Frederick Cook and Robert Peary claimed to have been the first explorers to reach the North Pole—in 1908 and 1909, respectively. While their claims are disputed still, many others have been there since. In fact, nearly 8,400 people have stood on the ice at the North Pole. Now anyone can visit there as a paying customer on board Russian nuclear-powered icebreakers. Nearly 1,500 tourists have done so in the past six years.
I have lectured on cruise ships since 1973. Some 60 cruises have taken me to most corners of the world ocean while I talked for my room and board. But my 1997 cruise to the North Pole ranks as the most unique of these trips.
The Soviet Union/Russia has put eight nuclear-powered icebreakers into service, beginning with the now-retired Lenin in 1959. A ninth, the Ural, is 80% complete at St. Petersburg. The seven operating vessels are in three classes: the Arktika class (2 ships), the Rossiya class (3 ships, plus Ural), and the Tamir class (2 ships).