This photograph of the Fram and its crew was taken on March 14, 1895 as explorer Fridtjof Nansen and a colleague prepared to leave the ship and try to reach the North Pole using skis and sledges.

(Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain)

Explorers who set out to be the first to reach the North Pole in the 1800s faced obstacles of natural power and human failings.  Their ships were crushed in the ice or trapped in flows that dragged them away from their destination.  The relentless winter darkness grated on their nerves, and the newfangled tin cans that held their food may have slowly poisoned them with lead.   

One of the tin cans from the 1845 expedition to the North Pole led by John Franklin, found on Canada's Beechey Island along with crew member graves.  Many suspect that leaching from the tin cans gave the crew lead poisoning and contributed to the demise of the mission.

Courtesy Doug Duncan

It may have been harder to reach the North Pole than to land on the moon, says astronomer Doug Duncan, director of Boulder's Fiske Planetarium, who spoke with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner.  But Duncan points out that the willingness to take on risk in the name of discovery inspires our space program today.  And the science learned on these early voyages, whether they reached the pole or not, continues to be relevant --  in 2019 a Boulder climate scientist will join an expedition recreating the voyage of Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nanzen designed to learn more about the polar climate. 

In 2019 this ship will carry a crew of scientists, including Matthew Shupe from the University of Colorado, on a voyage to recreate Fridtjof Nansen's polar expedition.  The project is known as "MOSAiC" for Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate.

Credit: Mario Hoppmann, Alfred Wegener Institute

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