Why build this?
I chose this subject because it is the closest thing on earth to a space habitat. I can also tell my friends that I am building a scale model of the Earth, starting at the bottom!
Why use Lego?
Because I like Lego, that's why!
Seriously, though, I was able to find the shapes and colors I needed, and the precision of Lego made it possible to build large structures from tiny pieces.
What do the letter flags mean?
They are keyed to the photos in these pages. For example, flag A is at (about) the same position on the model as photos A and A' (of the piers), and flag V marks the ICL, shown in photos Vf and Vr.
Why the South Pole? Don't you live closer to the North one?
I do, but the North Pole is
under water occupied by Santa.
My friend only makes what's on the box.
I think he or she is missing something, don't you?
What date does the model represent?
About 2012, sort of. I imagined that the VIPER and BICEPS 3 scopes were simultaneously on the ends of the MAPO; in fact, VIPER in the partially disassembled state I show in the model was contemporary with BICEP 2, which (at Lego scale, anyway) looks identical to BICEP 3.
How long did it take to build?
I spent about 3 months on the main building, working on it about two hours a day. Quite a few people, including my wife (Edna), both our sons (Benjamin and Jeremy), and friends they recruited, and our daughter (Melissa), helped to make the "snow." Benjamin built Destination Alpha and the stairs on the back of the station. The model, in this state, was shown at several BrickWorld and Brickfair exhibitions. After some medical problems, I returned to make these pages, the stickers, and the "blue buildings" in about another year, again working about two hours a day. Edna built the BICEP and VIPER telescopes using my designs for them and suggested improvements in the "blue buildings." In 2016 and 2017, I showed the model at BrickFair New England. Using Ralph Savelsberg's elegant design, I assembled the LC-130 model in several weeks after BrickFair 2017 with help from Edna and Melissa.
I haven't built the power plant (not enough photos of the outside yet). After my brother-in-law Ed took me to see a ski-equipped LC-130 in Arizona (hint: they don't need them there), I built a model of one, but it still needs a hangar (like the power plant, I need more pictures). I hope to build the power plant and hangar eventually.
What is the "snow"?
At the real South Pole, it's a glacier about 3 km/2 mi thick. In this model, it's represented by white Lego flowers, which come four on a sprue and were separated manually. I need more, if anyone has extra.
What about the penguins?
One of the best-loved features of the model is the pair of slightly oversized penguins, made and given to me by Edna. She used minifig hands for the beaks. Penguins live in Antarctica, but not near the Pole (about 1300 km/800 mi from the nearest open sea) because they can't find food there and it's too cold. See the film, March of the Penguins (La marche de l'empereur), for the story of their remarkable migration.
Is the scale correct?
The scale of the buildings is consistent (1/125; one stud represents about one meter). There is a lot of room at the south pole, however, and the possibility of interference among experiments means that the buildings are more spread out there than in this model.
How many pieces are in it?
Not counting the "snow," about 3700 in the main building. There are about 12600 "snowflakes." Each of the four "blue buildings" is about 800 pieces. The Poles, flags, signs, and outhouses are about 150 more pieces. The LC-130 is about 600 pieces, so in all, that's roughly 20250 pieces if you're counting.
Did you use glue?
Did you get paid for this?
Did you make the insides of the buildings?
No, because you don't get to see them anyway.
Can I buy this kit somewhere?
This isn't a "kit," so no. (There is an exception; see below.) The individual pieces came from my collection, from the "Pick-a-Brick" wall at the local Lego store, and from parts vendors on BrickLink (www.bricklink.com).
The LC-130 is a kit, though, available from BrickMania. Ralph Savelsberg (aka Mad Physicist) made an excellent design that is ever so much nicer than anything I could have made, so I used it despite the slight discrepancy in scale (1/100, vs. 1/125 for the buildings).
Have you ever been to the South Pole Base?
No, I wish I had, though! I looked at a lot of photographs to get the dimensions right.
Has Buzz Aldrin ever been to the South Pole Base?
Yes, and so has the King of Norway (to celebrate the centennial of Roald Amundsen's visit to the Pole; needless to say, the Base wasn't there in 1911). You can go there, too, if you've been hired or if you have a lot of money you don't really need.
Is it really all Lego?
Yes, except for the lights inside, which are made by LifeLites (www.lifelites.com), and the stickers, which I designed using images from Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org) and which were cut and attached to Lego pieces by Edna. The eighth sticker (the flag of the USAP) is a spare; the rest of the top 13 flags are arranged in a semicircle next to the ceremonial Pole, the next two flank the geographic Pole, and the last two fly above Destination Alpha. The top sticker on the left is centered on the windscreen that separates the two halves of the station, the second is a sign at the geographic Pole, and last is a sign at the base of Destination Alpha. Edna made the ceremonial South Pole 'barber pole' by wrapping two white strips of sticker paper (0.25x0.75in/6.25x16.8mm), offset by 180 degrees, around a red Technic pin joiner. The dish of the SPT was chromed on an original Lego part by bricks4all.
The signs I display were made by Victor at EclipseGrafx (www.eclipsebricks.com) on Lego tiles, and were given to me by Jeremy. The insignia on the LC-130 model is a set of vinyl stickers packed with the kit.
Aren't the stripes on the Ceremonial Pole backwards?
Shhhhh. (I goofed.)
When I was a kid, Lego didn't make all these weird pieces.
That's not a question!
The Lego logos aren't all pointing the same way.
That's not a question, either. Who invited this guy?
What are the little blue buildings next to the big ones?
Hint: they aren't mailboxes. They're what you think they are -- and they're unheated, too, so you can freeze your __ off if you stay in one too long.
The station itself has indoor plumbing, and bathrooms. The "blue buildings" have neither.
Are the metric measurements correct?
Not really. The contractor used by the NSF uses US customary units (in most cases, equivalent to English imperial units), like some of the rest of the US but unlike the rest of the world or almost all of the other people (scientists) to whom the NSF gives money, who use the metric system. Go figure. Anyway, the result is that the US customary measurements given in the text are definitive, and the metric equivalents are approximate.
It would be nice if these pages were posted publicly.
Yes, it would be. Try pointing your web browser to georgebmoody.com/lego/sp/.
What time/date is it at the South Pole?
This is an arbitrary choice, made for the convenience of operating the station in concert with USAP Headquarters in Christchurch, New Zealand. The base keeps New Zealand time (UTC+12 hours).
I thought the station was a dome.
The second version of the station was a geodesic dome, like the one you might have seen on TV. Unfortunately, wind-blown drifting snow is unkind to most types of structures at the South Pole, and like other such structures the dome eventually became buried. It was hazardous to use and had to be replaced. (The first version was built of wood in 1956-7 and was designed to be partially buried by the snow. It is now more than 10 meters [30 feet] deep, having been abandoned c. 1975.)
Why are there so many telescopes? Is the South Pole a good place for astronomy?
Yes, because it's 3km/2mi high so there is little atmosphere to interfere, what little air is there is exceptionally clean, there are no street lights or other sources of light pollution (the windows of the station are covered during the annual five-month night for this reason), there's a patch of sky (the south circumpolar region) that's continuously visible for long exposures or observations of infrequent phenomena, and it is dry (the area around the Pole is the driest desert on Earth; the massive amount of ice and snow there is because it doesn't melt or sublimate). Nevertheless, optical astronomy hasn't been pursued seriously at the South Pole for years because much of the sky is not visible. Current large scopes at the Pole are all radio telescopes, since none of the sky has been surveyed comprehensively at other sites owing to near-ubiquitous radio pollution, which the snow reflects and is kept away from the scopes by prominent radio shields.
Operators of the radio telescopes now at the Pole are cooperating on a hunt for evidence of the Cosmic Gravitational Wave Background (GWB) by looking at the polarization (curl component) of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). They are aided by most of the advantages listed above, and by the relatively low lead time of less than one year achievable using Earth-based locations.
Why only a five-month night? Isn't night at the Poles six months?
Twilight lasts about two weeks at each end.
Why are the telescopes in cages? Do they think the scopes will run away?
Second question first. The operators of the scopes are smart people. I don't think they think the scopes will run away.
As for the first question, I don't know. I'd guess they don't want the scopes to get hit by accident in whiteout conditions. What do you think?
Why are there so many trash barrels and recycling bins?
It's the South Pole, and the NSF wants to keep it clean. (Actually they are obligated by treaty to do so.) The contents of those receptacles goes back to McMurdo, and from there back to the US for disposal or re-use. That makes it some of the world's most expensive refuse. The NSF is (justly) proud that 70% of it gets recycled -- that's far more than most US communities -- but it implies that 30% doesn't get recycled. At the temperatures at the Pole, it doesn't decompose, either, so it would become a big problem if left to accumulate.
Members of the community sort their recycling finely. Around 1 April, bins labeled "dreams", "zombie parts", and the like often appear, but these aren't usually recycled.
Why doesn't the fuel for the power plant gel or freeze?
The plant runs constantly, keeping the fuel liquid. Heat is always needed at the base, so the fuel isn't wasted.
What wildlife lives at the South Pole?
Only humans (and the lifeforms they carry) live at the Pole. Arctic terns (sterna paradisaea) and antarctic skuas (catharacta macormicki) have been seen flying over the Pole occasionally, but they find no food there, so they don't live there. Brown skuas, also (confusingly) known as antarctic skuas and recently in the news because they seem to recognize individual humans, are a distinct species (stercorarii antarctici) and have not been spotted near the Pole. There is also a seabird called the south polar skua (stercorarius maccormicki), which oddly enough is sometimes seen in New Zealand (near the ocean, where it feeds) and not near the Pole (far from the ocean). Wikipedia disagrees (about the bird, not about the ocean).
How cold does it ever get at the South Pole?
Pretty cold. It often drops below -100° F (-73 1/3° C, but it sounds more impressive in Fahrenheit). The lowest recorded temperature at the Pole was -117° F (-82.8° C). [The all-time high is a balmy 9.9° F (-12.3° C)].
That's not as cold as the ISS. Why don't they fly year-round?
It's much more expensive to fly to the International Space Station. And they don't have to land on the ISS in the dark.
There are KOALA (Kind Of A Lotta Acronyms) here. What gives?
Haha, I see what you did there. Blame the NSF (there goes another one!) for them. If you find an acronym that isn't defined in the text, please let me know about it.
Why is the SPT on an altazimuth rather than an equatorial mount?
Because it's at (well, close enough to) the pole, so an altazimuth mount is an equatorial mount, at Lego scales anyway.
Has solar power been considered? Powering the base with jet fuel doesn't sound environmentally friendly.
(Thanks to Dave G. for this question.) The little blue buildings get solar power in the summers. (They aren't used during the winters.) The problem with solar power at the Poles is that the sun never gets very high, and is not in the sky at all for six months each year. Geothermal power would require drilling a long way, given the thickness of the ice.
Attempts to use solar power to heat the ICL are visible on the model.
Windmills look more promising, and are being tried at the South Pole.
What type of doctors work at the Lego hospital?
Plastic surgeons, and their patients are mostly minifigs with bumps on their heads.
OK, this isn't actually a frequently asked question, but it should be.
Where is the bathroom?
Finally, a sensible question! Ask me, and I'll point.
It's upside-down! Why don't all the Polies fall off?
There's a South Pole Gravity Generator. Here's what happens
when it's switched off for maintenance: