Antarctic Firsts - Part II:

In 1911 the world’s imagination was captured by a competition to reach the South Pole. After decades of discovery and exploration, several expeditions competed to be the first ever to reach the 'bottom of the world' - the South Pole.

Now, standing in Antarctica one hundred years later, I am thinking about all the new 'firsts' people have achieved since that legendary Race to the Pole.

First to reach the South Pole

On December 14th, 1911, Roald Amundsen, a Norwegian explorer, became the first person to successfully reach the Pole. His team arrived only 33 days before Robert Falcon Scott. This 'Race to the South Pole', caught the interest of the entire world.

In 1957 the United States' founded a scientific base at the South Pole - named The Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station in honor of their great race.

Roald Amundsen
Photo of Roald Amundsen - taken by Polish photographer Ludwik Szacinski. Image courtesy of Phillips Exeter Academy.

South Pole
Map of Antarctica and the South Pole.

First flyover

Weather cancels flights all the time. Cold weather makes flying difficult and ice can be big trouble for planes and their engines. And this is the 21st century! But over 70 years ago someone was able not only to fly a plane in Antarctica, but over the South Pole itself. In 1929 Richard Byrd, an American naval officer who received the Medal of Honor in 1926 for his flight over the North Pole, became the first to fly over the South Pole. Byrd and three other crew members flew a plane named the Floyd Bennett over the pole (during a nearly nineteen hour flight!) on November 28, 1929.

Richard Byrd
Richard Byrd in his base camp during a later expedition. Photo from the US Antarctic program photo library.

First woman in Antarctica

On February 20, 1935, Caroline Mikkelsen of Norway became the first woman to set foot on Antarctica. She arrived with her husband Klarius, a whaling captain at the Vestfold Hills. Thanks to the achievement of Mikkelson and others like her, hundreds of women now live and work in Antarctica - including about a third of the researchers and staff at McMurdo station!

Carolin Mikkelson
Image of Carolin Mikkelson. Image available through NOAA Photolibrary.

Vestfold Hills
Map of Antarctica and the Vestfold Hills.

First person born in Antarctica

We tell people where we are from all the time. Where were you born? If you were, Emilio Marcos Palma you could tell everyone you were the first person born in Antarctica! Emilio was born on the Antarctic Peninsula in Fortín Sargento Cabral at Argentina’s Esperanza Base. Emilio’s father, Captain Jorge Emilio Palma, led the base’s army detachment.

Let's do some math! Today Emilio is 34 years old, what year was he born?

Emilio Marcos Palma
An adult Emilio Marcos Palma in Antarctica. Photo courtesy of radiocable.

Esperanza Base
Map of Antarctica and the Esperanza Base.

First unassisted crossing

In 1997 Borge Ousland of Norway became the first person to cross Antarctica without a support team. No one had tried something quite like this before. Other explorers had crossed the continent with a team. But Ousland set out by himself with 400lbs of supplies on his sled and traveled 1,864 miles in 64 days from Berkner Island to Scott base. Can you imagine the courage it takes to cross an entire frozen continent by yourself? People like Ousland prove there are challenges to conquer today!

Borge Ousland
Press image of Borge Ousland from his website.

Approximate route of Ousland's expedition
Approximate route of Ousland's expedition.