The Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration claims some of the greatest adventures in human history. The crystal continent boasts the coldest air temperature ever recorded—that would be -128.6 °F, at Vostok, Antarctica, on July 21, 1983—but the record low is just a part of what makes the Age of Antarctic Exploration so Heroic. The fact that the Soviets planted a research station at the southern Pole of Cold in the first place means that humans can face down that baddest kind of freeze if they must. What's so great about this era, which is marked by expeditions from the late 18th century through the early 20th century, is that it happened years before the Soviet Union had found its sea legs—and decades before the Soviets launched the first satellite into orbit. Which was still decades before the dream of GPS.
We carry a torch, as it were, for the larger-than-life figures who dog-sledded across the Great White Desert without the benefit of communications technology—so it's Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott we praise as heroes, and not the men and women based at the U.S. McMurdo Station. But they are heroes, too. Not merely because life is very hard for these men and women, or because they appear to have discovered life in deep Antarctic waters. And not merely because it is so desperately cold down there. Antarctic adventurers from 1897 to today deserve the benefit of the penumbra of the Heroic Age because they survived Antarctica without the design technology represented by the Halley VI.
The Halley VI Antarctic Research Station, designed by Hugh Broughton Architects with AECOM and built by Galliford Try, marks a technological shift in the approach to Antarctic exploration. The Halley VI, commissioned for the British Antarctic Survey and stationed on the Brunt Ice Shelf, is able to relocate rapidly through the use of hydraulically elevated ski-based modules in response to the movement of the ice shelf. The relocatable station is designed to be moved so that it never finds itself on an iceberg that threatens to break off the ice shelf—a growing concern, given the rate that Antarctic ice is receding.
The scientists who will man the Halley VI (up to 52 during the summer and 16 during the total darkness of winter) are no less heroic then their forebears. (They may even face frigid-er freezes, which is troubling.) But design is poised to transform the nature of adventuring in earth's life-hostile corners, even as anthropogenic climate change changes the nature of what it means for parts of the planet to be hostile to life.
The U.K. Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts praised the station as inheriting the legacy of Robert Falcon Scott. "The new Halley Research Station is a triumph of British design, innovation and engineering," he said, in a release. "The U.K.'s world-class polar science community now has a unique, cutting edge suite of laboratories on the ice. The legacy of Captain Scott, together with our strong track record of scientific discovery in Antarctica, is set to continue in this excellent new facility.”