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A.4 Getting There: Planning is Half the Battle!

Teacher Background

Antarctica is one of the last frontiers on Earth. If you arrive without a key piece of equipment, or if it breaks and you have no spare, it will very probably be impossible to recover. So USAP participants need months of careful preparation before they set out on their journey south. NSF and ASA provide detailed guidelines (which you can find on-line) and a great deal of expertise, but each individual science team is largely responsible for its own logistics. If your students think attention to detail is only required when doing schoolwork, this Activity will make them think again. The Antarctic sets tougher tests than any teacher can, and you really don't want to receive a failing grade on "the Ice!"

(Ed. note: as in previous "electronic field trips", we provide this type of Opening Activity because it sets a real-world context for the learning experiences which follow. Students, especially in younger grades, enjoy such simulations because they are fun and open-ended. They relate directly to what's seen in the videos and on-line. However, this Guide provides more choice of Activities than any teacher, with limited time, is likely to be able to implement. Please be sure to consider the "hard science" and technology Activities which follow as you make your selection. These curriculum-related Activities are also fun and informative.)


Students will plan, prioritize, coordinate and review travel and logistics details by simulating the preparations researchers make in order to do science in Antarctica.


  • notebook
  • copies of the "Take to Antarctica/Don't Take to Antarctica" Blackline Master #9
  • on-line access (optional)
  • NSF booklet, Your Stay at United States Antarctic Program Stations, co-packaged with Guide


Getting to Antarctica is not as simple as calling a travel agent, getting a ticket, throwing a few things in a suitcase, and going. In some ways, preparing for a trip to Antarctica is like preparing for a space mission: you must take what you need with you, and you'll be bringing just about everything back with you!

Present students the following challenge: their research team is applying for permission to travel to Palmer Station. They must submit a comprehensive proposal to the National Science Foundation which outlines their plans to get the researchers to "the Ice" and to successfully operate there.


Have student teams research and meet all requirements necessary to travel to Antarctica. New members of science teams are sometimes amazed at the detail with which Navy doctors check out teeth X-rays and treadmill stress tests to reduce the likelihood of subsequent medical emergencies. Personal comfort in Antarctica is important to keep you safe, warm and positive in outlook. Environmental protection is also critical. As students plan, have them use the basic backpacker's rule of thumb: pack it in, pack it out!

USAP participants are only allowed to bring two pieces of check-in baggage weighing no more than 70 lb. each and one carry-on. (Their heavy scientific equipment will have been shipped ahead.) What items might be needed during a (let's say) 6 week stay in Antarctica?


  • Brainstorm with students what pre-planning/items are part of any trip. What additional requirements/special concerns are there for international travelers? List all suggestions.
  • Explain that USAP has strict requirements for anyone setting foot on the Antarctic continent. These fall into four broad categories which should be posted on the board:
    • Program Requirements (passports, visas, and permits)
    • Equipment
    • Packing
    • Personal Matters
  • Have student teams:
    • organize the relevant items from the brainstorming list under the above headings (or student-generated equivalents)
    • use on-line resources and the booklet Your Stay at United States Antarctic Program Stations to expand and reorganize information into a six-week "To Do" timeline so that all members of the team will be ready to leave on the Polar Duke from Punta Arenas, Chile on the scheduled departure date, January 4, 1997. Assign a "start task" date and anticipated completion date for each task.
    • students should secure two letters of reference supporting their desire to be part of the science or science support team. Letters must testify to their character, skills, educational background, ability to solve problems, etc. One letter must be written by a parent or adult; the second can come from a classmate or friend.
    • make a packing list that includes:
      • medication, toiletry and personal hygiene articles
      • inner clothing/work clothes/special gear
      • electric power adapters; batteries and supplies
      • sunscreen and sunglasses (discuss why these are essential)
    • consider the need for special clothing as insulating systems that minimize heat loss in a sub-zero environment. Explain insulation, conduction, convection, radiation and infiltration.


Bring in leftover packaging from a fast food meal or school lunch and have the students discuss why these materials would not be acceptable in Antarctica. Discuss the impact of packaging choices on the environment and actions that can be taken to reduce waste at home and in school. Have students research and list projects in your community that are environmentally friendly. What impact have students had on environmental change?

Have students bring in one object labeled "biodegradable" and another which is organic. List all objects on board and categorize them. Save the list for later use. Have students select several objects from each list to test (they must all fit in a 5 gallon bucket). Place sand in the bucket and bury these objects in the sand. Make small drainage holes in bottom of the bucket, cover it with a screen and place it outdoors in a secure location. Once a month, bring the bucket into the classroom and spread the contents out on a plastic sheet. Examine contents. What has changed? Have any of the biodegradable objects changed? How long does this process take?

books logo

As students view the videos and/or read the on-line materials, have them add travel excerpts to their own Logbooks, as if they were traveling to Antarctica and back.

Continue to add to the class Vocabulary Chart words that are suggestive of the unique qualities of Antarctica. These words can be used in journal activities or in a poetry unit.

computer logo

With all the difficulty of living and working in a cold, inhospitable place like Antarctica, discuss the advantages and disadvantages of doing research via satellite, using telecommunications instead of physical presence (this is already being partly done in support of astronomy at the South Pole). List what you can learn about Antarctica from satellites. What kind of information can you only get by being on site yourself?

List URLs that other students can use to explore issues confronting researchers in Antarctica.

Suggested URLS

Students plan a trip to Antarctica in this lesson from the Gulf of Maine Aquarium

A contrasting, tourist's eye view, of a trip to Antarctica via the cruise ship Marco Polo

Terraquest's Clothing and Equipment checklist might help students define what they need to pack.

help NASA Quest NSF order about PTK about LFA footer

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Last Update: 1/18/97
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