Friday, June 10, 2016

Cold Keys - A Key From Antarctica

Greetings!  Today's key came from my latest expedition cataloging the Colorado keys, where I came across one peculiar key.  A seemingly ordinary key, I got the feeling that this key was in the wrong section upon reading its tag.
This is the key to the old lock on Cos-Ray in McMurdo Station, Antarctica.  Russ Bixby, geek at large...
Though Mr. Bixby was from Denver, the key was clearly in the wrong spot.  So, before determining exactly where the key belongs, I figured it would be good to examine the significance of this key.

McMurdo Station was started as an American research base on Antarctica back in the 1950s, officially being opened for research in December of 1955.  It was the first facility built by the United States on the cold continent, during a flurry of research interest in Antarctica.  While the Americans worked on McMurdo, other countries, including Great Britain, France, Australia, and Chile, created additional research stations on the continent.  The research interest in the continent led to an unusual type of agreement between all of the countries that created bases.  In 1961, the Antarctic Treaty System officially went into effect, serving as an agreement between the Antarctic nations not to use the continent for anything other than peaceful research purposes.  This disallowed any military bases or nuclear testing.

McMurdo Station is one of America's two permanent bases on Antarctica, the other one being the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.  McMurdo is the largest of any of the bases on the continent, capable of hosting over 1000 people at any time.  It is set up as a village, featuring around 85 different structures.  In terms of function, McMurdo serves as a cargo hub for receiving shipments for both American bases, as well as a scientific facility for conducting experiments.  As with just about every facility on the continent, the summer population, when there is more daylight and "warmer" temperatures, is significantly higher than the winter population.

Going back to the Cos-Ray part of the key, Cos-Ray is short for Cosmic Ray.  That's been one of the longest running experiments at the base, dating back to the 1960s.  The facility is simply known as the Cos-Ray Lab or Observatory, and the key would unlock that building, assuming they haven't changed any locks.  Most of the work done there currently revolves around monitoring cosmic ray particles, which can have implications for telecommunications and satellites.  One current experiment going there is the Cosmic Ray Energetics and Mass Experiment, simply shortened to CREAM.  This year, the latest incarnation of that experiment will head to the International Space Station, or the ISS.  That, of course, leaves us with the experiment ISS-CREAM, which the scientists pronounce as "ice cream".

A huge thank you to Russ Bixby for this fantastic key and for the stories that surround it.  Be sure to check this out, and every other key, when you come to visit the key room.

Keeping it "cool",