Ernest Shackleton had hoped to cross the Antarctic in his 1914 expedition, but his ship, the Endurance, became trapped in the ice and was eventually crushed. The crew fled the melting ice pack to a barren island. Shackleton took a small band on a daredevil sail in a small boat to a whaling station 1300 kilometers away, returning 4 months later to rescue the rest of the crew.
Soon it may be the Endurance's turn. Globetrotting oceanographer Robert Ballard, who has found famous wrecks from the Titanic to the Yorktown, plans to head south to find the Endurance's remains for the National Geographic Society. The task--which will involve living on the sea ice and sending a robot down 1800 meters--won't be easy. "You're dealing with the same environment as the explorers--ice, cold, remoteness," says David Mindell, an electronics engineer and historian at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Mindell is helping Ballard on his current project: looking for evidence of the biblical flood in the Black Sea.
National Geographic also wants Ballard to look for the Erebus and Terror, the ships used for John Franklin's doomed 1845 search for the Northwest Passage. One or both projects may begin as early as next year.