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  100 years ago: Terra Nova Expedition

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Author Topic:   100 years ago: Terra Nova Expedition
Blackarrow
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posted 01-16-2012 08:01 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Blackarrow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
On this day (Jan. 17), one hundred years ago, Captain Robert Falcon Scott reached the South Pole with Edward Wilson, Henry Bowers, Lawrence Oates and Edgar Evans. Some ten weeks later, all would be dead and their bodies remain frozen in the Antarctic ice.

There are many parallels between the Antarctic explorers of the early 20th century and the lunar explorers of six decades later. A cluster of missions, each building on the last towards the final goal; national rivalries; tragic deaths; at least one heart-warming survival story - and the sobering fact that after the goal was achieved, no-one returned for many decades.

If you admire the courage and sense of duty of the Apollo astronauts, spare a thought for their counterparts of a century ago, and in particular spare a thought for Scott and his men who arrived at the pole only to find that another great explorer, Roald Amundsen had beaten them to it.

moorouge
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posted 01-17-2012 02:22 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Blackarrow:
- and the sobering fact that after the goal was achieved, no-one returned for many decades.
Not quite true. Even if you include Shackleton's Trans-Antarctic Expedition in your list, Richard Byrd was there in 1928. On his trip I believe he found some discarded fuel containers left behind by Amundsen, still sealed and full. So hardly decades before anyone returned.

gliderpilotuk
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posted 01-17-2012 06:21 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for gliderpilotuk   Click Here to Email gliderpilotuk     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
My employer, Matrix Group, is co-sponsoring the Centenary Scott-Amundsen race that is currently underway. One team is led by Henry Worsley, a descendant of one of the members of the Shackleton expedition, who recreated the 1909 Nimrod Expedition (originally intended to be the first mission to the South Pole) in 2008 (sponsored by Matrix as well).

Blackarrow
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posted 01-17-2012 08:59 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Blackarrow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by moorouge:
Not quite true... Richard Byrd was there in 1928... So hardly decades before anyone returned.
Admiral Byrd FLEW OVER the South Pole on 29th November, 1929. He never landed there. After Scott, the first to set foot at the Pole was U.S. Admiral Dufek, whose aircraft landed there on 31st October, 1956: more than 44 years after Scott.

328KF
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posted 01-17-2012 09:27 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for 328KF   Click Here to Email 328KF     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Blackarrow:
On this day (Jan. 17), one hundred years ago, Captain Robert Falcon Scott reached the South Pole
I've always found it interesting that all those years later, another explorer named Scott piloted a ship named Falcon to a landing on the moon. I'm sure it was just coincidence, as the name was intended to honor the U.S. Air Force Academy mascot.

It wasn't until I read Al Worden's book that I learned "The Plain at Hadley", as described by Scott, was also another reference to the institution.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 01-17-2012 10:12 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Blackarrow:
...and the sobering fact that after the goal was achieved, no-one returned for many decades.
But even though it was decades between early expeditions, in hindsight it was a short time to wait in the larger scheme of history.

Today, a brief 100 years later, anyone can buy a ticket to visit the South Pole.

The same can probably be said for space and even the moon (as unbelievable as it may seem now). A lot of people bemoan the decades that have passed since the first lunar expeditions, but a lot can happen in a century. And to those in 2069, 100 years won't seem like a very long time...

moorouge
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posted 01-18-2012 04:57 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Isn't it a mockery to compare space flight to Antarctic exploration when the best that can be done is to celebrate 100 years since the South Pole was reached by playing a game of cricket there? OK - the Brits beat the Rest of the World by two wickets, but will the US take on the Rest of the World in a game of baseball on the Moon in 2069? I think not.

gliderpilotuk
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posted 01-18-2012 05:46 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for gliderpilotuk   Click Here to Email gliderpilotuk     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
You certainly can't compare the risk, hardship and support levels that Scott/Amundsen/Shackleton endured with those of the astronauts. Pioneering spirit - yes; heroism on an altogether different level.

moorouge
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posted 01-18-2012 09:32 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by gliderpilotuk:
Pioneering spirit - yes; heroism on an altogether different level.
But as Shackleton said, "Better to be a live donkey than a dead lion."

Blackarrow
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posted 01-18-2012 06:27 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Blackarrow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by gliderpilotuk:
You certainly can't compare the risk, hardship and support levels that Scott/Amundsen/Shackleton endured with those of the astronauts. Pioneering spirit - yes; heroism on an altogether different level.
I was always struck by an interview given by Bill Anders (a few years back) in which he revealed that he had privately rated the chances of success for Apollo 8 as one in three (i.e. equal chances of success; survive a failed mission; and death). I don't believe there is any record of similar pre-mission musings by Scott, Shackleton, Amundsen - or Columbus or Cook for that matter.

I suspect that if one of the Antarctic leaders had let it be known before departure that there was probably a one-in-three chance of death, he would today be labelled reckless or mad.

The problem, of course, lies not in the sober calculations of risk made by great explorers of the past (and I include the Apollo crews). It lies in our 21st century attitude towards risk. I'm afraid our species has become flabby, decadent, complacent and risk-averse.

I'm not sure we have the right stuff to ensure the survival of the species. We need more Scotts, more Shackletons, more Amundsens, more Anders. And the will to let them do what they do so well, even if it's risky.

quote:
Originally posted by 328KF:
I've always found it interesting that all those years later, another explorer named Scott piloted a ship named Falcon to a landing on the moon.
Dave Scott visited Antarctica in January, 1970. You can be sure he knew the story of Robert Falcon Scott's expedition and I assume he would have been aware of the additional significance of the name of his spacecraft.

moorouge
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posted 01-19-2012 02:00 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Blackarrow:
I don't believe there is any record of similar pre-mission musings by Scott, Shackleton, Amundsen - or Columbus or Cook for that matter.
Anders was hardly the leader of the Apollo 8 mission. But just as in his case, there were similar musings by a member of Scott's expedition. Oates was very critical of some of Scott's decisions and very gloomy about his chances of survival. The one difference is that Anders made his comment after the completion of the flight, Oates recorded his in the course of the expedition.

Scott must be one of the very few explorers to be accorded 'hero' status despite the opinion of some that he was both foolhardy and incompetent.

Jay Chladek
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posted 01-19-2012 10:10 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I don't know how much to read into a direct comparison of a South Pole expedition to a Lunar trip as there are a few key differences. By the time of the first attempt to reach the South Pole, the southern oceans had already been heavily charted and used for decades, mainly by whaling ships. Granted when they got to the landmass, it was barren. But Shackleton had that sea knowledge to draw upon when he did his trek by small boat to get help and many of the land masses in the southern oceans that would normally have been barren had whale processing operations with ports of call for ships in the area.

Maybe another two decades or so will reveal more expeditions to the moon, but I have never been entirely comfortable with directly comparing ocean going expeditions to space ones, beyond the basic metaphor as Carl Sagan used it (his "cosmic ocean" metaphor). While both have barriers to overcome, so much more is potentially riding on the line with a space venture than a sea going one. If you get stranded on an icepack, at least you have air to breathe and if you can build a fire, melting snow for drinking is a possibility (and if you catch a sea lion or some penguins, or fish, there is the possibility of food). And if somebody like Shackleton can get back to some semblence of civilization, rescue is possible. In space, beyond LEO we don't even have that. There are no space stations at lagrange points, no stored fuel supplies... no real ability to extract oxygen from moon rocks, nothing. So, if you get stranded in a useless orbit with no fuel or on the moon, you are pretty much screwed six ways from Sunday. You have NO WAY of getting back.

So, while factoring in that indeed it took many decades before going back to Antarctica before a semi-permanent presence was established, I can't really use that as hope for future lunar travel, unless somebody or an agency comes up with a practical reason to go and stay and has the charisma of a Shackleton or Byrd (or Amundson) to make it stick in the public consciousness (hard to do in this attention challenged society).

Blackarrow
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posted 01-19-2012 08:36 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Blackarrow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by moorouge:
Scott must be one of the very few explorers to be accorded 'hero' status despite the opinion of some that he was both foolhardy and incompetent.
This is a tired, old-fashioned and discredited argument put forward by (mainly) one writer who has never been to Antarctica.

I recommend the modern accounts by writers such as David Crane ("Scott of the Antarctic"); Ranulph Fiennes ("Captain Scott") and Dr. Susan Solomon ("The Coldest March"). Fiennes has man-hauled across Antarctica and can therefore write from personal (and expert) experience. Solomon is an American scientist who works in Antarctica.

I don't believe that any impartial reader of these modern studies of Scott could conclude that the tragic end of Scott's expedition was due to "foolhardiness" or "incompetence."

moorouge
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posted 01-20-2012 03:29 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I, for one, am prepared to follow the advice of a respected historian who said that one should always go to the contemporary record to determine the truth. These paint a different picture than that painted by the authors quoted above, their polar experience notwithstanding.

A couple of examples: Teddy Evans, Scott's second in command, wrote to Oates' mother on his return, "One cannot state facts plainly when they reflect on the organisation." He wrote also, "Thank God I was not included in the Polar party... It seems to me extraordinary that they stuck to their records and specimens, we dumped ours at the first big check. I must say I considered the safety of my party before the value of the records... apparently Scott did not."

There are other examples from the accounts of members of the Terra Nova expedition which question Scott's leadership, Meares and Atkinson to name but two.

However, at the end of the day one's opinion of Scott has to be personal and the weight one places on the elements of the evidence.

On edit: It's ironic that according to Scott and Bowers own observations and a miscalculation in them, he never quite reached the Pole itself.

gliderpilotuk
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posted 01-20-2012 08:27 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for gliderpilotuk   Click Here to Email gliderpilotuk     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Jay Chladek:
There are no space stations at lagrange points, no stored fuel supplies... no real ability to extract oxygen from moon rocks, nothing. So, if you get stranded in a useless orbit with no fuel or on the moon, you are pretty much screwed six ways from Sunday. You have NO WAY of getting back.

And little or no physical exertion required to get to the moon! Scott and his men had to carry a substantial amount of their provisions, were exposed every day to the extremes and were definitely not "motorised". As he unfortunately proved, he was "screwed six ways from Sunday" when it came to gettign back and even these days it's not guaranteed.

I think that in our separate ways we have proven that space and historical or even current antarctic exploration are not comparable. Maybe "trailblazers" is a better description for both, rather than the over-used and subjective "heroes"?

Jay Chladek
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posted 01-20-2012 10:59 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Trailblazers is indeed a good term compared to the sometimes overused "hero" moniker, I will grant you that.

Scott's expedition to the pole reminds me a bit of Everest expeditions that go on to this day. Many go up and come back, but sometimes you get people who work too hard to make it to the summit without fully comprehending they are only half way there and the climb down ends up killing them. Granted in Scott's case, nobody had done it before and been successful (well, almost nobody as Amundsen got there a few days earlier).

The debate about whether an individual is right or wrong in his leadership is going to continue as long as two people are around to debate it. Ultimately, the final answer will never be known since the individuals involved are long dead. We can make best guesses based on researched knowledge of the events, interviews and first hand study, but that is all.

A classic example among space enthusiasts is what really happened to cause Liberty Bell 7's hatch to blow? Tom Wolfe planted the seed of controversy in his book, the Right Stuff movie moved it into the public eye, and the debate continues to this day. And no, I am not trying to turn this into an LB7 hatch debate. But, if something that operated in the public eye like this can cause controversy after only 50 years, it is not surprising a 100 year old expedition to the South Pole could stir up debate.

Blackarrow
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posted 01-21-2012 10:01 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Blackarrow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by moorouge:
I, for one, am prepared to follow the advice of a respected historian who said that one should always go to the contemporary record to determine the truth. These paint a different picture than that painted by the authors quoted above, their polar experience notwithstanding.
We could trade quotations endlessly. I could point out that Captain Oates also wrote "please remember that when a man is having a hard time he says hard things about other people which he would regret afterwards." He also told his mother, in one of his letters home, "...not to think from what I say that Scott is likely to endanger anyone, it is quite the reverse."

I agree that the contemporary record is important, but it does NOT provide a complete understanding of events. Only the passage of time and new information can do that. As Susan Solomon points out in "The Coldest March", Scott's party was overwhelmed by exceptionally cold weather: far colder than could have been predicted or planned for. Solomon has demonstrated from a century of records that these exceptionally cold temperatures only occur one year in fifteen. Unlike Amundsen, Scott had already been to Antarctica (and had experienced a very cold winter in 1903) but no amount of planning could have prepared Scott and his men for the conditions which caused their deaths.

As he lay close to death in his tent in late March, 1912, Scott acknowledged that polar exploration was a perilous business:

We took risks, we knew we took them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint, but bow to the will of Providence, determined still to do our best to the last.
I can't help thinking that the crew of Apollo 16 might have found themselves writing a similar poignant message if the solar flare which erupted shortly after the mission had happened a little earlier.

No mission, whether to the south pole or to the Moon, or in due course to Mars, can be planned and executed to perfection. Human beings are fallible, and even if all reasonable precautions are taken, tragedies happen. It is the trailblazers (yes, a better word than "heroes") like Scott, Shackleton, Amundsen, Borman, Armstrong and many others who mark out the landmines on humanity's onward journey so that the rest of us do not step on them.

moorouge
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posted 01-22-2012 03:07 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I agree - we could swop quotations without resolving our differences. At least we seem to have arrived at common ground in that one's perception of an historical event is based upon the weight one gives to the elements of fact surrounding an event. As I have written before, what one believes is the truth is a matter of interpretation of the facts.

May I point out one thing. I accept that the winter of 1911-12 in Antarctica was exceptional. However, these conditions were the same for Amundsen. The point is that Scott was out in them a month later than the Norwegian. Whilst Amundsen planned successfully to combat the conditions, Scott, it seems, did not learn from his previous experiences.

Blackarrow
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posted 01-22-2012 01:20 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Blackarrow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I would not like to leave the impression that I have anything but respect and admiration for Amundsen, but it must be born in mind that his chosen route to the polar plateau, the Axel-Heiberg Glacier, was uncharted and untested. He and his men were fortunate not to have disappeared without trace down one of the numerous crevasses. Had they vanished without trace, Amundsen would no doubt have been called reckless or foolhardy, but that would have been just as unfair as the similar accusations levelled at Scott. It is said that "fortune favours the brave" but in the case of the assault on the South Pole in 1911/12, that is only half right.

My final word on the subject is to point out that the names of ten "trailblazers" are recorded at the South Pole research station, five Norwegian and five British. As for the suggestion by Roland Huntford that Scott didn't actually make it to the pole at all, the general consensus seems to be that the two parties fixed the pole within half a mile of each other. In an era without GPS, that was as close as the instruments of the time would allow.

moorouge
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posted 01-22-2012 03:27 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Just a point of correction. Huntford, in his comment that Scott never quite made it to the Pole, was merely quoting from Hinks "The observations of Amundsen and Scott at the South Pole" published in the Geographical Journal, volume CIII, p160.
Amundsen boxed the Pole just to make certain, Scott did not.

On edit: if we're being really pedantic, Amundsen was not the first to reach the Pole but Olaf Bjaaland followed by Sverre Hassel then a dog.

The Hinks article can be read here (PDF). It makes a fascinating read.

Blackarrow
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posted 03-29-2012 05:33 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Blackarrow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I return (one last time, if I am permitted) to this poignant topic to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of Captain Robert Falcon Scott in Antarctica. He is presumed to have died on 29th March, 1912, shortly after Henry "Birdy" Bowers and Edward Wilson, in their tent on what we now call the Ross Ice Shelf.

A century later, James Cameron has shown that there is still room for explorers, but the death of Scott always resonated with me in a way which I find hard to put into words. Perhaps it was the power of his final words echoing across the miles and the decades:

Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale... We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker, of course, and the end cannot be far. It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write more.

Last entry.

For God's sake look after our people.

Two weeks later, over fifteen hundred lives were lost in the Titanic disaster. Two years later the horrors of the "Great War" began. But on this day perhaps those who are reading this will spare a brief thought for the explorers who challenged the vast icy continent of Antarctica and succumbed to the howling blizzards and the cold in a small tent, just 11 miles from a large supply depot.

dss65
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posted 03-29-2012 09:42 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for dss65   Click Here to Email dss65     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thank you, Blackarrow, for a touching and profound post.

moorouge
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posted 03-30-2012 02:24 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I've no wish to reopen the previous discussion with Blackarrow and from the outset may I say that I agree with the sentiments expressed in his last post.

However, we have no way of knowing the order in which the Polar party died. There is a suggestion that it was Bowers who died last. This is based on the flimsy evidence that a last note in his handwriting was found on one of Scott's letters, something he would not have done if Scott was still alive.

All times are CT (US)

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