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Did You Know?
In Did You Know? the National Geographic magazine team shares extra information we gathered to expand your knowledge of our featured subjects.

In October 1957 National Geographic staffer Thomas J. Abercrombie became the first civilian correspondent at the South Pole. Just a month before his arrival, the temperature at the Pole hit minus 102.1ºF (minus 74.5ºC), at the time the lowest official reading ever recorded. But Tom didn't mind the extreme cold: It was actually a blessing in disguise. He describes the adventure in his memoirs:

"Bearded faces with rime on their face masks and parka hoods greeted us with cheers and breaths of steam as our airplane skidded to a stop on the snow runway at the geographic South Pole. They were the first men to winter over here at Amundsen-Scott Station, completed in 1957 for polar studies during the International Geophysical Year (IGY). After a night that lasted six months, the sun was once again well above the horizon. No planes could fly to the Pole during winter darkness. We had brought the first new faces—and the first mail—to reach this lonely spot in six months. Despite temperatures hovering around 80 degrees below zero (minus 62 degrees Celsius), we were given warm welcome.

"I had been allowed only an hour or so on the ground while the plane unloaded supplies and replacement personnel, so I had to move fast and soon was swooning from the cold and the altitude, 9,200 feet (2,800 meters). I sought out station leader Paul Siple, who had devoted his life to studying the Antarctic, beginning with an expedition to the continent as an Eagle Scout with Admiral Richard E. Byrd in 1928. He was planning an article on his long winter night for the Geographic, so I appealed to him to let me stay until the next supply plane came. I had plenty of film with me. But the U.S. Navy, charged with supporting the Antarctic scientists, had granted permission only to fly in and right back out. I told Siple that, besides my photographic duties, I would work full-time helping his polar team with their chores, even the nastiest: chopping chunks in the deep ice mine that furnished their drinking water and samples for the station's glaciologist. Siple, although sympathetic, sighed that orders were orders and he had no authority in the matter. Then fate stepped in.

"Back in the plane we prepared for takeoff, but something was wrong. Oil wasn't flowing in the port engine. It started to smoke. Then the starboard motor also shut down. We all got out and helped haul portable heaters from the base workshop. After a day's toil, the mechanics gave up. Both engines were shot. Back at McMurdo Station, hearing of the setback by radio, Rear Adm. George Dufek sent an order: No more aircraft would land at the South Pole until the temperature 'warmed up' to minus 50 degrees (minus 45 degrees Celsius). Bad news for everyone involved—except me, of course. I managed to hide the joy behind my icy beard as Siple welcomed me to the station—and, with a grin, handed me an ice ax."

—Kathy B. Maher