I am in a place I have come to call ‘White Mars’ – the heart of Antarctica.
It is the coldest, darkest and most extreme environment on our planet. The outside temperature has again fallen below -80C (-112F) or -99.9C (-148F) with wind chill – the extreme limit of its scale. Inside, the window is frozen over, entombed with ice and it remains dark outside, as it has done so 24 hours a day for the past three months. And we are at an equivalent altitude of 3800m above sea level, making it difficult to breathe.
We are completely alone and isolated here from February to November. The French refer to people who over-winter here as ‘Hivernauts’, but, unlike astronauts, we have no ‘mission control’.
Concordia base is unique in that it is jointly run by the French Polar Institute and Italian Antarctic Programme. It consists of two cylindrical, three-story towers – a shape that stirs your imagination to think they could have arrived within a Saturn V rocket. It is strange to refer to it at home, but that is how it has come to feel. The base is our life-support system in a region where there is nothing but ice for more than 1,000km (700 miles) in most directions.