Monday, May 27, 2013

The Airship Museum and More

The Spitzbergen Airship Museum is dedicated to the history of several airships (dirigibles) that began journeys in Svalbard to explore the Arctic, and try to reach the North Pole. The first airship was the America, run by the American journalist Walter Wellman, who made three different attempts from 1906 - 1909 (each slightly more successful than the one before it) to reach the North Pole. None of them got very far however.

Spitzbergen Airship Museum in Longyearbyen
The most successful venture was an international group including Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian of polar fame, and the Italian Umberto Nobile who designed and piloted the dirigible Norge for an expedition to fly over the North Pole and traverse the polar ice cap in 1926. The group accomplished this goal, dropping American, Norwegian and Italian flags over the pole and then landing in Teller, Alaska, a native village near Nome. The Norge was taken apart to be shipped back but most of it seems to have disappeared. I’m sure the scavenged parts were put to good use in the homes around Teller!

The Norge
This "Rome to Nome" flight was highly touted, but the relationship between Amundsen and Nobile was broken by the end of the journey. It couldn't be that it is hard to contain the egos of these polar explorers in the tight cabin below the airship!

Inside the Airship Museum
Nobile then developed another airship, the Italia, an initiated another polar trip in 1928. They flew over the pole but on the way back to Svalbard, they hit a horrific storm and crashed on the sea ice in the NE part of the archipelago. Many expeditions searched for survivors. Even Amundsen joined in the search, which unfortunately led to his demise when his plane was lost. Most of the crew was eventually found by a Swedish rescue group and the team was taken off the ice. A movie, The Red Tent, was made about the event starring a young Sean Connery as Amundsen and Peter Finch as Nobile. I’ll definitely watch it though it is a highly fictionalized account.

Poster of airship inside the museum
After the museum, I walked back out in the blowing snow again, capturing yet another photo of the colorful houses in Longyearbyen.

More colorful houses (and "scooters") near the museum
I also took a walk that circled to the church on the other side of town, and then walked out to the port where we will catch the ship Polar Girl to see some more of Svalbard tomorrow!

The pretty church in Longyearbyen

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