Posted on July 20, 2009
I’ve just returned from Pavilion Lake (you can read updates from the entire research team here), coming full-circle after an adventure-filled year. Soon I’ll share with you more about my most recent time at Pavilion Lake, but first:
Today marks 40 years since the Apollo 11 lunar landing and mankind’s first footsteps outside of Earth.
Compared to many other creatures on Earth, we are fairly limited in our natural range of habitat. We can’t fly, we can’t breathe underwater, we don’t do so well in extreme temperatures. We are exceptional, though, in that we create technologies which allow us to explore elements beyond the land—technologies like rockets and boats.
In November, I sailed on a tall ship named after Robert C. Seamans (who, incidentally, was an important figure at NASA in the 1960s, and sat behind President Kennedy at his famous Rice University speech). What I grew to love about sailing on board the SSV Seamans was becoming a part of this technology that harnesses natural forces. We set the sails. We engage the engine. I have been asked a few times why people still bother with tall ships when technology has progressed so far beyond sails. We sail for the challenge, for the thrill, the accomplishment, or maybe simply because we want to go somewhere.
In any case, the ocean is there and we have something that floats. We went to the Moon for similar reasons in the 1960s. We have yet to go back. Some say we lack the technology. We lack the motivation. We haven’t been able to muster that spirit again. Should you meet the people with whom I’ve worked during the last year, I think you will see that our spirit for challenge, adventure, and intellectual gain still exists.
At night on the SSV Seamans, I couldn’t help but look up at the stars. I delighted, too, in celestial navigation, an art which, these days, is more easily done with GPS units. That we can derive a point on the surface of our planet from a few pinpricks in the sky is impressive, I thought. But that we understand what those pinpricks are and where we are in relation to them is profound.
Few things in sailing are as important as knowing where you came from, where you are, and where you are going—and this of course presents an easy metaphor for any human endeavor. There is nothing more thrilling than knowing where you want to wind up, and pointing your bow into the dark sky separating you from that goal.