The Soviets atomic icebreaker Arktika, the first surface vessel ever to reach the top of the world, left the North Pole today on the return leg of its voyage, the Soviet news agency Tass reported.
The agency said the crew hoisted a Soviet flag and linked hands to form a ring of honor around it before leaving. The crew also attacked a capsule to the flagpole containing their names and a draft copy of the new Soviet constitution, Tass reported. The voyage was set to commemorate the 60th anniversary or the Soviet revolution this year.
The expedition, headed by Soviet Merchant Marine Minister Timofei B. Guzhenko, left Murmansk Aug. 9 and completed the voyage seven days ahead of schedule, despite ice that was as much as 12 feet thick in some places.
The North Pole was first reached by American explorer Robert Peary in 1909. American submarines have sailed beneath it, and one of them, the Skate, surfaced at the pole in 1959.
Since czarist days, the Russians have endeavored to master their inhospitable Arctic frontier, which stretches for some 5,000 miles from Murmansk to Siberia's Chukotski Penninsula, across the Bering Strait from Alaska. This has involved building a massive fleet of icebreakers to keep the northern ship route open as long as possible each year. The shipping lanes generally lie within about 150 miles of the Arctic coast.
The United States has been trying unsuccessfully for three years to arrange for a scientific delegation to inspect the Arktika or one of its atomic-powered sister ships, sources here said.
Icebreakers are covered under one of 11 bilateral agreements on scientific and technical cooperation between the United States and the Soviet Union.
The Soviets have reportedly offered to allow inspecting of a non-atomic icebreaker, but the Americans have no interest in looking at a conventional vessel. The United States has no atomic-powered icebreakers.
A Tass correspondent, who is aboard the 75,000-horse power icebreaker, reported during the voyage to the pole that "The huge hull of the ship is shuddering from time to time when hitting upon chaotic piles of ice hummocks. The ship creeps onto them and sends high a cloud of splashes and fragments of ice, then punches through white and blue ice barriers.
"At times, the customary idea of a voyage by sea almost completely disappears," he wrote. "It seems it is not a ship, but a fantastic self-propelled platform, which is traveling over ice."