We know that the vast landscape of Antarctica is still very much untouched by us humans. Even though we have advanced in sciences and research, there are still a lot of frontiers we haven’t discovered. One of many is the Antarctic landscape. What mysteries are buried in the massive snow masses around our south pole? Many expeditions have been sent there to explore as much as possible, but the environment and the weather make it very hard for researchers and explorers alike to be effective and be quick in their research/exploration.
Following is a list of high-profile people visiting the Antarctic continent and some mysteries to why their visit was so important there.
It seems that one of the first men to set foot on the Moon wasn’t satisfied with off-world tourism and wanted to tick Antarctica off his bucket list as well. Buzz Aldrin, who has gone public in the last few years as a certified space nut, embarked in late November 2016 on what would end up being an ill-fated voyage to the South Pole.
Though the 86-year-old Aldrin was apparently cleared for the trip ahead of time by his doctors, he began to experience the symptoms of altitude sickness at some point along the journey and was rapidly evacuated to Christchurch, New Zealand, by the National Science Foundation. It was while he was still hospitalized in Christchurch that he was graced with a surprise visit from NASA deputy administrator Dava Newman.
According to a tweet that Aldrin composed from his hospital bed, Newman had just completed her own tour of the icy continent and simply wanted to stop by to give Buzz her regards. But this whole story is riddled with questions from start to finish: If the elderly Aldrin was prone to altitude sickness, why did his doctors clear him to explore the 3,000-meter-high (10,000 ft) Antarctic Plateau? Why had NASA’s second-in-command visited the South Pole a day before Aldrin and only weeks after John Kerry? And why did she visit Buzz while he was still unwell in order to conduct a bedside meeting with all the optics of a military debriefing?
We all remember where we were on November 8, 2016. Whether we spent that day in tears of jubilation or tears of torment, Election Day 2016 was a historic day for the future of United States that, at least at the kick-off, no American wanted to miss. But there’s one US citizen who thought that there was something much more interesting going on in the world that day than the greatest electoral upset in US history. He was, at the time, America’s highest-ranking diplomat and became the highest-ranking US official to ever visit Antarctica. This unlikely late-inning deserter was none other than one-time presidential failure and former secretary of state John Kerry.
Instead of cheering on his favourite candidate or offering words of wisdom to his commander-in-chief, John Kerry spent election day in Antarctica. But why? Was Kerry simply going out on an extremely expensive taxpayer-funded lark before his White House ticket ran out? If so, he had until inauguration day on January 20 to fit in some last-minute sightseeing. Michael Rubin of the conservative think tank AEI points out that, besides being wasteful, Kerry’s trip to the South Pole also appears to have been pointless, as there are no other diplomats in Antarctica for America’s top negotiator to negotiate with. Or are there?
NEW ZEALANDS MINISTER OF DEFENSE
While New Zealand isn’t the closest country to Antarctica (that distinction goes jointly to Chile and Argentina), the Kiwi government does play a major role in the goings-on in the land of ice and snow. In fact, the New Zealand Defense Force is a constant presence in Antarctica, where they protect the personnel at Scott Base and McMurdo Station from the threat of killer penguins and from themselves. In February 2017, Minister of Defense Ron Mark paid what appears at the outset to have been a routine visit to the brave New Zealanders patrolling the icy wastes for baddies.
The snow-blinding Antarctic terrain is certainly bright enough to pop open the peepers of even the deepest sleeper. But for a man who must have seen quite a lot throughout his career in order to be elevated to the vaunted position of minister of defense, what could Ron Mark have witnessed on his Antarctic expedition that qualified his description of the visit as an “eye opening experience?”
In February 2016, the heads of the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches met for the first time since the Great Schism, the event which split the church into east and west nearly 1,000 years ago. The historic meeting in Cuba between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis was hailed by many as the beginning of a new age for Christianity, though no one could quite put their finger on why, out of the last 1,000 years, the two most powerful men in Christendom had decided to meet right then.
Speculation went wild, though, when only a few days after this historic meeting, it was announced that Patriarch Kirill would be joining the crew of the Russian naval vessel Admiral Vladimirsky on their voyage to the South Pole. This announcement came close on the heels of reports that the Vladimirsky had made an unprecedented stop at the Saudi Arabian port of Jeddah on its way to Antarctica. At the time, Russia and Saudi Arabia were bitter economic rivals, making it hard to reckon what sort of “business” the crew or passengers of the Vladimirsky could have needed to conduct in the closest port to Mecca on their way to the South Pole.
The only reason given for Patriarch Kirill’s visit to Antarctica is that he wanted to pray at the tiny Orthodox church that had been erected on the icy continent decades ago. But did he really travel all that way to bless an empty frozen wasteland and congregate with penguins, or is there more to the bizarre story of the voyage of the Vladimirsky?
BONUS STORY: PIRI REIS
Perhaps the reason behind all these bizarre high-profile visits to Antarctica lies hidden centuries in the past. With the use of satellite imagery, the art of map making, called cartography, has advanced beyond all possibility of error. But up until the early 1900’s, inaccuracies in cartography were common. Yet there’s one map from over 500 years ago that appears to capture a section of the Antarctic coastline in vivid detail. There’s just one catch: There’s no ice.
Drawn in 1513 by Turkish admiral Piri Reis, this unique map was discovered in 1929, before modern cartographic assessments of Antarctica had been made. Though Admiral Reis was certainly a great explorer, he admitted to basing his maps on older sources. And though the scientific establishment may have good reason for brutally ripping into the theory that the Piri Reis map depicts Antarctica, it can’t be denied that parts of this map march in lockstep with sections of the Antarctic coastline that are buried deep under the ice and have only been verified recently with the advent of seismic instruments and satellites.
If Piri Reis truly did base his map on sources old enough to depict Antarctica without ice, what must change about our view of human history? If the Piri Reis map accurately depicts Antarctica as once having been graced with palm trees, white-haired monsters, six-horned oxen, giant snakes, and ancient ruins, wouldn’t that be enough reason for Antarctica to take center stage in the process of discovering the truth of human origin? Wouldn’t that be enough reason for top representatives of the world’s elite to make the journey to the southernmost continent? Upon arriving in Antarctica armed with a worldview entirely different from our own, what else might they have discovered?