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Nation's only ice-breaking ship bound for yearly Antarctica mission after COVID-19 detour

The massive ice-breaking vessel plays a critical role in maintaining a clear path to the McMurdo Station, a U.S. research facility.

SEATTLE — The Coast Guard’s Polar Star left port Saturday for Antarctica after the COVID-19 pandemic delayed last year's regular mission

The massive ice-breaking vessel plays a critical role in maintaining a clear path to the McMurdo Station, a U.S. research base.

A yearly mission a quarter-century running to make a portion of the unforgiving continent accessible.

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“This ship needs to cut that path through the ice so that those refuel and resupply stations can reach all the personnel there. Scientists, partner agencies from all around the world can essentially get what they need to get through the winter,” said Petty Officer Michael Clark.

The ship achieves this even as conditions continue to change. Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic altered plans, sending them north instead to the arctic as a response to growing tensions between the U.S. and Russia.

“It was a successful mission for the United States to be in the region and be a competitor as far as the polar region is being explored by competing regions around the world,” Clark continued.

The mission will last four months, a ship that will travel to some of the most remote portions of the globe. Andrea Dorchak’s husband, Operation Specialist second class Andrew Dorchak, is assigned to the Polar Star.

“It’s a long time. It’s a huge commitment for both him and me at home. So, luckily they have SAT phones, and I’m needy, so he calls me at least once a day.”

Just after 1 p.m., the Polar Star launched out to sea– thousands of nautical miles still ahead of them.