepare humans for deep space travel.
Social dynamics are also of interest to researchers during the period of darkness. Stress brought on by lack of sunlight, changing sleep patterns, fatigue, and moodiness can affect the group. The crew is especially encouraged to take on group activities and get creative to combat the isolation of the winter.
The first sunrise is always a remarkable moment, signaling the home stretch of their Antarctic residency. From now on the winter crew will start preparing for summer and the return of scientists that arrive for the warmer months starting in November. The base is cleaned thoroughly, machinery is serviced, tents are erected and heated, and the runway is cleared of snow. Extensive work is required to welcome the new arrivals back to the base at the end of the world.