Big Gaps In Exploration Are Normal

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Keith's note: As we approach the 50th anniversary of the first human landing on the Moon - and lament half a century of not going back - it is important to understand that there have often been lulls in exploration. These lulls can be distracting. They can also be enabling. While people in airplanes visited the south pole after the Amundsen/Scott expeditions, no one gave serious thought to attempt an overland trek for decades because - well, been there, done that. In the ensuing decades - punctuated by World War II - expeditionary technology made great advances.

When people tried this again, the trip was just as exciting but was enabled by half a century of technological and logistical advances. When we go back to the Moon, much of these lessons learned in Antarctica should be reviewed. Old concepts will still be valid - and they can be alloyed with half a century of technology and operational experience.

60 years today a New Zealand tractor team mounted as part of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition arrived at the South Pole. Led by Everest climber Sir Edmund Hillary, this was the first overland expedition to reach the pole since Amundsen and Scott had done so 47 years earlier.

An entry from their diary: "Kept going all day and toward the last 40 miles must have dropped at least 1,000ft. The last 20 miles had quite a hard wind packed surface with sastrugi in a SW direction. Derek and I were in the caboose just ready to change drivers when the tractors stopped, and Ed came back very excited from the lead tractor, he had spotted the Pole Station. We are now camped in sight of it and will move across to it tomorrow when we have had some well-earned sleep. The temp at 8pm was -13º F with a few snow-flakes, however the sky is quite clear with sun shining now and then. Everybody in high spirits now the journey is nearing its end. What a bleak place it is here!"

FYI Sir Edmund Hillary and Neil Armstrong once made a trip to the North Pole together. I was reminded of that in 2009 when I was in Nepal supporting astronaut Scott Parazynski's ascent of Everest. I made certain that some Apollo 11 Moon rocks visited a memorial to Sir Ed. The Moon rocks then went to the summit of Everest and then, with a piece of the summit of Everest, both rocks went to the ISS where they reside now in the cupola.

All great exploration and expeditionary endeavors have profound and numerous resonances that simultaneously propagate forward and backward across time. May that tradition continue.

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on January 4, 2018 12:08 AM.

Expanding Beyond Earth: Others Seek To Lead While We Drag Our Feet was the previous entry in this blog.

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