Away Teams & Field Reports

Away Team History: Explorer Journals – Past And Future

By Keith Cowing
Keith Cowing
July 3, 2024
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Away Team History: Explorer Journals – Past And Future
Mt. Erebus, Antarctica as seen from space — European Union, Copernicus Sentinel-2 imagery. Larger image

When we return to the Moon, and then move outward to Mars and beyond, the people who visit these strange new places will write entries in their journals (or blogs) about what they saw – and how they were affected by what they saw.

Humans At The Rim Of Shackleton Crater -- ESA
Humans At The Rim Of Shackleton Crater — ESA

The following was written more than a century ago in March 1904 during Shackleton’s Nimrod Expedition. A small group of explorers made the first ascent of Mount Erebus, an active volcano 12,450 feet high (3,790 m) in Antarctica. As you read this just imagine that they are about the rim of Shackleton Crater at the south pole of the Moon or a large volcano on Mars.:

“Having found a camping-place, they dropped their loads, and the members of the party were at leisure to observe the nature of their surroundings. They had imagined an even plain of neve or glacier ice filling the extinct crater to the brim and sloping up gradually to the active cone at its southern end, but instead of this they found themselves on the very brink of a precipice of black rock, forming the inner edge of the old crater.

This wall of dark lava was mostly vertical, while, in some places, it overhung, and was from eighty to a hundred feet in height. The base of the cliff was separated from the snow plain beyond by a deep ditch like a huge dry moat, which was evidently due to the action of blizzards. These winds, striking fiercely from the south-east against the great inner wall of the old crater, had given rise to a powerful back eddy at the edge of the cliff, and it was this eddy which had scooped out the deep trench in the hard snow.

The trench was from thirty to forty feet deep, and was bounded by more or less vertical sides. Around our winter quarters any isolated rock or cliff face that faced the south-east blizzard-wind exhibited a similar phenomenon, though, of course, on a much smaller scale. Beyond the wall and trench was an extensive snow-field with the active cone and crater at its southern end, the latter emitting great volumes of steam, but what surprised the travellers most were the extraordinary structures which rose here and there above the surface of the snow-field.

They were in the form of mounds and pinnacles of the most varied and fantastic appearance. Some resembled beehives, others were like huge ventilating cowls, others like isolated turrets, and others again resembled various animals in shape. The men were unable at first sight to understand the origin of these remarkable structures, and as it was time for food, they left the closer investigation for later in the day.”

Source: “The Heart of the Antarctica – Being The Story of the British Antarctic Expedition 1907-1909” (popular edition 1914), by Sir Ernest Shackleton C.V.O., page 111 “The Conquest of Mount Erebus”. You can read the book here and download a PDF here.)

Image: Alistair Mackay, Eric Marshall, Jameson Adams and T.W. Edgeworth David at the summit crater at 3,794m (12,448 ft), Douglas Mawson taking the photograph (larger image)

This is an artist’s concept (by Pat Rawlings) from 1989 depicting a possible scene when the first human travelers might walk on the surface of Mars. The artwork was part of a NASA new initiatives study which surveyed possible future manned planetary expeditionary activity. — NASA


Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA Space Station Payload manager/space biologist, Away Teams, Journalist, Lapsed climber, Synaesthete, Na’Vi-Jedi-Freman-Buddhist-mix, ASL, Devon Island and Everest Base Camp veteran, (he/him) 🖖🏻