powered by AFI
The space adventurers of the 20th century are inspired in their conquest of outer space by explorers of Earth's polar region, who tested the limits of human endurance in the early part of the century. This film follows the course of several of these adventures using footage shot by the explorers themselves, as well as footage shot by others. After American Robert Edwin Peary led the first expedition to the North Pole in 1909 on foot, several others attempted to be the first to reach the area by plane, which was a relatively new invention. The film follows Norwegian Roald Amundsen's 1922 attempt, beginning with the construction of two water planes. Amundsen, his partner Lincoln Ellsworth and several crew members fly the planes near the North Pole, but are forced to land before reaching their destination. Ellsworth's diary records the group's attempts to repair one plane with parts from the other and clear a stretch of ice for a runway. When the men do not return as scheduled, the public assume they have met their deaths; however, after several weeks, the crew successfully takes off, returning to Greenland without having reached the North Pole. In 1926 Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd becomes the first person successfully to fly over the North Pole, and captures aerial footage during his 116-hour flight. Scientists are also experimenting with rocket propulsion and other early space exploration techniques. In the 1940s, Germany develops V2 rockets, but only a small percentage of these deadly weapons reach their intended targets during World War II. At the close of the war, Byrd returns to exploring and, in 1947, reaches Antarctica. Newly developed tractor trains make travel less dangerous in the icy region and contribute to the building of an underground station where researchers and scientists work in relative comfort. Another area considered uninhabitable at the turn of the century was the South Pole. In 1910, Amundsen and British explorer Robert Scott both travel by ship to within 900 miles of the ice-covered terrain in a competition to reach the South Pole first. Although they start within a few weeks of each other, Scott's heavy ponies and tractors hinder him and his crew, giving Amundsen the lead. After reaching the pole only to find that Amundsen beat him one month earlier, the defeated Scott and his team attempt to return to base camp, but tragically die of exposure within a few miles of safety. By the 1950s these remote areas have become easily inhabitable with the help of modern technology, enabling scientists and explorers to turn their attention to space exploration. Seeking ways to surpass the limitations of the body in preparation for space life, laboratory animals are sent into Earth's upper atmosphere to test conditions using new technologies in missiles and rockets. The footage from these experiments leads to the discovery that animals can survive in the Earth's upper atmosphere despite the lack of gravity. After the Soviet Union successfully launches Sputnik, the first space satellite, they send a dog into outer space in a rocket-propelled ship, proving that living beings can exist in outer space. The United States' Jupiter C satellite is launched later in 1958 and provides measurements of meteorites, cosmic rays and temperature. Later that year, United States' Pioneer satellite reaches more than a third of the way to the moon. Stations around the world register data about the satellite's positions to assist in future flights. Although satellites cannot provide the final answer to human travel to the moon, they can gather valuable information. While many nations are preparing for this voyage into outer space, a new kind of pioneer and courageous explorer must be found to brave this new territory.