Antarctic Explorer Snow Cruiser Proved to Be a Lemon

Leonard Peterson of Melrose, Mass., asks, "Whatever happened to the big research vehicle with large balloon tires built in the 1930s for research in Antarctica?"

In 1939 scientists began construction on a vehicle that could withstand Antarctica's harsh terrain.

The Antarctic Explorer Snow Cruiser weighed 75,000 pounds, was more than 55 feet long, almost 20 feet wide, and 16 feet tall.

It had a range of 5,000 miles, room for five people, supplies for one year, an airplane on the roof for photographic missions, all-terrain capabilities, and retractable tires.

But when it reached Antarctica in January 1949 it proved to be a lemon.

In a 1993 Popular Mechanics Magazine article, writer Peter Muller said, "The huge tires spun helplessly much of the time, sinking as much as three feet into the snow. Furthermore, the big vehicle was seriously underpowered. The motors overheated after it had gone only a few hundred yards."

Now the cruiser is nowhere to be found. Conventional wisdom suggests it sank to the bottom of the ocean after it broke off an ice block. A less likely theory is that the Soviets took it.

* If you wonder "Whatever Happened to..." write us at: One Norway Street, Boston, MA, 02115; or e-mail to: whatever@csmonitor.com

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