1. 29,029 feet of elevation on Mount Everest by the 1953 British Mount Everest Expedition
Besides the danger of icefalls, crevasses, and avalanches, Everest tops out at 3,029 feet above the 26,000-foot elevation Death Zone (since anything above it doesn’t provide enough oxygen to support human life). Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the summit with help from their colleagues Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans who came within 330 feet of the summit three days earlier and left behind oxygen reserves for the first ascenders.
2. Hostile terretories along the Congo River by Phil Harwood
In 2008, Phil Harwood became the first person to canoe the 4,700-km Congo River from its source in Northeastern Zambia to the Atlantic Ocean. During the five-month solo journey through the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, Harwood encountered swamps, rapids, arrests, malaria, hippos, alligators, and criminals. Harwood also found tremendous hospitality and kindness from a proud and brave people long forgotten by the western world.
3. Experimental science and broken ribs while breaking the sound barrier in the Bell X-1
Under the authority of what would later become NASA and the Air Force, Bell contracted Reaction Motors, Inc. to build a four-rocket engine to jam into an airplane it designed by basically just slapping wings on a bullet. The X-1 designation meant it was the first United States experimental aircraft, and its jet engine required a drop launch from the bomb bay of a B-29. On the day it broke the sound barrier and reached 800mph (Mach 1.06), Chuck Yeager was in so much pain that he could barely close the cockpit door on his own, due to the two broken ribs he’d sustained from falling off his horse the day before.
4. And breaking the sound barrier without a vehicle by Felix Baumgartner.
On October 14, 2012, Baumgartner hitched a balloon ride into the stratosphere, 24 miles above the New Mexico desert. His adventure was scheduled to take place three days prior, but weather conditions forced the jump back. After reaching 127,852 feet (the highest manned balloon flight ever), Baumgartner jumped. On his way back to earth, he flew 843.6mph, making him the first human to break the sound barrier outside of a vehicle.
5. Deep, dark, strange waters while diving to the bottom of the Dead Sea by Ben-Gurion University
The Dead Sea has the lowest elevation on earth (-1,391 feet below sea level), but no one ever bothered to go diving in it until 2011 because the water is so salty that a gulp could lead to asphyxiation. And never mind the fact that opening your eyes underwater could lead to blindness. Or that floating on it requires simply lying back, while counteracting that force requires adding as much as 90 pounds, which comes to almost eight times normal diving weights.
6. Beyond extreme temperatures on Mars by the Curiosity rover
To even get the car-sized rover onto the surface of Mars took a seven-minute landing process that included a removable heat shield, a supersonic parachute, and a sky crane. Then daily use requires withstanding temperatures between -143 and 35 degrees Celsius and surviving the largest dust storms in the solar system. Curiosity’s movements were initially planned to last for 23 Earth months (668 Martian solar days) with a nightmarish 14-minute communications delay, but the mission’s been extended basically until its plutonium core gives out in 55 years or until something breaks.
7. Incredible pressure at the bottom of the Mariana Trench by the bathyscaphe Trieste
Most measurements suggest Challenger Deep is about 35,797 ft, making it the deepest point underwater — deeper than Everest is high by more than a mile. The pressure at the bottom’s roughly 1,099 times the surface pressure, so the walls were five inches thick, but the six-inch-thick Plexiglass window still cracked around 30,000 feet and shook the entire bathyscaphe. It took 4 hours and 47 minutes to touch down on the bottom and 3 hours and 37 minutes to return back to the surface.
8. Two years aboard the high seas by Vasco da Gama
The first trip to India from Portugal helped establish the latter as a major spice trader in Europe, but also took 10 months to sail all the way around Africa. The return trip took another year, making the entire expedition about two years and one month long. Only two of the party’s four boats returned, and approximately 115 men died (out of about 170), including da Gama’s brother. He took one more two-way trip and died of malaria a couple of months after arriving in India after his third trip (during which five out of 14 ships were lost).
9. No safety net beneath Half Dome by Alex Honnold
Royal Robbins, Mike Sherrick, and Jerry Gallwas first climbed Yosemite’s Half Dome in 1957. So then why are we talking about Alex Honnold? Robbins, Sherrick, and Gallwas’ climb took five days to complete and was done using loads of technical equipment. Honnold, on the other hand, completed Half Dome in an hour and 22 minutes with nothing more than this body and a bag of chalk.
10. The great unknown during NASA’s moon exploration
The landing took place eight years after President Kennedy announced the goal, and required a multiple-stage Saturn V rocket to escape the earth’s atmosphere, a command and service module (CSM) for the return to earth, and a lunar module to get two astronauts to the surface and back to the CSM. It also needed enough food, water, and oxygen to keep three humans alive for over eight days. When they returned to Earth, all three astronauts were rewarded for their efforts with a 21-day quarantine in case of alien contamination.
Uncharted frozen tundra at the South Pole by Ben Saunders
Polar exploration is perhaps the most insane environmental obstacle in existence. The South Pole’s record-high temperature is 9.9 degrees Fahrenheit. This is not a place where humans should ever go. In 1910, Captain Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition set out to be the first group to ever reach the geographical South Pole. After reaching the pole and discovering they had arrived second, 33 days behind the Roald Amundsen expedition, the team retraced their steps back to sea. On their return, Scott’s entire party died from exhaustion and starvation. 102 years later, Ben Saunders will attempt to retrace Captain Scott’s steps.