The Modern Take

A lot has changed since the days of Robert Scott, of course, and technological advances have dramatically reduced the difficulty of present day expeditions. Two years ago, British polar adventurer Ben Saunders and his teammate Tarka L'Herpiniere decided to follow Robert Scott’s exact route. In contrast to Scott’s fatal expedition, Saunders and L’Herpiniere had everything calculated down to a science, from the food they brought (they consumed almost 6,000 calories a day of freeze-dried meals) to the sleds and skis that pulled their gear (custom-made from carbon fiber, the sleds were lightweight but tough enough to haul the 440 pounds of equipment the two explorers brought with them).

Saunders and L’Herpiniere were also equipped with solar-powered laptops that connected to a satellite hub, ensuring that the team remained in constant contact with their support crew (and the larger internet community).

Sustaining Research

It is these same kinds of innovative technologies that allowed the United States to build and regularly maintain a one-of-a-kind research station on the South Pole. In its third iteration, the U.S. South Pole Station was aerodynamically designed and lifted high enough off the ice sheet to allow the ever-blowing snow to pass under the building (rather than burying it, as was the case with the station’s two predecessors).

Simply getting all the materials needed for the facility’s construction to the South Pole was a true logistical feat. According to the National Science Foundation, all 40,000 tons of construction materials were flown to the site in LC-130 Hercules aircraft -- which meant that every component had to be designed to fit in that specific cargo hold. The same aircraft delivers the jet fuel to the station, 600,000 gallons of which are used to power the massive electrical generators that keep the facility operating -- and its employees alive.

And delivering all the food, supplies and equipment necessary to sustain the facility’s more than 100 residents? It takes a combination of ships and aircraft a total of 24 days and three hours to travel from California to the Earth’s southernmost point -- an 11,300-mile journey. We’ve come a long way from hauling supplies with sleds, but one constant remains: journeying to the South Pole is not for the faint of heart.

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