Twenty-six years ago I embarked on an adventure that consumed a year and a half of my life. It took me from my home in Virginia Beach, Va., and deposited me on a 10,000 foot high ice plateau at the bottom of the world. I lived and worked at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station for thirteen months - the longest thirteen months of my life.
I was a commissioned officer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a small uniformed service that started as an idea in 1807 when President Jefferson ordered a survey of the U.S. coastlines, and became a uniformed service in 1917 as the Coast and Geodetic Survey's contribution to World War I. I was assigned to the South Pole under the auspices of the National Science Foundation and NOAA's Geophysical Monitoring for Climate Change (GMCC) program. My job was to monitor the equipment and collect the data for an array of experiments designed to help us understand man's impact on our planet.
Our station was the third to be constructed at the bottom of the world. The first had been a series of insulated canvas covered wooden structures called Jamesways constructed in1956 for the International Geophysical Year (IGY). In 1962 the Jamesways were replaced with more permanent "T-5" buildings made of canvas and corrugated steel "arches." Over the years, these became increasingly covered with snow and ice, and eventually began to collapse under the pressure of eighteen feet of the white stuff. By 1975, a large geodesic dome had been constructed, containing functional buildings and facilities, and the "Old Station" was closed off.
Commencing in the 1990s, the National Science Foundation designed a new station, so that today a large building elevated on "stilts" has replaced the geodesic dome as the primary facility at the pole.
During my stint, of course, the "new" facility was just a distant dream as we struggled with every-day existence in order to survive the nine-month isolation we endured from February through October when even C-130 Hercules aircraft could not safely land at the pole.
Our life was made as easy as possible under the circumstances - certainly far better than what the occupants endured in the old Jamesways in the 1950s and early 1960s. Among other amenities, we actually had a library that even sported a pool table. Although the slate had cracked years earlier, we had carefully repaired it. After a while we became experienced at taking advantage of its peculiarities, which stood us in good stead when taking on a visitor.
In one corner of the library, inside a glass case, was the original 1932 doctoral thesis of a University of California PhD candidate whose name I no longer remember. What made this thesis special, and what gave it such an "honored" place, was its fascinating subject matter.
Simply put, the author argued that our planet is hollow, and that the interior is occupied by a superior race of humans. The access to the interior, he claimed, was a great hole located at the South Pole. Among other things, he claimed that during Richard E. Byrd's 1929 overflight of the pole, Byrd actually flew into the Earth and met with its advanced inhabitants. Because the hole is very large and its lip is rounded, he said that Byrd was not immediately aware that he had entered this realm, until he found things warming up, and then saw the cities and met the people.
Early explorers of Antarctica were frustrated by the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf which appeared to them in their small ships as a great ice barrier. Since their perceptions were formed by isolated "snapshots," they believed at first that Antarctica was surrounded by this "ice barrier." The thesis author grabbed this concept and decided that this "impenetrable" ice barrier had been put in place by the super-race inhabitants of the planet's interior to keep the rest of us out of their world. It was only after we developed effective flight that we were able to overcome this barrier.
The thesis made for delightful reading, especially since it was maintained less than one hundred yards from the actual position of the geographic south pole. By and of itself, this makes an interesting story worth telling from time to time.
Even so, back in 2005 I was listening to early morning radio, and tuned in Art Bell's Coast to Coast talk show. Art was interviewing an individual who is totally convinced that the Earth really is hollow.
That's right - in 2005, thirty-six years after humans first walked on the Moon, ninety-four years after Raul Amundsen first reached the South Pole, otherwise seemingly rational people still believe this silliness. It boggles the mind.
The program guest, whose name I did not get, was well spoken, and could rattle off scientific sounding facts that seemed to support his thesis. Although I was not aware of this, apparently I am part of a vast governmental conspiracy to keep the general public in ignorance about the super folks who live inside the Earth.
Did you know that these guys gave us the transistor? And lasers? But they are withholding their cure for the common cold - for reasons that they best understand, but that have something to do with our not yet having risen to a deserving plane.
I think he said that Jesus was one of these guys. Why not? It's as good as any other theory.
As I originally wrote this article back in 2005, the Huygens spacecraft was commencing its descent into the atmosphere of Saturn's giant moon Titan. Titan is so distant that it takes about one and a half-hours for its radio signal to traverse the gap - a signal that could go round the Earth 7 times in one second. We humans are on the verge of moving off our home planet permanently to establish our race as the unchallenged masters of our entire Solar System.
We've done much in a short time. Consider that from the first flight of the Wright Brothers in 1903 until Neil Armstrong's first step on the Moon was only sixty-six years - but a heartbeat in our long and tortuous history. In this light, perhaps it is not so strange that some of us still believe in ghosts and hollow planets, or that the stars control our destinies.