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Exploration Facts

"Exploration is really the essence of the human spirit" —Frank Borman (American astronaut)

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The first time that humanity "used up" a natural resource was 4,000 years ago, when the supply of tin ore, needed to make bronze, was used up in the Middle East around 2,000 B.C. The rich tin mines of Cornwall, England were dug in the thirteenth century B.C. by Phoenicians looking for tin. In over 3,000 years of mining, around three million tons of tin have been removed from the Cornish mines, and they still have not been exhausted. (source)

When the troops of ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose I invaded Syria and Carchemish on the upper Euphrates in 1525 B.C., they were astounded to see the Nile "falling from the sky" and a river that "in flowing north flowed south." The soldiers only knew Egypt and the Nile, and so were fascinated to see rain (the Nile falling from the sky) and the direction of the flow of the southward-flowing Euphrates; to the Egyptians, south meant "upstream", so they saw the Euphrates as flowing "backwards". (source)

View more facts about: Ancient People | Ancient Egypt

The Phoenician navigator Hanno may have been the first to circumnavigate Africa, around 500 B.C. He observed that, at the southern end of Africa, the noonday sun shone in the north. This observation sounded ridiculous to the Greek historian Herodotus, who reported the tale, but this report shows that Hanno likely either did circumnavigate Africa, or or at least made a good attempt to do so. He likely wouldn't have been able to imagine the sun shining in the "wrong" part of the sky if he hadn't seen it. (source)

View more facts about: Ancient People | Firsts

In the third century B.C., Pytheas, a Greek geographer and explorer, sailed along the Atlantic coast of Europe, explored Great Britain, sailed north to "Ultima Thule" (Norway) and traversed the Baltic Sea as far as the Vistula. His work On the Ocean, while it has not survived, was the earliest first-hand information written about northwestern Europe. (source)

View more facts about: Ancient Britain and Ireland | Geography

Without modern technology, the Polynesians located almost all of the small islands spread over the 14 million square kilometres of the Pacific Ocean, and colonized them all. They had colonized most of modern-day Malaysia and Indonesia by 1500 B.C., Fiji and Tonga by 1200 B.C., Hawaii, Easter Island, and Madagascar by 500 A.D., and New Zealand by 1000 A.D. (source)

The Navigatio Santi Brendani Abatis, a ninth century manuscript, describes the many adventures of St. Brendan the Navigator, who supposedly undertook a seven-year voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, eventually reaching what might possibly have been Newfoundland. In 1976–77, Tim Severin, a British scholar, crossed the Atlantic on a boat constructed based on the details described by Brendan, demonstrating the feasibility of such a voyage. (source)

View more facts about: Ancient Britain and Ireland | Saints

Stone carvings dated between 500 and 1000 A.D. have been found in West Virginia that appear to have been written in Old Irish using the Ogham alphabet. Perhaps they were carved by Irish missionaries in the wake of St. Brendan the Navigator's possible voyage to the new world. (source)

View more facts about: Pre-Columbian America

It is possible that black explorers from western Africa visited America centuries before Columbus. There is archaeological evidence that the Olmecs, a Central American people, may have been in contact with blacks. Also, when Columbus came to the New World, he heard stories about blacks, and collected golden spearheads identical to those used in West Africa. The Indians referred to the spearheads as "guanin", which means "gold" in West African languages. Shorter distances and favourable currents would have made travelling to America from West Africa easier than from Spain. (source)

The first European to see the eastern shore of the Pacific Ocean was Vasco Núñez de Balboa, on September 25th, 1513.

Henry Hudson did not discover the Hudson River or Hudson Bay; others had previously explored these areas. (source)

As most early literate civilisations were located around the warm Mediterranean region, the first mention of an iceberg in world literature did not appear until the ninth century A.D., when an account of the travels of the Irish monk St. Brendan in the North Atlantic, three centuries before, appeared. It mentioned that he saw a "floating crystal castle." (source)

View more facts about: Books and Literature

Due to Iceland's geographical isolation from mainland Europe, no-one had ever set foot on it until mediaeval times. The first humans to arrive on Iceland were Irish explorers, who arrived no later than the year 795. The colony that they established did not last; when the Vikings arrived eighty years later, only a few hermits remained. (source)

View more facts about: Geography | Vikings

To encourage his fellow Norsemen to settle a large, snow-covered and ice-covered island he discovered in the year 982, Eric the Red called it Greenland. A few years later, twenty-five ships filled with eager settlers sailed for Greenland. (source)

View more facts about: Vikings

The Vikings founded a settlement in North America almost 500 years before Columbus "discovered" the New World. In the year 1000, Leif Ericson, son of Eric the Red, sailed from Greenland on an epic westward voyage that took him past "Helluland" (likely Baffin Island) and "Markland" (likely Labrador) to a land called "Vinland" (modern-day Newfoundland). The Vikings later founded a colony on Vinland, near what is now the fishing village of L'anse-aux-Meadows. However, the Vikings soon discovered that the lands were already inhabited by "Skraelings" (likely Eskimos), who were often hostile. After a few years, the first European colony in the New World was abandoned and the colonists sailed home. (source)

View more facts about: Pre-Columbian America | Vikings

Cheng Ho, court eunuch and great admiral of the Ming Dynasty, led Chinese fleets on seven voyages of conquest and diplomacy, as far as West Africa, between 1405 and 1433. Due to Cheng Ho's voyages, 36 countries sent China tribute. However, in 1433, the eunuchs' opponents gained the upper hand in a power struggle in the Chinese court, and the fleets were stopped, shipyards were dismantled, and outbound shipping was forbidden. If these voyages had continued, it is possible that the Chinese would have "discovered" America before Columbus. (source)

View more facts about: China

Had Marco Polo not been captured by the Genoese and imprisoned, the tales of his twenty-two-year adventure in the Far and Middle East at the end of the thirteenth century may never have been made known. When he returned to Venice after his odyssey, he became a "gentleman commander" of a war vessel striving to hold off Genoese traders. In a battle off Curzold Island, his galley was captured and Marco was hauled off to Genoa and gaoled. There he met a writer named Rustichello, who, after hearing Marco's yarns, insisted that they be written down. (source)

View more facts about: Books and Literature | Middle Ages

In the fifteenth century, Prince Henry the Navigator dispatched his sea captains on voyages to explore the African coast. One of Henry's hopes was that his men would discover the rich Christian kingdom of "Prester John", which was supposedly cut off from the rest of Christendom due to the Islamic conquest. Eventually, after Henry's death, the Portuguese rounded the Cape of Good Hope and sailed the east coast of Africa, only to find that Prester John's kingdom did not really exist. While they found a Christian kingdom in Ethiopia, it was dismissed as being that of Prester John due to its poverty. (source)

View more facts about: Misconceptions

Christopher Columbus was not the only person of his time who believed the world was round. Since the twelfth century, educated people had been aware of the earth's actual shape. Where Columbus differed with the educated people of his time was that he thought the world to be much smaller than it actually was. He believed the westward distance from Spain to Asia to be around 2,500 miles, only around one-fifth of the true distance of around 12,000 miles. Had America not been in his way, Columbus' expedition would have ended in death on the endless sea. (source)

View more facts about: Planet Earth

Columbus visited England in 1477 and Iceland in the 1480s. Possibly during these visits he heard that lands lay far to the west, across the Atlantic Ocean. (source)

Christopher Columbus' first transatlantic voyage travelled at a rate of around 2.8 miles per hour.

Prince Henry the Navigator never navigated the seas on exploring expeditions. He was given this title because he ran an exploration institute at Sagres, Portugal, where astronomers, geographers, admirals, and shipbuilders pooled their expertise for voyages along the African coast that culminated, long after Henry's death, when Vasco de Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope and went on to reach India, in 1497. (source)

Ferdinand Magellan was not the first explorer to sail around the world. During his journey, he and several of his men were killed in the Philippines. One of his officers, Juan Sebastián de Elcano, led the expedition back to Spain. (source)

View more facts about: Firsts

Pedro Álvares Cabral set out on March 9th, 1500, from Portugal with the intent of rounding the Cape of Good Hope and heading towards India. He decided to tack far across the Atlantic. On April 22nd, he spotted a mountain, and thought he saw an island in the Atlantic. He erected a cross on the island, and sent a message to Portugal indicating that he had discovered the "Island of Vera Cruz" for Portugal. He did not realise that this "island" was actually Brazil, the largest country in South America. (source)

Johannes Kepler calculated that the first voyages to the moon would take four hours, and thought that the passengers would take narcotics in order to endure the trip.

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik I, Earth's first artificial satellite. It was quite small, being about the size of a basketball and weighing 183 pounds. It took about 98 minutes to orbit the Earth on its elliptical orbit. (source)

View more facts about: Technology and Inventions | Russia

The first lunar missions were named "Apollo", a name suggested by Abe Silverstein, who was an early director of the Lewis Research Center and one of the "founding fathers" of NASA's Manned Spaceflight Center in Houston, now Johnson Space Center. (source)

View more facts about: Philosophy and Religion

In 1964, the year of its independence, Zambia announced its space program, claiming that Zambian astronauts would be on the moon by 1965. Edward Muluka Nkoloso, Director-General of the National Academy of Science, Space Research and Philosophy, trained his twelve apprentice astronauts using a forty-pound oil drum. Trainees curled up inside the drum and were rolled down a steep hill to give them the feeling of rushing through space. Another training exercise involved swinging a capsule around a tree on a long rope, with the rope being cut when the capsule reached the highest point, producing the feeling of free fall. The astronauts were also trained in walking on their hands, "the only way humans can walk on the moon". As of the present day, Zambia has not launched any space missions, manned or unmanned. (source)

Meriweather Lewis and William Clark were not the first European explorers to travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The first was Vasco Nùñez, who crossed the narrow isthmus of Central America in 1513. Lewis and Clark were not the first Europeans to cross North America either. In 1793, the Scotsman Alexander Mackenzie reached the Pacific Ocean via Canada.

The first person to set foot on Antarctica was an American sealer, John Davis. He did so on February 7, 1821, but his accomplishment was unknown until 1955, when his ship's log was discovered and studied. (source)

View more facts about: Firsts

In 1985, NASA estimated the probability of a space shuttle accident to be 1 in 100,000. However, on the 25th shuttle launch on January 28, 1986, Challenger exploded after take-off, killing all seven astronauts aboard; again, on February 1, 2003, the 113rd mission, Columbia exploded on re-entry, again with the loss of all seven astronauts. Other groups had earlier estimated the probability of failure as being closer to 1 in 100, a probability that in retrospect seems more reasonable.

View more facts about: Misconceptions | Interesting Statistics
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