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Summer in Antarctica

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Posted: Saturday, January 4, 2014 10:00 am

Completing lab tests, a stress test and psychological exam are just the beginning of procedures to complete if you want to explore like Steve Ballou.

A Stateline Area native, Ballou is currently braving the cold, windy and snowy conditions at McMurdo Station in Antarctica — all in the name of science.

“Steve applied for this position for 10 years before he finally got accepted two years ago, and now this is his second trip there,” said his wife, Lanaya Ballou.

Ballou, a geology technician at Beloit College, is in Antarctica as part of the ANSMET (Antarctic Search for Meteorites) program.

He left Beloit on Nov. 29, traveling all the way to New Zealand and then to McMurdo Station. Ballou’s exact return date is not yet known, but it may be sometime in February, Lanaya Ballou said.

“He flew to Los Angeles and then Sydney, Australia, to Christchurch, New Zealand where the group stocked up on supplies before going to McMurdo Station,” Lanaya Ballou said.

Coordinated by CaseWesternReserve University and the U.S. government, the ANSMET program allows researchers to find meteorites and then send them to NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

Since 1976 the program participants have collected more than 20,000 meteorites. The samples give scientists a better look at what elements and materials are in the solar system.

“Right now it is summer in Antarctica and the group goes there to find meteorites,” Lanaya Ballou said. “They go out on snowmobiles and find them on the surface of the ice.”

After a meteorite is found, it is packed away using a sterile preparation and shipped to NASA while still frozen. Once it is received in Texas, the samples are thawed, dried and examined.

“The meteorites can be as small as the tip of a ball point pen or as big as a football, maybe even larger,” Lanaya Ballou said.

While the work is rewarding, participants in the ANSMET program have to make many adjustments to survive in Antarctica’s extreme conditions and isolation.

“It’s daylight down there 24-7 right now,” Lanaya Ballou said. “They also have days where they can’t go out because of the weather...then they just have work, some games or books and one another to entertain themselves.”

Lanaya Ballou says she has heard from her husband sporadically since he left the Stateline Area. The ANSMET crew has a satellite phone, but the weather has not been cooperating.

Once conditions are favorable, blog posts, photographs and updates will be available more regularly by visiting http://artscilabs.case.edu/ansmet/.

Despite knowing the dangers her husband may face while collecting the samples, Lanaya Ballou says she is proud, and the trip is an adventure of a lifetime.

“Steve has been collecting rocks all his life, but never thought he could do something like this,” she said. “It’s such an honor for him to be chosen for ANSMET.”

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