Scott's Legacy

Episodes

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01Discovery20120817

Kevin Fong looks beyond the failure of Robert Falcon Scott's expedition to be the first to reach the South Pole and focuses instead on the scientific legacy of Scott's explorations of Antarctica between 1901 and 1912.

In recent years, much has been written about Scott the polar loser and bungler. But that personalised focus ignores the pioneering scientific research and discoveries. The revelations transformed Antarctica from an unknown quantity on the map into a profoundly important continent in the Earth's past and present.

Before Scott and Shackleton trekked across the vast ice sheets in the early 1900s, no-one was sure whether there was even a continent there. Some geographers had suggested Antarctica was merely a vast raft of ice anchored to a scattering of islands. The science teams on Scott’s expeditions made fundamental discoveries about Antarctic weather and began to realise the frozen continent's fundamental role in global climate and ocean circulation. They discovered rocks and fossils which showed Antarctica was once a balmy forested place. They mapped the magnetism around the South Pole for both science and navigators. They found many new species of animals and revealed the extraordinary winter breeding habits of the penguins.

The dedication to scientific discovery is most poignantly revealed by fossils that Scott's party collected after their disappointment of being beaten by Amundsen and a few weeks before they froze to death trudging across the Ross ice shelf. They found a particular plant fossil which had been one of the Holy Grails on the early explorations of Antarctica's interior. Its discovery proved an hypothesis raised by Darwin among others that all the southern continents were once linked together by a landmass that would lain where Antarctica is today. The fossils were also important evidence to support the new and controversial theory of Continental Drift - a theory which now underpins the entirety of modern Earth science.

(Image: Captain Robert Falcon Scott writing at a table in his quarters at the British base camp in Antarctica. Credit: Press Association)

01Discovery2012081720120820 (WS)

Amundsen may have beaten Scott to the South Pole but science was the real winner

01Discovery2012081720120819 (WS)

Amundsen may have beaten Scott to the South Pole but science was the real winner

01Discovery2012081720120818 (WS)

Amundsen may have beaten Scott to the South Pole but science was the real winner

02 LASTDiscovery20120901

One hundred years ago, Scott reached the South Pole.

Fifty years later, the first geologist briefly walked on the moon.

Kevin Fong asks if why we might want to return to the lunar surface and what will get us.

He talks to that first lunar geologist of Apollo 17, Harrison Schmitt and Nasa's Chief Administrator Charles Bolden, among others.

02 LASTDiscovery2012090120120903 (WS)

Can the heroic age of Antarctic exploration show the way back to the moon?

02 LASTDiscovery2012090120120902 (WS)

Can the heroic age of Antarctic exploration show the way back to the moon?

02 LASTDiscovery20120901

Can the heroic age of Antarctic exploration show the way back to the moon?

03Discovery2012090820120910 (WS)

Why do we need to send people to explore Mars – and who is likely to take them there?

03Discovery2012090820120909 (WS)

Why do we need to send people to explore Mars – and who is likely to take them there?

03Discovery20120908

Why do we need to send people to explore Mars – and who is likely to take them there?

03Discovery20120908

One hundred years ago, the first humans reached the South Pole of this planet.

More than 40 years ago, man first walked on the moon.

When will our species first set foot to explore the planet Mars?

Kevin Fong seeks a likely launch date.

He asks who will get us there and why we really need to explore the Red Planet.

(Image: An image, released by NASA, of the terrain of Mars taken by the Curiosity rover. Credit: AP Photo / NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS)

03Discovery2012090820120910 (WS)

One hundred years ago, the first humans reached the South Pole of this planet. More than 40 years ago, man first walked on the moon. When will our species first set foot to explore the planet Mars? Kevin Fong seeks a likely launch date. He asks who will get us there and why we really need to explore the Red Planet.