Cookies   I display ads to cover the expenses. See the privacy policy for more information. You can keep or reject the ads.

Video thumbnail
Up there is the bridge of the Kapitan Klebnikov,
the Russian icebreaker that’s taking me,
and the rest of Chris Hadfield’s expedition, around the Arctic.
Nowadays, navigation up there, and, well,
on most ships is mostly automatic,
it's handled by GPS and computer-driven charts.
But hidden away up on that bridge is an emergency backup
that's roughly the same as explorers have been using for centuries.
It's a sextant, and it's used for celestial navigation.
You get the angle between the horizon and a known star, even the sun,
at least, when it's not cloudy,
consult a lookup table and do a bit of maths,
and you have your latitude.
Now a hundred years ago, when a sextant was the only way to navigate,
the claims of explorers had to mostly be taken on the records that they kept…
or else just on faith.
To this day,
no-one is entirely sure who it was who first made it to the North Pole.
Frederick Cook claimed to have reached it in 1908,
but his records don’t really add up,
and his evidence was questioned, particularly by a man
who claimed to have made it to the Pole a year later: Robert Peary.
By most accounts Peary was a thoroughly unpleasant man,
but for many years he was widely considered to have led
the first expedition that actually reached the North Geographic Pole in 1909.
There’s a memorial to him on a high ridge at Cape York in Greenland,
although, admittedly, it was placed by his widow.
But he was the only one
on the final part of his expedition who was trained in navigation,
the only one who knew how to use a sextant,
and all his really claims don’t add up in hindsight.
He almost certainly -- whoa -- didn’t reach the Pole.
Then there was US naval officer Richard Byrd and his pilot, Floyd Bennett,
who claimed to have flown over the pole:
but there were a lot of holes in their data too,
a lot of overprecise sextant results that couldn’t possibly be right.
Even the makers of their aircraft said they were unlikely to have made it.
And it’s not like any of them could leave a flag or a marker.
The north polar pack ice, the thick stuff,
not the thin stuff we're going through, the thick stuff,
is still just floating around on the Arctic Ocean,
and it drifts back and forth.
Roald Amundsen led the first expedition that provided convincing evidence
they reached the pole, by airship.
But they didn’t land there, they just flew over it:
it was after the Second World War, in 1948, when a Soviet expedition
finally set foot at the exact geographic North Pole, after flying there.
Other explorers reached the Pole over the pack ice, with air support,
but the first confirmed surface expedition to the North Pole without resupply:
it took until 1986, when after several attempts, Will Steger
finally achieved something that most of us would assume
some Edwardian explorer had managed decades earlier.
Nowadays, if you have enough money, you can fly to the Pole,
or you can take a nuclear-powered icebreaker,
you can check your GPS to confirm it,
and you can send a selfie back via satellite phone.
We are not going that far north on board this ship,
and we don’t have a nuclear reactor to give us enough power
to get through the thick ice up at the pole.
But if all the fancy technology on this bridge fails,
we can still use the same technique as explorers centuries ago:
and track our position by the stars.
At least, where we can see them.
I'm on this trip because of Chris Hadfield's Generator Arctic,
and so is this man!
My name is Ben Brown, and I am so lucky to be here right now!
Go check out his videos,
he provided the amazing drone shots for this,
links are on screen or in the description now.
-- Thanks, bro! -- That's okay!