In A New Book, A Musician And A Scientist Describe Their Lives At the South Pole

They explain how to survive one six-month night.

By Joy Diaz & Laura Rice December 27, 2017 10:30 am

A musician and a scientist fall in love and then move to the South Pole. It’s not the intro to a joke – it’s the story of Jennifer McCallum and John Bird, the authors and protagonists of a new book called “One Day, One Night: Portraits of the South Pole.”

In this real-life story, McCallum is the musician and Bird is the scientist. He did work funded by the National Science Foundation in preparation for NASA’s Mars mission.

“He was offered to run their experiments down at the South Pole studying the upper atmosphere and the aurora,” McCallum says. “And then he said to me, ‘Well, would you like to go to the South Pole?’ And so I applied for a job and got a job as a dishwasher.”

Bird says future astronauts living on Mars will be able to learn from their experiences at the South Pole.

“For example, at the South Pole there’s no food coming in, so everything you need to eat for the whole year has to be brought in at the beginning. And the only exception is the greenhouse. So similarly on Mars, they’re going to need to have some sort of a greenhouse,” he says. “And they’re also going to need a lot of entertainment to deal with the lack of activity.”

That’s where McCallum, as a musician, came in. She arranged a performance of her work.

“Because I worked in the galley and washed a lot of dishes, I was able to interview people and ask ‘Do you sing? Do you play an instrument?’ Some people said to me ‘Yup. I’m a tenor, I sing,’” she says. “In the end, I got a group of about a dozen people and with a lot of changes to my score and with dealing with people who were sometimes tipsy in rehearsal, pulled it off.”

For her performance, she was presented with a bouquet of artificial flowers – a perfect gift from the South Pole.


Written by Jen Rice.