The Kon-Tiki expedition was a 1947 journey by raft across the Pacific Ocean from South America to the Polynesian islands, led by Norwegian explorer and writer Thor Heyerdahl. The raft was named Kon-Tiki after the Inca sun god, Viracocha, for whom “Kon-Tiki” was said to be an old name.
Heyerdahl believed that people from South America could have settled Polynesia in pre-Columbian times. His aim in mounting the Kon-Tiki expedition was to show, by using only the materials and technologies available to those people at the time, that there were no technical reasons to prevent them from having done so. Although the expedition carried some modern equipment, such as a radio, watches, charts, sextant, and metal knives, Heyerdahl argued they were incidental to the purpose of proving that the raft itself could make the journey.
The Kon-Tiki expedition was funded by private loans, along with donations of equipment from the United States Army. Heyerdahl and a small team went to Peru, where, with the help of dockyard facilities provided by the Peruvian authorities, they constructed the raft out of balsa logs and other native materials in an indigenous style as recorded in illustrations by Spanish conquistadores. The trip began on April 28, 1947. Heyerdahl and five companions sailed the raft for 101 days over 6900 km (4,300 miles) across the Pacific Ocean before smashing into a reef at Raroia in the Tuamotu Islands on August 7, 1947. The crew made successful landfall and all returned safely.
Salomon August Andrée’s polar station at Danskøya, Svalbard, Norway before the ill-fated Arctic balloon expedition of 1897
The three men trying to reach the North Pole all perished, the bodies weren’t found until 1930.
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S. A. Andrée’s Arctic balloon expedition of 1897 was an effort to reach the North Pole in which all three expedition members perished. S. A. Andrée (1854–97), the first Swedish balloonist, proposed a voyage by hydrogen balloon from Svalbard to either Russia or Canada, which was to pass, with luck, straight over the North Pole on the way. The scheme was received with patriotic enthusiasm in Sweden, a northern nation that had fallen behind in the race for the North Pole.
Andrée ignored many early signs of the dangers associated with his balloon plan. Being able to steer the balloon to some extent was essential for a safe journey, and there was plenty of evidence that the drag-rope steering technique he had invented was ineffective; yet he staked the fate of the expedition on drag ropes. Worse, the polar balloon Örnen (The Eagle) was delivered directly to Svalbard from its manufacturer in Paris without being tested; when measurements showed it to be leaking more than expected, Andrée refused to acknowledge the alarming implications of this. Most modern students of the expedition see Andrée’s optimism, faith in the power of technology, and disregard for the forces of nature as the main factors in the series of events that led to his death and those of his two companions Nils Strindberg (1872–97) and Knut Frænkel (1870–97).
After Andrée, Strindberg, and Frænkel lifted off from Svalbard in July 1897, the balloon lost hydrogen quickly and crashed on the pack ice after only two days. The explorers were unhurt but faced a grueling trek back south across the drifting icescape. Inadequately clothed, equipped, and prepared, and shocked by the difficulty of the terrain, they did not make it to safety. As the Arctic winter closed in on them in October, the group ended up exhausted on the deserted Kvitøya (White Island) in Svalbard and died there. For 33 years the fate of the Andrée expedition remained one of the unsolved riddles of the Arctic. The chance discovery in 1930 of the expedition’s last camp created a media sensation in Sweden, where the dead men had been mourned and idolized.
Teddy Roosevelt on an expedition in Brazil – exploring the newly discovered River of Doubt; ca. 1914
Teddy and his son Kermit took the dangerous expedition together after his presidency. During the trip, a man was murdered, his escaped murderer was deliberately left in the jungle to die, and a third man drowned in the river rapids. Roosevelt himself nearly died of an infected wound and almost every person on the expedition was sick. There were not enough supplies and the boats were not adequate for the type of water they were traveling.
U.S. and Soviet tanks face off against each other at Checkpoint Charlie during the Berlin Crisis; ca. 1961
For 16 hours from the 27 to 28 October 1961, US and Soviet tanks faced each other in divided Berlin and the two superpowers came closer to kicking off a third world war than in any other cold-war confrontation, bar the Cuban missile crisis a year later.
In August 1961 Washington and its British and French allies had failed to prevent the Russians building the Berlin Wall. And by October, East German officials had begun to deny US diplomats the unhindered access to East Berlin that was part of the agreement with Moscow on the postwar occupation of Germany.
Then, on 22 October, E Allan Lightner Jr, the senior US diplomat in West Berlin, was stopped by East German border guards on his way to the state opera house in East Berlin. The East Germans demanded to see his passport, which he insisted only Soviet officials had the right to check. Lightner was forced to turn back.
General Clay, the pugnacious American hero of the 1948-49 Berlin Airlift who had been sent by Washington to deal with the Russians after the erection of the Berlin Wall, ordered that the next American diplomat entering East Berlin was to be escorted by armed US army military police in jeeps. The manoeuvre succeeded, but the East Germans continued to attempt to assert their claim to control western allied officials entering East Berlin.
Never one to suffer defeat easily, Clay ordered American M48 tanks to head for Checkpoint Charlie. There they stood, some 75 metres from the border, noisily racing their engines and sending plumes of black smoke into the night air. Alarmed by the apparent threat, Moscow, with the approval of the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, sent an equal number of Russian T55 tanks rumbling to face down the Americans. They too ground to a halt some 75 metres from the East/West Berlin border and, as with the US tanks they faced, stayed there for 16 hours.
By now, American officials were deeply alarmed by the potential consequences. General Clay was reminded by Washington that Berlin was not so “vital” an interest to be worth risking a conflict with Moscow. President Kennedy approved the opening of a back channel with the Kremlin in order to defuse what had blown up.
As a result, the Soviets pulled back one of their T55s from the eastern side of the border at Friedrichstrasse and minutes later an American M48 also left the scene. So it went until all the behemoths were withdrawn. General Clay’s reputation among West Berliners had risen further but his warrior days were effectively over.
Khrushchev had been equally uninterested in risking a battle over Berlin. In return for Kennedy’s assurance that the west had no designs on East Berlin, the Soviet leader tacitly recognised that allied officials and military personnel would have unimpeded access to the East German capital.
From that point on, the western allies freely dispatched diplomats and military personnel to attend the opera and theatre in East Berlin. Soviet diplomats, too, attended functions in West Berlin and sent Volga limousines packed with Soviet military police on patrol to West Berlin. The elaborate routine served to prove that the Four Power status of the city was intact. It was faithfully observed until the Wall fell in November 1989.