I am a British medical doctor currently living, working and conducting research for the European Space Agency at Concordia Station in Antarctica. In my life I have made several life-changing calls using Iridium phones from remote expeditions.
I am currently working for the French Polar Institute, living at Concordia station – a French-Italian research base located in the world’s most extreme and isolated environment on Earth. We live here as an isolated crew of 13 European scientists. My Iridium phone has been vital and in regular use since I started my expedition to Antarctica. It saves lives to have satellite phone reception and has enabled me to stay in touch with my family while I’m “unreachable”.
Shortly after arriving, a problem occurred and it soon became a true testament to how important my Iridium phone is to me here. The onsite doctor recently dropped out, and holding extensive experience as an expedition doctor in different areas of the world, I was asked to replace his role for the winter – around nine months in complete isolation without the opportunity for evacuation. Within minutes of receiving the news, I picked up my Iridium phone and was immediately connected to the British Antarctic Survey’s Medical Unit (BASMU) in the United Kingdom. Alongside having support from the French and Italian Antarctic medical units, I was offered additional BASMU telemedicine support for my winter in isolation. Being 28, this was the most difficult decision I’ve had to make.
For the past three months, I’ve relished this opportunity and haven’t looked back. Through Iridium’s vast and reliable network, I am able to reach 24-hour telemedicine cover with the medical unit in the United Kingdom, Italy and France despite our distance and isolation. We are about to enter the Antarctic winter – the worse winter the world has to offer – and from May to August we will endure four months of 24-hour darkness with the temperature dropping to below -80 degrees Celsius – the coldest temperatures on Earth.
Additionally, on March 29, we celebrated the centenary remembering the passing of Sir Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his team – who made the historic journey to the South Pole in 1912. To commemorate this important date, three members of our crew – myself, a French member and a Russian member – camped outside our station in a tent to endure the same conditions Scott and his men faced. It was -75 degrees Celsius in horrible conditions, but an important experience overall. From my tent, I used my Iridium phone to communicate with the distant world we had left behind and was able to convey my story live to an audience of over three million people via BBC Radio 4’s PM Program, while being interviewed by Eddie Mair in relation to the centenary and legacy left by Scott and his men.
A hundred years have passed, but this radio broadcast was a testament to the technology we have and the service Iridium provides in this modern age, which keeps us reliably in contact with the rest of the world, day or night. One hundred years later I am conducting human spaceflight research towards a future manned mission to Mars, with such radio waves travelling out into space.
Although we are all alone – we are more isolated than astronauts living onboard the International Space Station! – I have never felt more safe or comfortable in this harsh environment knowing I have an Iridium phone that can save lives. We have one of the clearest night skies available anywhere on the planet – looking up you can see with your naked eye into the Milky Way Galaxy. We know the satellites are up there surrounded by the ocean of stars.
I also had a chance to talk to my mother while in the middle of the Southern Ocean! It seems there is no place on Earth where your mother can’t reach you when you have an Iridium satellite phone turned on.
For more stories and Iridium plugs, please visit my website at www.AlexanderKumar.com.
To listen to the BBC Radio 4 Broadcast, please visit: http://www.alexanderkumar.com/bbc-radio-4-scott-centenary-interview .
Alex’s story is also featured on Iridium Connected as part of Test Your Satellite Phone Week. To read more, please click here.