Getting There: 63 Hours to Woleai
by Maria Zilberman • March 8, 2016
Since arriving in Woleai five days ago, the Exploratorium’s eclipse team has set-up their equipment on an old WWII airstrip and beamed home two practice runs of the planned hour-long show (sans total eclipse, of course).
Setting up the production camp. (Photo by Eric Christian)
Once they complete the live broadcast of “Total Eclipse 2016,” some of the crew will take time to relax in Micronesia and even chance to swim in Jellyfish Lake. But it’ll be a different story for the 4,400 pounds of equipment that traveled across the international dateline.
For example, the five gas generators, which went by plane from San Francisco to Los Angeles to Japan to Palau, and then by boat to Woleai, won’t be able to fly home: the residual fuel left in their engines would make them a safety hazard. So instead, they’ll take a two-week cargo ship cruise back to the Bay Area.
The complexity of transporting generators to and from a remote part of the world is only one of countless details that makes broadcasting from Woleai the most ambitious eclipse mission the Exploratorium has ever embarked upon. (And we’ve been to some pretty remote places before.)
Most of the 15 crewmembers flew 23 hours from San Francisco to Honolulu to Guam to Yap, where they boarded the Solitude One and sailed 40 hours to Woleai. The 63-hour journey covered 7,153 miles.
Woleai in the distance after a rough and rocky 40 hours at sea. (Photo by Robyn Higdon)
In addition to bringing their own power, the crew also brought a small drone to capture aerial shots of the island and a satellite dish to transmit it all home. “Gear safety” took on a whole new meaning for a team who knew they wouldn’t be able to replace any of the equipment they’d packed for this trans-Pacific mission, but also didn't have room to pack doubles of everything.
The team then had their work cut out for them once they arrived at Woleai: Because the Solitude One is too large to dock right on the coast, people and 50 Pelicans had to travel to shore by skiff. That meant manually loading and unloading two tons of gear in 90-degree weather with 90 percent humidity. (We’ve since learned that the crew was able pile the skiff high and haul the equipment in only five trips.)
But broadcasting from Woleai didn’t just mean juggling logistics: it also meant establishing diplomatic relations with a community on the other side of the world. To do so, the Exploratorium’s Robyn Higdon, Director of Museum Experience, and Robert Semper, Interim Executive Director, traveled twice to Yap before this eclipse mission, as well as visited the Embassy of the Federated States of Micronesia in Washington, D.C.
Ahead of the trip, the Exploratorium team also produced more than a dozen informational videos about eclipses, as well as held hours of rehearsal to prepare for the live educational program. When show time hits at 5 p.m. PST on March 8, it’ll be all-hands-on-deck to pull off a beautiful celestial show.
Paul Doherty and Robyn Higdon rehearse for the hour-long live program as director Liz Spencer looks on. (Photo by Maria Zilberman)
For more eclipse information and to watch the live broadcast, visit our website.