Category Archives: Explorer

Ernest Shackleton 2.15.13 Thought of the Day



“Difficulties are just things to overcome, after all.” — Ernest Shackleton






Sir Ernest Shackleton

Sir Ernest Shackleton (Photo credit: Marxchivist)

Gentleman and adventurer…


Captain, March 1917, Cover of the popular Engl...

Captain, March 1917, Cover of the popular English magazine with Ernest Shackleton back from his epic expedition South This picture is the copyright of the Lordprice Collection and is reproduced on Wikipedia with their permission Source URL (Photo credit: Wikipedia)






Ernest Henry Shackleton was born on this day in Kilkea, County Kildare, Ireland in 1874. Today is the 139th anniversary of his birth.






Ernest was the second of ten children born to Henry and Henrietta Shackleton. His father was a land owner, but he gave up farming for medicine shortly after Ernest’s birth. When the boy was six the family moved to Sydenham, London, England. He joined the merchant navy at 16.






Shackleton went on his first polar journey in 1901. He was chosen to join Robert Scott on an expedition to the South Pole. He, Scott and one other companion “trekked towards the South Pole in extremely difficult conditions, getting closer to the Pole than anyone had come” [BBC History] before turning back.






He returned to Antarctica as the head of expedition in 1908 aboard the Nimrod. “He was knighted on his return to Britain.” [Ibid] But it was his third journey to the South Pole that is one of legend.






Endurance final sinking in Antarctica

Endurance final sinking in Antarctica (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


In 1914 Shackleton and the crew of the Endurance headed south determined to cross the Antarctic continent via the South Pole. The ship was trapped in the ice of the Weddell Sea in 1915 and was crushed in October.






Shackleton’s crew had already abandoned the ship to live on the floating ice. In April 1916, they set off in three small boats, eventually reaching Elephant Island. Taking five crew members, Shackleton went to find help. In a small boat, the six men spent 16 days crossing 1,300 km of ocean to reach South Georgia and then trekked across the island to a whaling station. [Ibid]


The men on Elephant Island were rescued in August, and, amazingly, no one in the crew died.






Launch of the James Caird from the shore of El...

Launch of the James Caird from the shore of Elephant Island. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


His memoir of the journey was published in “Endurance”  in 1919. (If he had any luck on the journey it was in taking along Photographer Frank Hurley who took stunning still and motion pictures of the Endurance and her crew.)






Shackleton made a finale trip south in 1922, this time bent on circumnavigating Antarctic. He made it to South Georgia Island. On January 5, he had a heart attack and died.




Glimpse of the Ship ['Endurance'] through Humm...

Glimpse of the Ship [‘Endurance’] through Hummocks, 1915 / photographed by Frank Hurley (Photo credit: State Library of New South Wales collection)

More reading:

South: The Story of Shackleton’s Last Expedition (1914-1917) by Sir Ernest Shackleton

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing

And watch:

Shackleton – The Greatest Survival Story of All Time (3-Disc Collector’s Edition) Starring Kenneth Branagh

South Starring Ernest Shackleton, Frank Worsley, J. Stenhouse, et al. (The original silent movie by Frank Hurley)



Thought of the Day 9.15.12 Marco Polo

“I have not told half of what I saw.”

–Marco Polo

Marco Polo was born on this day in Venice, Italy in 1254. It is the 758th anniversary of his birth.

Marco Polo followed in the footsteps of his explorer father, Niccolo, and uncle, Matteo and traveled with them from Europe to the East. Niccolo and Matteo were on their first trip East when Marco was born. The elder Polos made it as far east as Kkublai Khan’s capital Kaifeng in the Mongol Empire. When they returned to Italy they found out that Marco’s mother, Niccolo’s wife, had died. Marco, then 15,  joined the explorers and in 1271 they set off again.

14th-century print showing the Polos leaving Venice at the beginning of their journey [Image Courtesy Hutton Archive/Getty Image / How Stuff Works]

This time they met the Great Khan himself in his summer capital of Xanadu. Khan liked the Polos, and took a special interest in the lively,  20 year-old Marco who he

conscripted him into service for the Empire. Marco served in several high-level government positions, including as ambassador and as the governor of the city of Yangzhou. [Biography of Marco Polo by Matt Rosenberg, About.Com Guide]

The Polos stayed in the diplomatic service of the Khan,  exploring the Empire for 17 years. In 1292, charged by Khan to escort a 17-year-old princess to Persia to wed a King, the Polos led an armada of 14 ships and 600 passengers that departed Sumatra and travelled to Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India through the Strait of Hormuz to Persia. The trip took 2 years.

Supposedly, only eighteen people survived from the original 600, including the Princess who could not wed her intended fiancée because he had died, so she married his son instead. [Biography of Marco Polo by Matt Rosenberg, About.Com Guide]

Polo would have been about 40 when he returned home from the East. [Image Courtesy: Hutton Archive/Getty Images; How Stuff Works]

The Polos went back to Venice. Marco became involved in the Italian wars between the city-states of Venice and Genoa, and was captured. While in prison he met Rustichello da Pisa . To pass the time he shared the stories of his far East travels with Rustichello who wrote them down. When they were released they worked together to publish The Travels of Marco Polo.

Polo told tales of fabulous Asian courts, black stones that would catch on fire (coal), and Chinese money made out of paper. [Biography of Marco Polo by Kallie Szczepanski, Guide]

The book was an exaggerated telling of Polo’s actual adventures. Perhaps Marco hyped up the adventure to make for a more interesting tale in the dark days of prison, or maybe Rustichel loaded  it with danger and cannibals to increase sales. Regardless of how it happened, the book was an enormous hit. It was translated into most of the European languages and sold thousands of copies during Polo’s life time.

Cover of The Travels of Marco Polo, the paperback edition. The book has been in continuous publication (in one for or another) for 712 years. [ Image courtesy:]

The accounts of his travels provide a fascinating glimpse of the different societies he encountered: their religions, customs, ceremonies and way of life; on the spices and silks of the East; on precious gems, exotic vegetation and wild beasts. He tells the story of the holy shoemaker, the wicked caliph and the three kings, among a great many others, evoking a remote and long-vanished world with colour and immediacy. []

The book heightened Europe’s desire to explore the world. Christopher Columbus owned a copy of it.

Marco lived out his days in Venice as a merchant. He married the daughter of another successful merchant and they had three daughters. He prefered to stay in Italy, letting others travel for the supplies that he sold.

As Polo neared death in 1324, he was asked to recant what he had written and simply said that he had not even told half of what he had witnessed. [Biography of Marco Polo by Matt Rosenberg, About.Com Guide]

The Polo’s route outlined in red [Image Courtesy: Tropical Stamps]

Thought of the Day 8.5.12 Neil Armstrong


Sadly I have to give an update to this post.

One of America’s greatest heros, Neil Armstrong, passed away today due to complications from cardiovascular procedures. He had  heart surgery last month in Cincinnati, Ohio.

“Looking back, we were really very privileged to live in that thin slice of history where we changed how man looks at himself and what he might become and where he might go,” Armstrong said.


“I believe every human has a finite number of heartbeats. I don’t intend to waste any of mine”

–Neil Armstrong

Neil A. Armstrong was born on this day in Wapakoneta, Ohio, in 1930. He is 82 years old.

He grew up near the local airport and took flying lessons as a teenager. He got his pilots license before he got his driver’s license.

Armstrong was a naval aviator for three years, flying 78 combat missions during the Korean War,  prior to joining the National Advisory Committee of Aeronautics (NACA) in 1955. (The NACA was the precursor to NASA.) He  logged over 2,400 hours of air time testing experimental aircraft at Edwards Airforce Base.

According to the NASA’s Glenn Research Center web site:

He has flown over 200 different models of aircraft, including jets, rockets, helicopters and gliders.

In 1962 Armstrong became one of the “New Nine” NASA astronauts, the second group of men selected for US space flight to augment the Mercury 7. The Mercury astronauts established orbital space flight, the New Nine would fly in Gemini space capsules and would tackle docking two vehicles in space and space walks.

English: Close-up on orbiting Agena D rocket s...

English: Close-up on orbiting Agena D rocket stage Polski: Zbliżenie orbitującego członu rakietowego Agena D (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On his historic Gemini 8 mission Armstrong and Dave Scott successfully docked their ship with an unmanned Agena target vehicle. It was an essential first step  towards getting to the moon. Unfortunately about 27 minutes after docking the two ships began to roll and yaw. Assuming the problem was with the Agena, Armstrong undocked, but it was a faulty thruster on the Gemini that was making the capsule spin, and undocking only exacerbated the problem. Armstrong and Scott had to shut down Gemini’s main reaction control system and use the reentry thrusters to zero out yaw and roll on the wildly spinning craft. Armstrong’s masterful flying skills were successful, but they used up 75% of the system’s fuel and Mission Control cut short the flight.

On the Gemini 11 flight he acted as CAPCOM — the person at Ground Control who interfaces with the astronauts in space — and he was the commander of the back-up crew for Apollo 8 (the first human space flight to leave Earth’s orbit, fly to the moon — but not land — and return to Earth.)

Flag of the United States on American astronau...

Flag of the United States on American astronaut Neil Armstrong’s space suit (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Armstrong was the Commander of Apollo 11, the first manned space craft to land on the Moon. He accompanied by Michael Collins, who stayed aloft in the Command Module, and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr. who touched down on the Moon’s surface on July 20, 1969 with with Armstrong. Armstrong descended a lader and took the first steps on the lunar surface. Armstrong and Aldrin had about 2 hours outside the lander, the Eagle,  to take photographs, set up experiments and collect moon rocks. The Eagle blasted off from the Sea of Tranquility and  Armstrong and Aldrin rejoined Collins on the Command Module, Columbia.

The reverse of the Anthony dollar is based upo...

The reverse of the Anthony dollar is based upon the insignia of the Apollo 11 mission, which was also used on the reverse of the Eisenhower dollar that preceded it. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He worked for NASA as Deputy Associate Administrator for aeronautics until 1971.

Post NASA he taught and did research as a professor of aerospace engineering at University of Cincinnati and served as the chairman of the board for several privately owned aerospace/defense industries.

Buzz Aldrin walks on the moon, July 20, 1969

Buzz Aldrin walks on the moon, July 20, 1969. The photo was taken by Armstrong. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[Please note that I did not say Armstrong was the first man to LAND on the moon. Both Aldrin and Armstrong landed on the Moon at the same time.  … Armstrong was the first man to WALK on the Moon.]

Thought of the Day 7.20.12

“People do not decide to become extraordinary. They decide to accomplish extraordinary things.”

–Sir Edmund Hillary

Edmund Hillary circa 1953 taken by an unidentified photographer. (Photo: Courtesy Wikimedia)

Edmund Hillary was born in Auckland, New Zealand on this day in 1919. He would have turned 93 today.

Hillary’s interest in mountain climbing was sparked on a field trip at 16 to Mount Ruapehu.  The first mountain he climbed was Mount Ollivier in the Sealy Range on the country’s South Island in 1939. He became a beekeeper with his brother Rex, an occupation that left ample time for mountain climbing in the off season.

During WWII he joined the RNZAF (Royal New Zealand Air Force)  as a navigator.

Aoraki/Mount Cook in Winter. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

After the War he continued to climb his own country’s mountains, concurring Aorki/Mount Cook (New Zealand’s highest peak) in January of 1948. Next he travelled to Europe and tackled the Alps.

In 1951 Hillary went to the Himalayas. He joined expeditions in 1951 and 1952 to recon Everest. In 1952 He was part of a team that attempted (but didn’t reach) the summit of Cho Oyu from the South side.

And in 1953 he was part of team to attempt 29,035ft summit of Everest. The group established 9 camps on the mountain (some of which are still in use today.) On May 26 the first team, Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans tried for the peak. They got to about 300 ft from the summit but had to turn back. Problems with their oxygen tanks, bad weather and a fall had worked against them.

Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on their return from the summit.

So, the second team, Hillary and Tenzin Norgay made preparations for the ultimate climb. They woke early, but Hillary’s frozen boots  caused a 2 hour delay before they set off to forge the summit. They left camp at 6:30 pm. Almost at the top of the mountain they encountered a nearly vertical  40ft rock face. Hillary found a way to climb it by wedging his way up a crack. (The rock formation is now called the “Hillary Step.”) at 11:30 on May 29th, 1953 the two men stood at the top of the world.

Tenzing Norgay on the summit of Mt. Everest as photographed by Edmund Hillary on May 29, 1953. Norgay offered to take a photograph of Hillary, but the later declined. They spent 15 minutes at the top of the World. They documented the event (to confirm that the ascent was not a fake); looking for any evidence that a previous team who had disappeared on the mountain might have made the summit (they didn’t find any); and leaving offerings of thanksgiving (Tenzing left chocolates, Hillary left a cross. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.)

Hillary‘s itch to explore turned to the Antarctic and in 1955-1958 he led the New Zealand party of  the Commonwealth Tran-Antarctic expedition  and participated in the first mechanized expedition tot he South Pole.

In 1985 he joined with another famous explorer, Neil Armstrong,  for a flight over the Arctic Ocean. The two landed at the North Pole, and Hillary became the first person to reach the northern most, southern most and highest point on Earth. (Armstrong, of course had gone a bit further.)

In 1992 New Zealand honored Hillary by putting his image on a $5 note. Since He was still alive this was a break with convention. (He is the only person to be awarded such an honor during his lifetime other than a head of state.) (Photo: Courtesy Wikimedia)

He returned to Nepal in the 1960s on several philanthropic missions to help the people. There he helped build clinics, hospitals and schools for the Nepalese people.  He enlisted the help of the New Zealand government to provide aid and technical support to Nepal in setting up the agencies needed to establish and run Everest National Park and the tourist industry that grew around climbing the peak. He spent the rest of his life working to help the Nepalese people.

Mount Everest (Photo: Courtesy Wikimedia)

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