History of Antarctica University




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What is Antarctica? Some atlases and talking heads call it a a continent, some call it an ice-bound wasteland, and some, like the people who live here, call it home. On 4 October 1957, the world changed overnight when Sputnik I, the first satellite, was launched by the Soviet Union. In November, the Soviets launched another, Sputnik II, carrying a dog (Laika), into the cosmos. A month later 1958 began, and this was to be a year of science, the so-called International Geophysical Year, dedicated to the study of the Earth and its motion through the heavens. As the Space Age and Geophysical Year focused the world's eyes on the globe as a whole, the US and USSR renewed their interest in our continent here at the bottom of that globe. The US realized the potentially dangerous uses Antarctica could be put to in the service of communism (for example, its use as a staging base and bunker, or for nuclear tests).

For these reasons, in 1959, talks were opened on the status of Antarctica. A year and a half later, on 23 June 1961, Antarctica was declared independent. The resulting Antarctic Treaty System (ATS), established the continent as an unclaimable scientific preserve- a place where aggressive military forces are forbidden, or at the least, 'persona non grata.' A place where freedom and free investigation were the most important values. The Antarctic Treaty is our founding document, equivalent to the US Declaration of Independence, which defines our territory as, "All land and ice-shelves south of the 60 degree south lattitude line." While not all nations signed the treaty, none have made a claim of ownership on our large, empty land.

Many of the structures at what are now our outreach sites were built for the International Geophysical Year. Examples of these, among others, are the old Amundsen-Scott, Halley and Arctowski Halls. These structures were built by different nations, and remain jointly operated by them today. The main UANT campus was established while politicians in Washington and Moscow were discussing the Antarctic independence and neutrality provisions in 1961. At that time, Austrian scientist Heinz Janetschek (Yan-ets-chek) and Italian scientist Fiorenzo Ugolini consecrated University Peak and University Valley, a short way inland from coastal McMurdo, Victoria Land, where they were stationed. Thus were the University's grounds laid out. Our official founding occured on Antarctic Independence Day (23 June 1961), when it became Antarctica's first (and still its only) university.

The population of Antarctica has always been small- even today it is comprised mostly of scientists and students, numbering around 5,000. While the University is consequently also small in size, its status and reputation in the world far outweighs its relative proportion of the population. The students and specialists who have walked these halls have been the best in their fields, adding to the prestige of the University throughout the decades.

Today, with the addition of web-based educational outreach, the university is growing every year by leaps and bounds, and many students are now completing full certificats of recognitions online, without having to make the expensive move to Antarctica.


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