Many illustrious figures appear in the history of polar exploration. One of them certainly is Dr. Matthew Henson, a US polar explorer. Together with Robert Peary, he claimed to have been the first man at the North Pole in 1909. To be sure, this claim is strongly contested today. Nevertheless, Henson was a true polar adventurer and explorer who was able to demonstrate his extraordinary skills on numerous expeditions. He mastered one of the Inuit languages, was the only known non-Inuit who could steer dog sleds Inuit style, and was otherwise a master in Arctic survival techniques. The International Astronomical Union has now set up a special memorial to the African-American polar hero: a crater at the Moon’s South Pole has been officially named after Dr. Matthew Henson.
The honor was announced on the website of the University Space Research Association (USRA). Two members of the Society, Jordan Bretzfelder of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and Dr. David Kring of the Lunar Planetary Institute in Houston (LPI) had proposed the name to the Union. In naming the crater, the IAU wishes to honor Henson’s contributions to science and exploration of the polar regions. “It is important to recognize the accomplishments of past explorers and celebrate the diverse talents needed to successfully explore the Moon in the future,” Kring said. And Jordan Bretzfelder adds, “It felt like a disservice that Henson hasn’t been appropriately recognized for his contributions to polar science, and I’m proud to be a part of rectifying that.”
The Henson crater is one of the oldest craters on the south pole of the moon and has a diameter of 43 kilometers. It lies between the other craters De Gerlache and Sverdrup and in close proximity to the Shackleton crater. At the latter’s crater rim also lies the geographic South Pole of the moon. According to the IAU (International Astronomical Union), Henson crater was formed before the other two and is probably more than 3.9 billion years old. It was probably formed at a time when the Earth and Moon had been subjected to a massive comet bombardment. Since a part of the crater lies in the eternal shadow area, ice should also be found there. Scientists suspect that dry ice may exist at the bottom of the crater in addition to water ice. “It is appropriate that one of the first craters formed in the region be named after one of the Earth’s first polar explorers.,” USRA wrote in its press release.
Matthew Henson was born in Maryland in 1866 and left school at the age of 12. As a deck hand, he first traveled to China, Japan, and as far as the Russian Arctic before returning to the United States. There he met Robert Peary, who hired him first as a valet, later as his right-hand man. Together they undertook several Arctic expeditions, during which Henson was able to demonstrate his wide-ranging skills. After the North Pole expedition, Henson wrote a book about it (A Negro Exporer at the North Pole). However, his performances have long been overshadowed by Peary’s. It was not until the late 1930s that they started to be recognized. He was welcomed into the “Explorer’s Club” in 1937, was honored by two U.S. presidents, and received several awards. Shortly before his death, Howard University and Morgan State University awarded him honorary doctorates. Dr. Matthew Henson died on March 9, 1955, in the Bronx, New York. He is now buried with his wife Lucy, who later died, at Arlington National Cemetery. Among other things, a research ship and also a glacier in Greenland were named in his honour.
Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal