But in the end, his ambition and competitive drive - and, some critics say, his poor decisions and lack of leadership skills - cost him more than a knighthood. It also cost him and four of his companions their lives.
From an early age, Scott and his younger brother, Archibald, were guided toward military careers, following their grandfather and four uncles into the British service. At age 13, Scott began his military career as a naval cadet. He caught the eye of Clements Markham, Secretary of the Royal Geographical Society.
In 1897, Scott was a 29-year-old torpedo officer when his father died, leaving his mother and two of her daughters dependent on Scott and brother Archie's incomes. It all fell on Scott a year later when Archie died of typhoid fever.
Concerned with scant propects of promotion, Scott was intrigued when he learned that Markham and the RGS were planning an Antarctic expedition. Within two years, Scott earned a promotion to commander and was named leader of Discovery Expedition that set sail for Antarctica on March 11, 1902.
The expedition was a success, highlighted by a march that took Scott and two companions within 530 miles of the South Pole. By the time the explorers returned to England in September 1904, they were hailed as heroes. Scott was awarded several medals and was promoted to captain. He spent more than a year attending receptions and giving lectures before returning to naval service.
He married in 1908 and became a father in 1909, not long after he announced that he would be heading up a new Antarctic expedition aboard the ship Terra Nova in 1910.
Although the Terra Nova expedition was officialy designated as a scientific trip, Scott made it clear that his No. 1 goal was to be the first man to reach the South Pole. Fellow Brit Ernest Shackleton had recently gotten within 100 miles of the pole. Scott soon learned he was in a race to achieve that feat as Norwegian explorer Roald Amundson was leading a similar expedition at the same time.
In preparation for the expedition, Scott's crew gathered ponies and motorized sledges for the arduous trek. Before reaching Antarctica, however, the Terra Nova was trapped in ice for 20 days. Upon arrival, the largest of the motorized sledges broke through the ice and sank into the sea.
Scott and his crew began their march to the pole on November 1, 1911, following the same route earlier taken by Shackleton. The 12 men were broken into groups, with only the five-man group headed by Scott assigned to reach the pole with the other groups in support roles for the nearly 1,800-mile trip to the pole and back.
One by one the ponies died or were shot as they were unable to cope with the deep, soft snow, leaving the men to pull the 200-pound sledges by themselves in snow that sometimes limited their advances to a few miles a day. By January 3, 1912, only Scott's group continued toward the pole.
As they approached the pole on the afternoon of January 18, they spotted an apparent cairn. By the time they got there, they saw what it really was - a small tent with a Norwegian flag attached to a bamboo pole. As Scott wrote in his journal: "This told us the whole story. The Norwegians have forestalled us and are first at the Pole."
Indeed, Amundson had reached the pole more than a month earlier, on December 14, 1911. Nevertheless, Scott wrote: "We built a cairn, put up our poor slighted Union Jack and photographed ourselves - mighty cold work all of it."
The team rested a day before starting its trip back to the base camp. Within a week, team members suffered snow blindness and frostbite. They became lost at one point and the weather deteriorated with gale-force winds.
The first casualty came on February 16 when Edgar Evans fell behind the others and froze to death. Lawrence Oates, who had intense pain from his frost-bitten feet, simply gave up on March 5 and left his tent in a blizzard where he died from exposure. Scott wrote: "We knew that poor Oates was walking to his death, but though we tried to disuade him, we knew it was an act of a brave man and an English gentleman. We all hope to meet the end with a similar spirit and assuredly the end is not far."
On March 19, the remaining three team members - Scott, Edward Wilson and Henry Bowers - made camp in another raging blizzard. It would be their last camp. The last entry in Scott's journal is dated March 29, 1912: "Since the 21st we have had a continuous gale from W.S.W. and S.W. We had fuel to make two cups of tea apiece and bare food for two days on the 20th. Every day we have been ready to start for our depot 11 miles away, but outside the door of the tent it remains a scene of whirling drift. I do not think we can hope for better things now. We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker of course, and the end cannot be far."
It would be eight months before their bodies would be found. They were covered by a cairn topped with a cross made from skis. It is estimated that 75 feet of snow and ice now cover their frozen tomb, which has moved some 30 miles from its original location. Within 300 years, it is estimated, their bodies will fall into the Ross Sea, perhaps in an iceberg.
Robert Falcon Scott, explorer
Born: June 6, 1868
Died: circa March 29, 1912, age 43