Two other nations are mounting projects to drill into ancient Antarctic lakes hidden beneath miles of ice, and with drill technology that can fetch liquid water samples for analysis in the space of days. Both lakes are in West Antarctica, in conditions slightly less brutal than those at Vostok Station, which holds the record for coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth: minus 129 degrees F (minus 89 degrees C), in July 1983.
The British are positioned to start drilling at Antarctica's Lake Ellsworth in autumn 2012, and an American team hopes to begin drilling to the Whillans Ice Stream, a network of subglacial waterways, in January 2013.
If the Russians have indeed reached Lake Vostok this week, it could be a close contest to see who will be first to test whether life can go on in the cold darkness beneath Antarctica's ice.
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