19 thoughts on “The Age Of Discovery 2.0”

      1. Thanks, Rand. Got a couple of folks I’m pimping it to and wanted to be accurate as to the time investment they’d be getting into (one is a Hardcore History nerd, and has no excuse not to ’cause it’s too long).

  1. Loved your episode, Rand!

    (Not that it matters, and you doubtless looked it up, but @10:00, the U.S. explorer of the Antarctic you were thinking of was Captain Charles Wilkes – the same Charles Wilkes, by the way, who recklessly brought the U.S. to the brink of war with Great Britain in the Trent Affair in 1861; and it was Amundsen who reached the Pole first, just 5 weeks before poor Scott. Some speculate that the blow of finding Amundsen’s flag and note at the Pole helped fatally weaken Scott and his party on their fateful journey back…)

    The history of polar exploration is very helpful for thinking about risk: you can see how the calculus changes over time, sometimes faster than the explorers themselves realize. When Henry Hudson was marooned by his men in 1609, only a perfunctory expedition was sent to look – and it was really more focused on looking for a Northwest Passage; the same was true with the disappearance of the La Perouse Expedition in 1789. It was understood that exploration was very much an act without a net, with a high chance you might not survive it. But by the time of the Franklin Expedition, Victorian Britain was a society that was coming to value life more highly, and was developing the capabilities to implement that value: At least 17 different search expeditions were sent to look for Franklin’s men between 1848 and 1859, the largest S&R effort of the 19th century. Polar exploration did not stop, and it did not cease running considerable risks; but in the process of searching for Franklin, it came to a better understanding of what the risks really were, and better means to at least mitigate them.

    Ironically, it was a plucky Norwegian who learned those lessons best in the long run, spending two winters on the very coast where Franklin’s men starved to death, learning from local Inuit all about how to live and travel in the Arctic: like using dogs, and being willing to eat them when you have to. The solace the British could take was that while Amundsen got the prize of the Pole, Scott’s more complex expedition brought back far more science – which was by design. In that respect, perhaps he was not unlike NASA: great gains in knowledge, but at a high cost. I might not want to push the analogy much further than that, however.

    1. “exploration was very much an act without a net,”

      Life was back then. Everything carried much more risk than we realize today and far too many people don’t understand the context of the time we live in. Things happen to us that would have destroyed or crippled civilizations in the past and most people don’t even know about them.

      1. Life was back then. Everything carried much more risk than we realize today and far too many people don’t understand the context of the time we live in.

        To put it mildly!

  2. Rand —

    Listening to your episode as I type. One thing. Amundsen most assuredly got there first. He left a tent with a Norwegian flag and two letters inside, one to to King Haakon VII reporting his success, the other to Scott asking Scott to deliver the letter to King Haakon in the event he (Amundsen) didn’t make it back. Scott and his entire crew, of course, died on the way back, but those who found his (Scott’s) body the next spring also found Amundsen’s letter to his king. Ipso facto.

    An interesting aside: I just watched a 2019 movie titled “Amundsen: The Greatest Expedition” that does (what certainly appears to be) a very good job job documenting Amundsen’s entire career. Evidently, he set out on the Antarctic expedition as an afterthought *only* after losing the race to the north pole. And he didn’t tell Nansen (who had lent him the ship *Fram*) he was heading south instead of north until after he was on the way (Nansen was *not* happy)!

    1. So heartbreaking to read Scott’s diary entry when he found the flag and the notes. “Great God! This is an awful place.” Imagine trudging a thousand miles back through icy hell, knowing you lost. Morale matters, too.

      Poor Scott has taken a beating the last few generations, but I think it’s only partly deserved. Yes, Amundsen was obviously the better explorer, a focused professional to Scott’s meticulous amateur; but as you say, Scott also didn’t know he was in a race with Amundsen until the last minute, having planned an extensive scientific expedition that would also try to send a party to the Pole; and it now appears he really did run into worse weather than Amundsen . . .

  3. You also mentioned the Lewis & Clark Expedition, and I wonder if that isn’t more pertinent to thinking about space colonization and development. Lewis & Clark were very much a NASA sort of effort, a very well funded, carefully planned federal government exploration effort. But while it learned a great deal, it’s hard to say it had much to do directly with the settlement of the Louisiana or Oregon Terriories. Lewis died before being able to publish his findings, and the wider public never really read them. Colonization of the West quickly came on the backs of many thousands of people, trappers and homesteaders, taking the plunge of finding a new life in a mostly unknown West, facilitated by steam boats and then steam-powered railroads – all privately developed and operated, albeit with the latter given a boost by federal land grants and loads, here and there…

    Maybe SpaceX is our new Union Pacific: They never would have survived without federal contracts, but they do a hell of a better job of operating trains than Uncle Sam ever could.

  4. I was wondering who the audience is for this series, just the host’s current listeners? None of the guest’s audiences would hear anything new. He does get a fair amount of downloads, so it was certainly worthwhile for his audience but I also feel there is an opportunity to go beyond that. Perhaps next time.

    1. I was also wondering who the audience is for this series, though more from the perspective of “Who are the new/younger voices popularizing these ideas?”

      Who are the next Glenn Reynolds, Bob Zubrins, Neil deGrasse Tysons, et al? We’ve been hearing from these guys for decades now. Where are the fresh voices and perspectives?

      The torch -will- be passed. The question is to whom. From my perspective I’m not seeing much depth in the bench, if any. It seems to me that this would have been an opportune occasion to highlight some up and comers in the field. Are there any?

      1. Tons of space nerd channels on youtube. Are they of the caliber of the people you mentioned? Tough to say, some might be but also very much different than a Zubrin or NDT. I wish the Space Show was on YouTube.

        Dr Livingston falls into the same problem you mentioned but I think the people who watch Scott Manley and Tim Dodd would enjoy the Space Show, if they knew it existed and even if it was an audio only version or he did a new show that was like a headlines run down.

        Anthony Colangelo of MECO is pretty good but his open access content has dropped off quite a bit and isn’t very timely.

        I don’t go out of my way looking for writers as most sciency sites are the plague and while we certainly need writers, you also have to go where the audience is.

        One issue is that this series featured right leaning guests and searching out new voices would lead to people who don’t want to be politically associated or who are space commies.

        Some of the youtube content I watch: Everyday Astronaut, What about it?, Marcus House, Isaac Arthur, Scott Manley, and Angry Astronaut.. I’m sure there are a dozen others of similar quality. Hard to say if any will grow into a Zubrin or NDT, except Tim Dodd. He has a lot of potential and has a big feature on the history of Russian rocket engines dropping soon.

        FISO could take the stick out their butt and make their content more accessible to the general public too.

          1. Handmer, definitely. Reading his stuff I get the same feeling I got reading “The High Frontier” back when it first came out. Started rereading it a few months ago, got so angry at everything that hasn’t happened since then… Thankfully there is some mitigation brewing in Boca Chica. Still, it’s what, fifty years flushed?

          1. Yup!

            Years ago I suggested her as a guest for the Space Show and IIRC, he said she wouldn’t talk to him.

            All of these channels have different audiences and I think they would all benefit from some cross pollicization but it would also require people to put aside some non-space differences to talk about a common interest.

  5. I liked the series, but I think the speakers about space law kind of ignored the real issues. How will we deal with people who try to take other people’s things away? Because that is going to happen.

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