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Inspired by a Conference to Explore

By Keith Cowing
NASA Watch
April 19, 2008

Editor’s note: The 10 meter sailing vessel Berrimilla recently completed a circumnavigation of the world via Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope, ( ) during which her crew, Alex Whitworth and Peter Crozier, linked up with the crew of the International Space Station. A number of interesting physical, psychological and planning similarities were apparent.

As a result of this contact, Alex and Peter were invited by Leroy Chiao, who was the Commander of the ISS during their contacts to give a presentation about Berrimilla’s voyage to a Risk and Exploration Symposium at Louisiana State University (co-chaired by Leroy and Keith Cowing), using the voyage as a simple analogue for a journey into deep space.

After the Symposium, in a bar on the edge of LSU Campus, Pascal Lee drew a map in Alex’s notebook and, perhaps foolishly, signed it.

This became an invitation to undertake another, rather more symbolic voyage through the North West Passage to link up with NASA’s Haughton-Mars Project on Devon Island, which Pascal runs, in time to observe the total solar eclipse on August 1 2008.

Berrimilla Down Under Mars Status Report 18 April 2008

Listen up – Alex Right you lot – listen up and you can shout at me later. Some rather crudely potted philosophy – don’t know whether I can get this into words that I like but it seems worth a go. I think I’m speaking for McQ here too, but she’s asleep so can’t ask her.

Lots of people have asked me why we do this. Are we mad, foolhardy, plain self indulgent or what are we trying to prove?? Lots and lots more people – more than I could count, if I ever cared – have said to me and Pete that they found the last one truly inspirational, fascinating, life changing – all that really good stuff, and they meant it.

And there have been lots of people utterly gobsmacked by this one – totally uncomprehending yet fully with it and with us. So yes – at one level, it is completely hedonistically self indulgent but at all the other levels, it does things for other people too. Hardened crusty old achievers from all over the place along with them. The idea seemed like fun in the bar in Baton Rouge and Pascal and Pete and I could see immediately its power to involve and inspire, particularly kids.

We are being followed by several schools, especially our old mates at Belmore South – onya guys! – and if just one of those kids grabs an idea from this and follows it and becomes a scientist or an astronaut of just finishes school we’ve achieved. If we can demonstrate that by starting small and without massive resources you can do things that are way out in left field (could one of you Americans please tell me what exactly that means?) then maybe there’s a chance that other messages will stick as well.

As for something to prove – yesss! Absolutely we want to prove it can be done – small, unsponsored, individually powered and with our due amount of luck, we can make this happen. People have said that we are brave – perhaps, a bit, but by being brave you sometimes make your own luck. And if it goes pearshaped, some of those people will say we are just foolhardy. Perhaps that too. But it’s all about preparation – the more prepared you are, the luckier you get!

Some of you will have heard about Francis (I think – might be Francois) Joyon. If you haven’t, Belmore South, google him. A remarkable man who also did something much more spectacular than this but in the same spirit. Our hero for the day.

Must go and pull in the weatherfax for today. Hope that isnt all too pompous and presumptuous.


NASA Watch founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.