Hello Francine. I'm not a professional full-time programmer so I keep coming back to GIS issues "cold" so forgive me if I get this wrong but ...
MBR is minimum bounding rectangle. See http://forge.mysql.com/wiki/GIS_Functions
Many MySQL GIS functions don't yet operate on the precise coordinates of a polygon; instead, they put the smallest possible rectangle around the polygon and then do the (much simpler) maths using that MBR. That can be useful as a filtering step eg if the MBR of polygon X isn't inside polygon Y, there's no point in checking whether the precise coords of polygon X are inside Y.
So you might want to:
1. Decide which precise functions eg distance() you really need.
2. Install a version of MySQL which has those precise functions. I got my hosting company to install 5.1.35 for me (see that same web page above).
3. Pray that Holyfoot keeps up the good work and converts MBR-only functions to precise functions.
Before MySQL v5.1.35 there were about 18 precise functions. 5.1.35 added about 7 more. At least 8 more are planned for MySQL v6.
But also, surely the MySQL / GIS format for coordinates is "lat lng," so your examples above involve latitudes of 80 and 81 degrees south ? Hence my comment about distance() not seeming to work at high latitudes for me. You say that you don't use high altitudes but you seem to be misreading and therefore confusing my 2 points about altitude and latitudes:
1. Don't use any altitudes in distance()
2. distance() seems not to work at high latitudes.