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AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: The Greely Expedition

Airs Monday, January 31, 2011 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: The USS Proteus in Lady Franklin Bay. "The Greely Expedition" reveals how poor planning, personality clashes, questionable decisions and pure bad luck conspired to turn a noble scientific mission into a human tragedy.

In 1881, 25 men led by Lieutenant Adolphus Greely sailed from the harbor of St. John’s, Newfoundland. Their destination was Lady Franklin Bay in the high Arctic, where they planned to collect a wealth of scientific data from a vast area of the world’s surface that had been described by a British admiral as a “sheer blank.”

Lieutenant Adolphus Greely
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Above: Lieutenant Adolphus Greely

Three years later, only six survivors returned, with a daunting story of shipwreck, starvation, mutiny and cannibalism. “The Greely Expedition,” from producer Rob Rapley (“Wyatt Earp”), tells a harrowing tale of one of the great scientific adventures of all time.

Drawing on an impressive documentary record that includes scientific accounts, diaries, photographs and letters, the film reveals the nearly unbearable pressures experienced by the members of the expedition, and shows how poor planning, personality clashes, questionable decisions and pure bad luck conspired to turn a noble scientific mission into a human tragedy.

Video

Trailer: American Experience: The Greely Expedition

Watch the full episode. See more American Experience.

Above: In 1881, 25 men led by Lieutenant Adolphus Greely sailed from the harbor of St. John's, Newfoundland. Their destination was Lady Franklin Bay in the high Arctic, where they planned to collect a wealth of scientific data from a vast area of the world's surface that had been described by a British admiral as a "sheer blank." Three years later, only six survivors returned, with a daunting story of shipwreck, starvation, mutiny and cannibalism. "The Greely Expedition," from producer Rob Rapley ("Wyatt Earp"), tells a harrowing tale of one of the great scientific adventures of all time.