Outward Course of Empire:
The Hard, Cold Lessons from American Involvement in the Terrestrial Polar Regions
Marilyn Dudley-Rowley, OPS-Alaska
In the late 1800s and the early part of the 20th century, American explorers and their supporters had a vision of the polar regions as a logical extension of Manifest Destiny. Vilhjalmur Stefansson referred to the entree into the Arctic by Euro-Americans as “the northward course of empire”. Popular history would have it seem as if this vision came true. But, approximately 100 years later, we substantially fall short of these explorers’ dreams. Most American claims in the Arctic fell through, not from lack of interest by average Americans, but the lack of government sponsorship, backing, and going back on promises made. Even the purchase of Alaska from Imperial Russia was a transaction that was almost not made. In expedition after expedition, men, women, and children died in the field waiting for pick-up from ships that would never come.
Ironically, what interest there was for the Arctic eclipsed a promising beginning of interest in the Antarctic. American explorers either had to pass themselves off as foreign nationals to join the expeditions of other countries or use their own money to launch expeditions to the southern continent. Interest in aviation caused the government to establish the United States Antarctic Service (USAS) and bases were established to protect territorial claims. However, the onset of World War II drew resources away and the bases were closed, and when the United States returned to Antarctica, it was with a different strategy of scientific investigation. In 1959, twelve nations signed the Antarctic Treaty, agreeing to use Antarctica for peaceful purposes, “froze” territorial claims, and forbade new ones. The Antarctic Treaty set the tone for similar agreements among nations which dictated similar use of the entire Cosmos.
This presentation reviews lessons from American polar exploration useful to the private Mars initiative, making recommendations for the public outreach and financing of the venture.