Ascension Island, by Ted Cookson

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by Ted Cookson
Published in May 2007
Masked boobies flying off Ascension Island, 19-second video clip

Discovered in 1501 by the Portuguese navigator Juan da Nova Castella, today Ascension Island is a dependency of the British overseas territory of St. Helena, which lies about 1,280 km (800 miles) to the southeast.  The 91 square kilometer (35 square mile) island of Ascension lies just west of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, 1,600 km (1,000 miles) from West Africa.  The top of a volcanic peak, most of the island consists of basalt lava flows and cinder cones, of which there are at least 44.  Governed by a resident British administrator, Ascension supports a population of some 1,100 people, most of whom are workers from St. Helena.

Rugged and dry,
Ascension was of little interest to the East Indies fleets.  The island only acquired significance when in 1815 Britain sent a garrision to Ascension to prevent the island from being used in any attempt to rescue Napoleon from his exile on St. Helena. 

In succeeding years
Ascension was used for resupplying ships used for suppressing slavery along the coast of West Africa.  Then in 1898 a submarine telegraph cable was laid from England to South Africa via Ascension.  During World War II the U. S. constructed Wideawake Airfield.  Following the war, Ascension was used exclusively by Cable and Wireless.  Later, beginning in 1957, Ascension again proved useful to the U. S., which employed the island in connection with the testing of missiles launched from Florida.  In 1965 NASA began building a tracking station on Ascension, and in 1966 the BBC built a shortwave relay facility for broadcasts aimed at both Africa and South America. 

From 1982
Ascension became a staging post for the British Task Force in connection with the Falklands War, and RAF Vulcan bombers were deployed at Wideawake Airfield.  Not only were the jets which fired the opening shots of the Falklands War launched from Ascension, but Wideawake became the world's busiest airfield for awhile during the conflict.  Furthermore, Ascension once boasted the world's longest runway.  In fact, the island still serves as an emergency landing spot for the space shuttle.  Wideawake Airfield is jointly administered by the U. S. and the U. K.

Today the European Space Agency also maintains a tracking station on
Ascension.  This facility is used to track Ariane 5 rockets after they have been launched in French Guiana.  Also, interestingly, Ascension is the location of one of the three ground antennas which are used to operate the widely-used Global Positioning System for navigation.  (The other two ground antennae are situated on Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean and on Diego Garcia Atoll in the Indian Ocean.)

Like many small islands,
Ascension's main export is postage stamps.  Stamps were first issued for the island in 1922.

The pier, where cruise ship passengers come ashore in tenders, is located in Georgetown, the capital of
Ascension which is home to over 500 people.  Adjacent to the pier are stretches of beautiful white sandy beach.  Georgetown is the location of a cinder golf course.  The post office, police station and Cable and Wireless office are also in the capital.

The farm is located on 859-meter-high (2,817-foot-high) Green Mountain,
Ascension's highest peak.  The fields there were once used to supply the island with fresh produce.  Nowadays holiday flats on the mountain can be rented by locals for weekend use.  There are artificial forests of bamboo and pine near the summit of Green Mountain, which is normally covered by clouds. 


Weekly air service to
Ascension Island is available on Royal Air Force-run aircraft from Brize Norton Airbase in Oxfordshire and also from Mt. Pleasant in the Falkland Islands.  Round trip individual adult airfare from the U. K. to Ascension begins at sterling 1,009.  See

The 128-passenger Royal Mail Ship
St. Helena cruises on the Portland-Tenerife-Ascension Island-St. Helena Island-Walvis Bay, Namibia-Cape Town route.  See for details of prices and schedules. 

Visitors to
Ascension require written permission from the Administrator.  Information on how to obtain this permit and other important visitor information is posted online at

Both hotel accommodation and car rental are available on the

ABOUT TED COOKSON:  Egypt's most widely-traveled travel agent, Ted has been to every country in the world!  He has also visited 307 of the 315 destinations on the list of the Travelers' Century Club (visit and refer to World Travel Club).  A travel agent in Cairo since 1986, Ted manages EGYPT PANORAMA TOURS, a full-service travel agency, at 4 Road 79 (between Roads 9 and 10, near the "El Maadi" metro station) in Maadi.  Contact Egypt Panorama Tours (open 7 days a week 9 AM-5 PM) at:  Tels. 2359-0200, 2358-5880, 2359-1301.  Fax 2359-1199.  E-mail:  Web site:

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