Don’t be so Sure.


There is a meme wandering the internet which says;

“Born too late to explore the World,

Born too early to explore the Universe.”

At first glance it is depressingly true. After the initial despair the truth of it becomes more questionable.

It is true there will not be another Magellan or Cooke – discovering new lands and new peoples. That may not be a bad thing in some ways; think of how badly indigenous peoples were treated as a result of their voyages. It is also true that we are unlikely to have a region or feature named after us; no more Van Diemen’s Land. (Curiously it was discovered by an explorer named Abel Tasman who named it after his sponsor Anthony Van Diemen. Later it was renamed after Tasman and is now Tasmania!)


Abel Tasman commemorated on a 1963 Australian stamp.

It is true also that we are unlikely to tread on untrodden land again but at the same time it means we are unlikely to suffer from unknown illnesses, be attacked by wild locals or bites from venomous beasts with no cure as happened to those early explorers.

On the other side, we can travel to Australia in twenty-four hours as opposed to the months by sea in wooden death traps. We can pop over to Rome or Paris in a matter of hours instead of days. Then we have the benefit of technology to get the most out of our visits: on-line maps, guides and local web-sites. Or instead of using tech we can wander around towns and cities safely discovering sights for ourselves.

Isn’t that the key too? We can go to those places and discover for ourselves new things. Okay, we may be the ten millionth to see the Coliseum but that first view with our own eyes is our own discovery. It will be something we can then talk about and probably bore our friends over too.

Of course you may be lucky enough to be a marine biologist who gets to travel deep under oceans finding new life, or an entomologist thrashing through the Rainforest looking for a new butterfly. However as with the explorers of old not everyone can do that but often we can follow them on-line, on screen or in print from the comfort of a mosquito and scurvy free home. (Hopefully!)

So I would suggest that the first part of the phrase is very wrong. We are alive at a time when exploring has never been easier, safer and more affordable.

What about ‘…Born too early to explore the universe’? This is harder to discount. So far about 600 people have flown into space. (The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) defines spaceflight as any flight over 100 kilometres in altitude.) Which in the fifty-six years of manned spaceflight (2016) is a pretty poor show.

faiFAI logo.

The pangs of envy and despair at not being able to get to space to experience the things astronauts can is so very real. The recent Principia mission of British astronaut Tim Peake is a case in point; he seemed to have so much fun and get so much out of his trip that you can’t help but be jealous.

Many was the time during the 80s when the only way I could find out about an on-going Shuttle mission was by tuning in to the Voice of America (VOA) on shortwave and hoping for a snippet of information in the news programme. Of course the fun part also involved tuning into VOA and through the crackles and fading signal listening to a live broadcast of a launch. Many a cassette was filled with recordings of just that.

We then had to rely on the BBC or ITV to give an update which all too often did not happen.

With the advent of the internet, superfast broadband, high definition cameras and live streaming we do get to see and hear a lot more of the astronauts time in space than we ever did. Today we can watch in real time, even streaming the mission through our TVs to watch in glorious big screen.

So, to that extent things are better than ever. It’s not as good as being here but…and with the advent of VR devices it could become a lot more immersive an experience.

Okay it’s not the same as flying through the fountains of Enceladus or drinking Saurian brandy on Risa. Yet we are still able to see some amazing sights:

enc1The fountains of Enceladus.

Just look at these images of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Images that we wouldn’t have even dreamed of twenty years ago can be viewed by anyone at any time. Space probes are travelling all around the solar system and out of it. The pictures from Pluto sent by a speeding New Horizons probe are breath taking, Juno promises even more at Jupiter. Cassini continues its mission around Saturn, the astronauts aboard the International Space Station continue to take amazing photos of Earth, all of which we can enjoy.


Enceladus and Saturn’s rings.

Even for the crew of the Starship Enterprise it took a while to get anywhere from hours to weeks depending on where they were and their destination. Think of all that time away from home, in the humdrum daily job of warp coil engineer or security officer. The glamour and new views were far and few between.

But not for us! Take a telescope outside and point it. Within minutes you could have travelled 2.2 million light years to the Andromeda galaxy, something even Star Trek was unable to do! At our eyepiece is an entire universe. It is possible to see quasars billions of light-years away; true they only look like a star in the eye-piece but you wouldn’t want to get too close anyway. Or if that’s too mind numbingly distant you can always view the moon a mere 3 days or quarter of a million miles away.

If they intrigue you then you can find out all we know about them from on-line resources, observatories and space agencies. All from the comfort of you’re home.

Yes, it’s not the same, but not all is lost.

Published in: on July 9, 2016 at 13:21  Leave a Comment  
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