New worlds

By Carsten Paulun
In the depths of the ocean, the vast expanse of the sky, or the boundlessness of the desert – over the course of millenniums, daring explorers would embark on journeys time and time again in their quest for discoveries. Many of these challenges were only mastered with the help of technical instruments and tools.

Ship, sextant, and compass...

Ship, sextant, and compass…

What islands, peoples, and continents might have gone undiscovered until today without technical equipment? Presumably quite a few. Even though the settlement of our planet began on foot from Africa about 125,000 years ago, the pieces of the Earth’s puzzle were put together only thousands of years later – with the help of ships. Ships made it possible to explore the world. Thanks to their longships the Vikings traveled far eastward via the Volga River all the way to the Caspian Sea as early as in the 9th century.  From Iceland via Greenland, Leif Eriksson explored the coastal regions of today’s Canada and has come to be regarded as the true discoverer of North America – some 500 years before Christopher Columbus. To navigate the high seas, all seafarers would use the stars and the position of the Sun for orientation. Thanks to a technical tool the Vikings, including Leif Eriksson, were able to reliably navigate even at dusk and dawn, and in fog. They used a crystal they called a sunstone.

First seafarers 62,000 years ago

Even much earlier – around 60,000 BC – the first humans ventured out onto the high seas. To settle Australia, they must have crossed an ocean with a width of about 100 kilometers (62 miles)  near today’s Makassar Strait. That the settlement of Polynesia took place from South America, as Thor Heyerdahl in 1947 aimed to demonstrate on his expedition with the legendary “Kon-Tiki,” today is deemed to have been refuted. At least, though, the Polynesians are regarded as the discoverers of astronavigation. It was the ship, the sextant, and the compass that made the discoveries of the world possible.

11,000 meters deep, 384,400 kilometers high

With their help, James Cook, the great explorer and cartographer of the 18th century, on his three voyages around the globe, filled nearly all uncharted areas on the world’s map. In 1960, Jacques Piccard in the deep-diving submersible “Trieste” dove nearly 11,000 meters (36,000 feet) deep into the ocean and Neil Armstrong, in 1969, was the first human to set foot on the Moon. By the way, the vehicle that took him there – and fortunately back again – was a ship as well, a spaceship.

95 percent of the oceans still unexplored

Terra incognita, unexplored territory, still exists. Humanity’s great urge to explore and discover notwithstanding, we hardly know anything about our own planet – in spite of the most advanced technology. Only five percent of the oceans is deemed to have been explored. Experts estimate that despite our state-of-the-art tools and equipment we haven’t discovered even ten percent of all living organisms yet. Large parts of Africa, the cradle of humanity, the Arctic and the Antarctic have so far only been photographed from satellites. Even today, researchers are still discovering previously unknown areas in South America’s jungles and peoples that have never had any contact with the outside world before.

Neil Armstrong

Jul 20, 1969

New worlds© Manuela Mrohs, Ivo Christov, Mariessa Rose
Neil Armstrong
Jul 20, 1969

Goal
First human on the Moon.

Challenge
Complex space maneuvers that are not possible to simulate on Earth.

Innovations
A three-pack of high tech takes astronauts to the Moon: Saturn-V Rocket (38,800 km/h/24,110 mph), Columbia Command Module (heat-resistant up to 2,726 °C/4,939 °F) and the LM-5 Lunar Module (lightweight design in order to accelerate to 6,480 km/h (4,026 mph) on its ascent from the Moon). The “Apollo Guidance Computer” (AGC) automatically guides the spacecraft. AGC is regarded as the forerunner of the fly-by-wire systems of modern aircraft.

Special aspect
From today’s perspective, AGC  is a slowpoke: smartphone have 10,000 times more processing power.

Fridtjof Nansen

Aug 15 – Oct 03, 1888

New worlds© Manuela Mrohs, Ivo Christov, Mariessa Rose
Fridtjof Nansen
Aug 15 – Oct 03, 1888

Goal
Traversing Greenland.

Challenge
Temperatures down to minus 46 °C (–54 °F), unexplored territory with climbs of more than 2,700 meters (8,860 feet).

Innovations
Nansen invents layered functional clothing and the Nansen sled that’s easy to pull even with 100 kilos (220 lb) of cargo.

Special aspect
Nansen studies zoology and writes his doctoral thesis about the central nervous system of marine invertebrates, which provides foundations for modern neurology. He takes a stand for Norway’s independence and becomes a League of Nations commissioner.

Leif Eriksson

Turn of the year 999/1000

New worlds© Manuela Mrohs, Ivo Christov, Mariessa Rose
Leif Eriksson
Turn of the year 999/1000

Goal
Exploring new islands west of Greenland.

Challenge
Advancing into unknown territories, navigating without sunlight.

Innovations
Special calcite crystal for navigating in conditions of poor visibility; due to their shallow draft, the ocean-going longboats with a length of up to 30 meters (98 feet) are perfectly suited for rivers as well.

Special aspect
The regions and islands Leif Eriksson discovers and explores include Helluland, today’s Canadian Baffin Island. Consequently, the Viking Eriksson is regarded as the true discoverer of North America.

Thor Heyerdahl

Apr 28 – Aug 07, 1947

New worlds© Manuela Mrohs, Ivo Christov, Mariessa Rose
Thor Heyerdahl
Apr 28 – Aug 07, 1947

Goal
The Norwegian Thor Heyerdahl intends to demonstrate that the settlement of Polynesia took place from South America and not from Asia.

Challenge
Will a raft built by using Incan methods survive a 6,980-kilometer (4,337-mile) voyage across the Pacific?

Innovations
Archaic today, but innovative more than 3,000 years ago: ocean-going Incan rafts with sails, daggerboards (guaras) for stabilization, and cabins. Dimensions of the “Kon-Tiki” replica: 13.7 m (50 ft) long, 5.5 m (18 ft) wide. Thanks to its 25-m2 (270 square foot) sail, the Humboldt Current and trade winds, the “Kon-Tiki” achieves an average speed of 2.8 km/h (1.78 mph).

Special aspect
Classic beats modern approach: Heyerdahl connects the balsa wood logs with hemp rope because the steel cables recommended by experts would have cut through the soft wood.

Georges-Marie Haardt

Dec 17, 1922 – Jan 07, 1923

New worlds© Manuela Mrohs, Ivo Christov, Mariessa Rose
Georges-Marie Haardt
Dec 17, 1922 – Jan 07, 1923

Goal
Creating a car connection between Algeria and the countries south of the Sahara.

Challenge
Technology vs. nature: In the early 1920s, André Citroën wants to demonstrate that his automobiles are able to reach the remotest corners of the world.

Innovations
Citroën’s chief executive Georges-Marie Haardt converts wheeled vehicles into half-tracks by fitting the rear axles with continuous tracks. With 30 horsepower and a top speed of 45 km/h (28 mph), he masters the unexplored desert. On paved roads, though, the tracks soon wear out.

Special aspect
Only a year later, in 1924, competitor Renault masters the Sahara challenge without chains – using three-axle trucks.

Roald Amundsen

Dec 14, 1911

New worlds© Manuela Mrohs, Ivo Christov, Mariessa Rose
Roald Amundsen
Dec 14, 1911

Goal
Becoming the first human to reach the South Pole.

Challenge
Overcoming 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) of a frozen desert, with Robert Scott on his heels.

Innovations
The race proves that technology is only of help if it’s sophisticated: Scott’s motorized sleds break down in the cold (minus 34 °C/–29 °F) even before the assault on the Pole starts. Amundsen relies on dog sleds, is better prepared, and has the better route.

Special aspect
Amundsen’s ship “Fram” is designed so that the pack ice pushes it up instead of crushing it. Amundsen accurately navigates using a sextant. It subsequently turns out that he missed the actual South Pole by only 200 meters (650 feet).

Zheng He

1404–1407

New worlds© Manuela Mrohs, Ivo Christov, Mariessa Rose
Zheng He
1404–1407

Goal
Voyages to Indian, Persian, and Arabian trade ports.

Challenge
Expanding China’s sphere of influence.

Innovations
Construction of the world’s largest fleet at the time. From 1404 to 1407 the eunuch admiral Zheng He has more than 500 ships built in seven dry docks – 500 years before the Europeans invent the dry dock. The largest ships have up to nine masts and are 84 meters (276 ft) long.

Special aspect
To stay the course on his total of seven voyages, Zheng He uses a magnetic compass. His ships have watertight bulkheads that keep them afloat in case the hull is damaged.

Joseph Kittinger

Aug 16, 1960

New worlds© Manuela Mrohs, Ivo Christov, Mariessa Rose
Joseph Kittinger
Aug 16, 1960

Goal
Testing of a new rescue system at high altitudes.

Challenge
Entering the stratosphere, minus 60 °C (–76 °F), hardly any oxygen, the low pressure transforms body fluids into gases.

Innovations
A pressure suit, Kittingers balloons introduce the pressure chamber into space travel.

Special aspect
With his third stratosphere jump Kittinger sets four world records: highest balloon flight (31,333 meters/102,799 feet), longest-free fall jump (16 kilometers/10 miles), highest speed of a human without a protective shell (988 km/h/614 mph), and longest parachute jump (9:09 minutes). Three of these records are only broken by Felix Baumgartner’s stratosphere jump in 2012. Baumgartner’s adviser: Joseph Kittinger.

James Cook

1768–1771

New worlds© Manuela Mrohs, Ivo Christov, Mariessa Rose
James Cook
1768–1771

Goal
Taking scientists and their valuable instruments for astronomical observations to Tahiti, exploring the ocean south of the 40th parallel, and finding “Terra Australis” (Australia).

Challenge
Reaching uncharted territories with a relatively small vessel and mapping them.

Innovations
Cook identifies foodstuffs with vitamin C as the best antidote against deadly scurvy. From 1795 on, citrus fruits are mandatory on all ships.

Special aspect
Cook’s “Endeavour” is a spacious bark (39.7 m (130 ft) long, 70-member crew). Its flat-bottom design makes it possible to beach the ship, allowing it to be repaired at low tide.

Jacques Piccard

Jan 23, 1960

New worlds© Manuela Mrohs, Ivo Christov, Mariessa Rose
Jacques Piccard
Jan 23, 1960

Goal
Setting a deep-diving record (11,000 meters/36,000 feet).

Challenge
The pressure at this depth amounts to 1,100 kg/cm2 (15,970 psi) – like a small car on a thumbnail.

Innovations
Originally, Piccard’s “Trieste” bathyscaphe is able to dive down to only some 6,000 meters (19,700 feet). A new cast high-pressure sphere (bathysphere) with 13 cm (5.1 inches) thick walls enables a depth of 11,000 meters (36,000 feet). For comparison: in 1934, the first bathysphere achieved only 923 meters (3,028 feet).

Special aspect
Piccard’s father, Auguste, in 1931 was the first human to rise into the stratosphere in a balloon. Piccard’s son, Bertrand, flew around the Earth in a balloon and in a solar aircraft, respectively. Rumor has it among trekkies that Jean-Luc Picard, captain of the starship “USS Enterprise” received his name in honor of the Piccards.