U.S. Antarctic McMurdo Base Plugs in to a New Building


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The task can be likened to running two gigantic extension cords through town, and it is now complete. McMurdo's computer network and telephone wires are now connected to their new home in the Joint Space Operations Center, commonly called JSOC and pronounced "Jay-sock."

The building's purpose is to consolidate the station's computer and telephone systems into one hub, explained network engineer Joe Harrigan. JSOC was specifically designed for this, so it is bigger, better laid out and better ventilated than the systems' previous homes.

JSOC's upstairs houses the station's computer data center and future telephone network. NASA will use the downstairs for computer equipment to track polar-orbiting scientific satellites. NASA also will operate high-quality weather satellite equipment for the U.S. Air Force out of the building, explained field engineer Nikolas Sinkola. Construction on the 445-square-meter building began in 2001. It was paid for jointly by the National Science Foundation, NASA and the U.S. Air Force.

The computer data center began operating out of JSOC on Dec. 6, Harrigan said. The telephone wires connect to the new building, but the phone system still operates out of its old home in the telecommunications office in the fire station. No date has been set to switch over the phone operations to JSOC.

The computer data center was previously located in a cramped room in building 165.

"It was just a rat's nest of fiber and copper cables," Harrigan said. This was the result of years of trying to keep up with the station's fast-growing computer needs inside a small space.

All of the computer network connections throughout town still run into building 165 and the telephone lines run to the firehouse. But those buildings now have the equivalent of a giant extension cord running to JSOC, Harrigan explained, so that the systems can be managed from there.

Computer data centers generate a lot of heat. JSOC was designed so that the computers heat the building, with backup heat from the power plant if needed. The temperature in the data center room can rise by 11 degrees Celsius in 15 minutes if the cooling mechanisms fail, Harrigan said. The computers themselves are cooled by outside air that's piped inside and comes up through small holes in the floor tiles.

A dry-chemical fire extinguishing system runs through the data centers so the computers won't be damaged by water if there's a fire. Building rules also state that you must take your shoes off at the entrance to protect the data center from volcanic rock dust that gets tracked in from outside and can ruin machines.

The data centers are built with multiple layers of redundancy so that no data will be lost if any part of the system fails, Harrigan said. The building also has back-up power so it won't be affected by any outages in town.

"The major concern is not so much being down, but being down and not planning for it," Harrigan said.

NASA will start moving out of its small office in the Crary Lab and into JSOC on Jan. 5 in preparation for two new, large projects, explained Sinkola, who is employed by Honeywell, a NASA subcontractor. The additional space in JSOC will make it easier to handle the extra work generated by the test launch of a new satellite and an ozonemapping project.

The two-person NASA team at McMurdo sends instructions to and receives data from about 25 satellites, Sinkola said. NASA's computer system will be down for about two weeks while the move is completed, he said.

If you're interested in a tour of the building, contact Joe Harrigan or Cleve Cleavelin.

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