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Touring South Pole Station.
Photo Credit: Peter Rejcek
South Pole Area Director BK Grant, far left, shows members of the U.S. delegation the interior of the new elevated station. The building consists of two floors, and can house up to 154 people in private rooms.

U.S. visitors praise construction effort, point to future role of the South Pole

Nostalgia gave way to exuberance and exultation with the arrival of a planeload of U.S. officials and dignitaries, many representing federal agencies intimately involved with the design, construction and support of the station over the last decade.

Arden Bement Jr., the director of the NSF, opened the ceremony in the new station’s gymnasium, the size of regulation basketball court. He spoke about the station’s role not only in serving the mission of science, but the mission of peace.

“Antarctica is the only continent where science serves as the only expression of national policy and interest. It’s safe to say it symbolizes the continued U.S. dedication to peaceful governance of this vast continent,” he said.

Two former NSF directors joined Bement at the ceremony, Neal Lane and Rita Colwell, along with a number of other NSF officials, including Karl Erb, OPP director.

Erb said the new station would serve as the stage for the next century’s most advanced science research. “The advantages of the polar environment for research into the origins of the universe, as well as for studies of the ozone hole and a number of other topics of global importance, far outweigh the difficulties of working in this hostile environment,” he said.

NSF Director Arden Bement
Photo Credit: Peter Rejcek
NSF Director Arden Bement Jr. applauds the accomplishment of constructing the new South Pole station.

The guest list also included Rep. Ronald Ferlinghuysen, the ranking member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies; and Paula Dobriansky, undersecretary for democracy and global affairs at the State Department. Both made brief remarks at the dedication.

Frelinghuysen lauded the effort of those assembled and the people who preceded them over the years, borrowing an analogy he had heard while at McMurdo Station, “This is akin to putting up the International Space Station.”

Dobriansky recognized the NSF’s foresight in building the station, and acknowledged the facility’s particular importance during the International Polar Year. “Research performed here will contribute to the store of knowledge accumulated both during this heightened period of scientific inquiry and from many, many years to come.”

She and others also paid tribute to the memory of Sir Edmund Hillary, who died only the day before of a heart attack at the age of 88. The humble mountaineer who conquered Mount Everest also left his mark on the Antarctic, leading the first overland vehicle traverse to the South Pole and helping found New Zealand’s Scott Base. (See story Sir Ed passes away.)

“He’s truly a remarkable man,” she said. “Someone who was an explorer, someone who was a pioneer, and someone who made contributions in so many ways. So it is only fitting that we pay tribute to him at the South Pole.”

Raising the flag

The delegation and station personnel then moved back outside, where the U.S. flag Forsythe lowered earlier that morning, and the USAP flag, were raised at the station entrance. The USAP flag was later lowered to half-mast in memory of Hillary.

“That’s what this place needed – a flag,” Forsythe said later. “It put the final touch on it, I think. … You turn around and look at the dome now, and it looks cold. A flag will make a big difference. I never expected it.”

Erick Chiang, OPP director of the Division of Antarctic Infrastructure and Logistics, remarked, “It’s been 10 years in the making. … Watching it grow step by step has been amazing.”

Grant, who started her career with the program as a general assistant, the bottom rung of the job ladder in Antarctica, said the group pictures in front of the dome and later at the new station tell the story.

“The photos say it all, the crew against the dome, and then the sheer magnitude of the new station dwarfing the same gathering of people,” she said. “It was a huge effort, and the project touched everyone in the program – as we focused the resources and efforts here for a number of years.” 

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Curator: Peter Rejcek, Antarctic Support Contract | NSF Official: Winifred Reuning, Division of Polar Programs