A sprawling world of engineering equipment exists below the main deck of the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star. Without it, the ship cannot operate.
The Polar Star’s engineering department ensures the ship’s mechanical and electrical equipment is working properly, but the harsh conditions of Antarctica provide many challenges for the aging ship, which has been around longer than many of its crew members.
The 399-foot icebreaker is the nation’s only operational heavy icebreaker. It is responsible for many missions including clearing a channel every year through the frozen Ross Sea as part of Operation Deep Freeze, which is the U.S. military’s contribution to the National Science Foundation (NSF)-managed U.S. Antarctic Program. The channel it creates provides safe passage for supply ships making crucial deliveries to NSF’s McMurdo Station in Antarctica. Pummeling through ice up to 10 feet thick takes a toll on the ship, which goes into drydock annually for maintenance and repairs.
The crew of Polar Star overcame several engineering issues during their deployment to Antarctica including two instances that required some damage control efforts to contain. Lt. Cmdr. Chris Pelar, the Polar Star’s engineer officer, is responsible for the ship’s machinery, electrical distribution systems and the nearly 50 members of the ship’s engineering department.
“The biggest challenge of this deployment has been finding the unknowns—those things we didn’t think about,” said Pelar. “We had one issue that cascaded into several different casualties. It seems crazy that one small component can fail on one system that has a much larger impact on the entire cutter as the casualty begins to cascade into other system failures.”