The station was originally constructed in November 1956 to support the International Geophysical Year in 1957, and has been continuously occupied since then. It lies about 300 meters (1000 feet) from the Geographic South Pole, and drifts towards the pole at the rate of about 10 meters per year.
Recorded temperature has varied between minus 13.6 degrees Centigrade and minus 82.8 degrees Centigrade. Annual mean is minus 49 degrees Centigrade; monthly means vary from minus 28 degrees Centigrade in December to minus 60 degrees Centigrade in July. Average wind is 5.5 meters per second; peak gust recorded was 24 meters per second.
Snow accumulation is about 6-8 centimeters (water equivalent) per year. The station stands at an elevation of 2,835 meters on interior Antarctica's nearly featureless ice sheet, about 2,850 meters thick at that location.
The central area of the station was rebuilt in 1975 as a geodesic dome 50 meters wide and 16 meters high that, with 14- by 24-meter steel archways, covers modular buildings, fuel bladders, and equipment. Detached buildings house instruments for monitoring the upper and lower atmosphere and for numerous and complex projects in astronomy and astrophysics. There is an emergency camp. A number of science and berthing structures were added in the 1990s, particularly for astronomy and astrophysics. A redevelopment plan to upgrade the Station is in progress.
130 or more people work there during the summer. They leave by the beginning of March, leaving several dozen (58 in 2003) "winter-overs", mostly support people plus a few scientists, who keep the station functional through the months of Antarctic night. The station's winter personnel are isolated between mid-February and late October. Most of the scientists work in low-frequency astronomy; the low moisture content of the polar air, combined with the altitude of over 10,000 feet, causes the air to be far more transparent on some frequencies than is typical for most of Earth, and the months of darkness permit sensitive equipment to run constantly.
Numerous flights of ski-equipped C-130 Hercules aircraft supply the station between October and February.
Wintering-over at the station offers notorious dangers and stresseses, as the station population is almost totally isolated; aircraft fuel would congeal at the winter station temperatures, which can be capable of freezing carbon dioxide. The station is completely self-sufficient, and powered by three generators running on jet fuel.
In 1999, the winter-over physician, Dr. Jerri Nielsen discovered she had breast cancer. She had to rely on self-administered chemotherapy using supplies from a daring July cargo drop, then was picked up in an equally dangerous mid-October landing.