Nov 29 2008

10 Lessons Peary & Amundsen Teach Us About the Human Future in Space

Riveting polar expeditions of the 1903 Maslow Window resulted in the discovery of the north pole by Adm. Robert Peary (U.S.) in 1909 and the south pole by Roald Amundsen (Norway) in 1911; this “pole mania” featured daring adventure, international competition, and tragic accidents. The Peary/Amundsen Maslow Window has intriguing parallels with the 1960s Apollo Moon program and many lessons for the future human exploration and settlement of the Moon and Mars.
The top 10 lessons of Peary and Amundsen include:

10. The early 20th Century Peary/Amundsen Maslow Window (1903 – 1913) featured the spectacular achievement of Admiral Robert Peary — first credited with reaching the north pole — and the “Heroic Age” of Antarctic exploration including Roald Amundsen, discoverer of the south pole, the tragic deaths of Robert Scott and his crew, and the aborted transantarctic expedition of Ernest Shackleton… For more, click HERE.
The presence of both widespread ebullience and spectacular exploration of new geographical sites forms the core of Maslow Windows of the last 200 Years, and will likely be the zeitgeist of the 2015 Maslow Window

Amundsen and crew reach the “last place on Earth” in December, 1911. Click southpole.jpg.

9. Antarctic exploration in 1843 by Sir James Clark Ross — discoverer of the well-known Ross Ice Shelf — was the last mid-19th Century foray into the Antarctic by explorers for more than 50 years. Polar expeditions were replaced by the central African adventures of Dr. David Livingstone as the focus of the world’s attention during his Great Exploration. The postponement of polar exploration until the early 20th Century is consistent with the general rules of thumb for Great Explorations (GEs) during the last 200 years: a) GEs are separated by 55 to 60 years, b) their sequence is from closer geographical sites to those of greater inaccessibility (e.g., central Africa vs. poles), and c) new GE sites always stimulate great public interest. And thus our next Maslow Window should arrive near 2015 and involve humans to Mars, Moon bases, or possibly both.

8. Clarence King — a 19th Century version of both Carl Sagan and Howard Hughes –was one of the greatest explorers of the American West, but because of poor long wave timing he’s not associated with a Great Exploration. During his important exploits, Americans were devastated by the Civil War and Europeans were distraught by the financial Panic of 1873… For more, click HERE.
Scentist-Explorer Clarence King is a classic example of a great explorer not having the global impact you’d expect because his discoveries occurred in the decades between Maslow Windows; these often dark decades — over the last 200 years — are inhabited by major wars and financial contractions that quickly destroy societal ebullience and make Great Explorations temporarily impossible.

7. “This is the greatest factor — the way in which the expedition is equipped — the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. Victory awaits him who has everything in order — luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck,” according to the discoverer of the south pole, Roald Amundsen. In the 15 major antarctic expeditions from 8 countries during the Heroic Age, there were a total of 17 crew deaths, including Scott’s entire party of 5 while returning from the pole. Having been overcome by extreme weather and questionable strategic decisions, Scott’s ill-fated crew is reminiscent of the famous California-bound Donner party during the ebullient mid-19th Century Maslow Window, who was trapped by unusual, early snow storms in the California mountains after ill-advised voluntary delays.
Great Explorations always involve significant risks, especially in an atmosphere of international competition. Experience has shown (see Stuster, 1996) that the best way to ensure crew safety and mission success is by trying to anticipate every potentially threatening situation and taking appropriate precautions.

Monument near Donner Lake indicating the 20+ foot depth of the snow in 1846 (B. Cordell, 1999). Click donner.pdf.

6. The international conquest of Antarctica was launched in 1895 when a general resolution at the 6th International Geographical Society in London exhorted scientific societies world-wide to support antarctic exploration. This echoed a similar theme ventilated by London’s Royal Geographical Society in 1893. Between 1901 and 1917 — the “Heroic Age” — 15 expeditions to Antarctica were mounted by 8 countries including the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, Scotland, France, Japan, Norway, and Australia.
The Heroic Age of antarctic exploration proved that international cooperation can be a powerful tool for science and exploration, and suggests that it will be essential for human expansion into the cosmos.

5. The financial Panic of 1893 caused estimated unemployment over 10% for 5+ years. The crisis initially lasted only 18 months but was followed by another recession that continued into 1897. The combination of GDP declines of several % coupled with population growth meant that GDP per capita didn’t recover to 1892 levels until 1899… For more, click HERE.
The Panics of 1893 and 2008 have interesting parallels, including that they began 10 and 8 years before their Maslow Windows opened, respectively. The Panic of 1893 suggests that the 2015 Maslow Window might be delayed only briefly as the global economy recovers to its mid-2007 “greatest ever global boom” status.

The 2015 Maslow Window may still arrive on time and feature Great Explorations even greater than Peary & Amundsen and Apollo, and MEPs more amazing than even the Panama Canal. Click panama.jpg.

4. Unike the Lewis and Clark expedition, which opened the West to human settlers, the Heroic Age of Antarctic exploration did not trigger massive human migrations to the polar regions. And while important meteorological and geographical science was done, it was the sheer adventure of polar exploration that enthralled the world… For more, click HERE.
That’s why during the 1960s Maslow Window, President Kennedy did not propose sending a mission to exploit the polar areas or anywhere else on earth, he chose to go to the Moon. It was the next obvious target that would globally demonstrate America’s technological prowess (Apollo was also an MEP), as well as revitalize education and society by activating raw human exploration passions — that have been hard-wired into us for 200,000 years.

3. “To a visitor from Mars it must have seemed that the Western world in 1914 was on the brink of Utopia,” according to historians J. Harrison and R. Sullivan (1966). Unfortunately, this pinnacle of Polar Maslow Window ebullience crashed in 1914 with the onset of World War I, the “Great War.” For more, click HERE.
The Peary/Amundsen Maslow Window is consistent with the lesson of the last 200 years: public support for Great Explorations and Macro-Engineering Projects typically vaporizes shortly after the economic boom peaks due to financial, political, and/or military factors. Maslow Windows flourish for less than a decade, and — unless we make special plans for it — the 2015 Window is unlikely to be an exception.

2. Although antarctic exploration began with an international organization in the mid-1890s, the desire to be first to the pole — i.e., pole mania — was overwhelming to some explorers. When Amundsen realized that Peary had reached the north pole in 1909, he made secret plans to be first to the south pole. For more, click HERE.
The Amundsen-Scott pole mania episode is reminiscent of the 1950s Cold War, which featured the International Geophysical Year’s plans to launch satellites into Earth orbit and resulted in the surprise Soviet launch of Sputnik in 1957; Sputnik ignited the Race to Space as the Apollo Maslow Window opened. As we approach the 2015 Maslow Window, is an Amundsen/Sputnik-type surprise likely to trigger the Next Race to Space?

1. Will there be a Grand Alliance for Space? Although the Polar Maslow Window failed in that regard (See #2), it’s likely the technical and financial challenges of early 21st Century space colonization will require a globally coordinated approach. The last 200 years indicate that twice-per-century pulses of Great Explorations and Macro-Engineering Projects are likely to be the focus of global ebullience in the foreseeable future — especially in space. And AIAA’s Jerry Grey and others have even suggested a multi-decade plan for unified, global settlement of the solar system. The spectacular achievement of the $ 100 B International Space Station and current international plans for Moon exploration and bases suggest hopeful movement in the right direction.

One response so far

One Response to “10 Lessons Peary & Amundsen Teach Us About the Human Future in Space”

  1. DT Regulaon 30 Nov 2008 at 3:57 am

    Dear Dr. Cordell,
    I’d like to excerpt a part of your post in our Polar Explorers newsletter (parts of the 10, 9, and 8, linking to you for the rest) – may I have your permission to do so? In about a month we’ll have one of our teams heading toward Antarctica as well.
    DT Regula

    Yes, of course you can use it.
    Good luck on your trip…
    Best regards…

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