Explorers Say There's Still Lots to Look For By Helen O'Neill

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Explorers Say There's Still Lots to Look For

By Helen O'Neill

The Associated Press

DON'T BELIEVE there's nothing new under the sun, say members of a hearty breed who get their kicks finding Inca mummies, charting underwater mountain ranges, discovering ancient shipwrecks and hiking Antarctica.

NEW YORK - The crickets were roasted to perfection. Baby scorpions adorned points of savory toast. And the saddle of beaver simmered gently in a decorative silver tureen.

Oceanographer Sylvia Earle glided across the room in a shimmering red gown and golden shawl. She'd rather have been in her wet suit. She'd rather have been diving to the darkest corners of the abyss. Instead, "Her Deepness," as Earle is known, was busy in her role as honorary president of the Explorers Club, charming the cocktail crowd with her latest exploit: dancing a solitary dance with a giant octopus at the bottom of the Pacific.

Across the room, tuxedoed archaeologist Johan Reinhard clutched his wineglass and chatted about his latest find - a 500-year-old Inca mummy unearthed atop a remote Andean peak. Next to him, Bertrand Piccard, first man to circumnavigate Earth in a balloon, engaged in intense debate about the future of solar-powered planes.

All around were people who have bushwhacked through jungles, trekked across deserts, floated in space. Dripping medals and jewels and tales from afar, they gathered in the ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria hotel for the annual Explorers Club banquet. Once a year they come here, to mingle with sponsors and troll for support, to nibble on loin of kangaroo and explain to the world that there are still places to be discovered.

A Great Era of Exploration

"There is a popular illusion that all corners of the Earth have been explored," Earle says. "The greatest mountain ranges on the planet are underwater, where there is a whole continent waiting to be explored."

In the past two years alone, Ian Baker reported discovering the fabled Shangri La waterfall on Tibet's mighty Tsangpo River; Reinhard recovered three frozen Inca mummies from an Andean volcano; the body of English climber George Mallory, who disappeared in 1924, was discovered on Mount Everest; and Robert Ballard located the world's oldest shipwrecks - two Phoenician cargo vessels in the Mediterranean. The same trip led him to uncover evidence of a giant flood about 7,000 years ago - perhaps the biblical flood of Noah.

Explorers still scale peaks that never have been climbed, crawl through caves to the insides of Earth, hurtle into space to walk among the stars. They find ancient tribes and ancient cities. They dig up dinosaurs. They journey to places where no one has reported being before: the jungles of central Congo, the Amazon and Peru, the deserts of Tibet and China, vast underwater caves in Mexico and Belize. They are only beginning to probe the oceans; 5 percent has been explored, though water covers 71 percent of the planet.

All of which makes Earle say, "I think the great era of exploration has just begun."

What Sets Them Apart

"Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success." - Ernest Shackleton's 1914 advertisement for crew members for "Endurance."

The ship was aptly named. Although Shackleton failed in his quest to cross the Antarctic, his journey became one of the great epics of survival. Marooned for months on an ice floe, his ship crushed by pack ice, Shackleton managed to sail a lifeboat 800 miles, scale an unmapped mountain range, reach a Norwegian whaling station and return to rescue all of his men.

Seventy-five years later, Robert Ballard wants to dig through the ice and find his hero's ship.

Ballard is one of the most-famous living explorers, and not just because he discovered the world's most-famous shipwreck. Long before the lights of his little roaming robot lit up Titanic's ghostly bow in 1985, the former naval officer and oceanographer dedicated his life to exploration. Bismarck. USS Yorktown. Lusitania. Ballard has explored them all.

"When I die," Ballard says, "I want one word on my tombstone: Explorer."

He is standing in his Institute of Exploration in Mystic, Conn. in a replica of the control room from which he discovered Titanic. The institute is packed with videos and displays from Ballard's finds. On one wall, a large chart details his plans: searching for ancient wrecks in the Black Sea, the lost ships of the Franklin expedition in the Canadian Arctic, Shackleton's "Endurance."

"A lot of people do adventure," Ballard says. "They retrace Hannibal's route in a Winnebago. They take a helicopter to the North Pole and have cocktails. That is not exploration."

True exploration, he says, is about having a vision and following it, about going where no one has dared go before, about bringing back scientific information and publishing it in journals.

"It's about having the heart to push on when you want to turn back," he says. "That is what sets explorers apart."

Seeking Knowledge

"Explorers are foragers," says Anna Roosevelt, curator of archaeology at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago and professor of Anthropology at the University of Illinois. "They will seek until they find."

The great-granddaughter of Theodore Roosevelt spends much of her time foraging in the Amazon River basin, challenging conventional wisdom about early settlements there. She also challenges any notion that she is following in the footsteps of her famous ancestor, whose faded expedition photographs decorate the walls of the Explorer's Club. Teddy Roosevelt, she says, was a great adventurer and a great president, but he wasn't an explorer in the true sense.

"People and animals died on his expeditions," she said of his legendary African safaris and canoe trips down the Amazon's River of Doubt. "They don't die on mine."

Roosevelt was one of the first women inducted into the Explorers Club after it opened its doors to women in 1981. Another was astronaut Kathryn Sullivan, first American woman to walk in space.

Sullivan didn't particularly feel like an explorer when she nudged her spaceship out of the way so she could get a better view of Earth. She was more amused by the whimsy of it all: having trained for this moment so long, it actually felt normal. It wasn't until she got back to Earth that she pondered its meaning.

"I think sometimes we learn more about ourselves and our place in society and in the universe than the places we thought we were going to explore."

Clinging to a cliff in Cameroon, 32-year-old South African climber Edmund February agreed. Sure it's an adventure, he said, in a phone interview from the mountain in December. But it's exploration, too.

"When we make these climbs, we are exploring a new dimension, a new theater," said February. "It's not with the same parameters as Scott or Amundsen. But it's more than just a thirst for adventure. It's a thirst for knowledge, too."

Much Still to Discover

"A few toes aren't much to give to achieve the pole," Peary exclaimed in 1898.

So what is left for modern-day explorers to achieve, or sacrifice? Plenty, says Bradford Washburn, a 90-year-old cartographer and mountaineer from Boston. Washburn interviewed for the position of navigator on Amelia Earhart's round-the-world flight, dropping out because he thought the radios were inadequate. In the 1930s he knocked out the door of a Lockheed Vega airplane and tied himself to the opposite bulkhead in order to map glaciers on Alaska's St. Elias Range. Last year, he directed an expedition that led to the discovery of a new altitude of Everest - 29,035 feet, 7 feet higher than previously recorded.

"It was exciting," Washburn says, "but nothing as exciting as when Ed Hillary got to the top."

Still, Washburn marvels at the technology that hurtles modern explorers toward new frontiers, and at the spirit propelling them. Ballard discovering the Titanic, Reinhard staring into the mummified face of an Inca child, Earle dancing with an octopus. All of them, Washburn says, are driven by the same spirit that drove Columbus and Peary and Byrd: to discover new worlds and document them.

At the Boston Museum of Science where he is honorary director and where he still works several days a week, Washburn breaks into a poem.

"Something hidden. Go and find it. . . . Something lost behind the Ranges. Lost and waiting for you. Go!"

The poem is by Kipling. It's one of Washburn's favorites. It's called "The Explorer."

Local Hands on a New Space Project

UC Irvine expert and schoolkids helping him hope to see their crystal-growing experiment launched today.


Crystal capsules prepared by UC Irvine scientist Alexander McPherson and schoolchildren across the United States are scheduled to be launched into space this morning on the shuttle Atlantis, destined for the International Space Station, a gigantic laboratory taking shape about 200 miles above Earth.

The space station is a 16-nation effort led by the U.S. that should be completed in 2005. The finished lab, which will house scientists, should be as big as a football field and would weigh 1 million pounds on the ground.

The growing of protein crystals is the first experiment aboard the massive lab. Protein crystals, used for new HIV inhibitors, cancer drugs, nonpolluting laundry detergent and more, grow better in the low-gravity environment of space.

About 150 of the 500 crystal samples being sent up were made by students in California, Alabama, Florida and Tennessee. A total of 87 California students and teachers participated, most in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

"Our intention is not just to use the space station as a lab, but as a scientific classroom for the United States," McPherson said.

McPherson said student participation is a key element, because today's students are tomorrow's scientists. He traces his own interest in science to his youth.

A Mission to Excite Kids About Science

"Since I grew up in Orlando, I saw all the early missions. I've been following the space program since Alan Shepard went up in the early 1960s," he said.

But today, "the students are simply not going into science and mathematics--they think it's too hard or intimidating or not interesting," he said. "We're trying to turn that around. Science is the most interesting thing in the world."

Researchers and the students, working under McPherson's direction, sealed chemicals into small tubes that were then frozen to minus-320 degrees Fahrenheit. Scientists placed the samples into thermos-like containers that are kept cool with liquid nitrogen. Once in orbit, the nitrogen naturally boils off, thawing the samples and allowing the protein crystals to begin growing, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The crystals will remain in orbit until October, when they will be retrieved by another manned space shuttle.

Once the crystals are brought back to Earth, scientists will use X-rays to deduce the detailed atomic structure of the molecules.

Such studies have significant implications for humans because information gathered from the crystals can ultimately be used for manufacturing pharmaceuticals, and to learn more about human ailments such as genetic defects.

"Those protein molecules are extremely important because they are the major biochemical element of all living tissue," said McPherson, who has been involved with NASA protein crystal projects since 1984. He received the agency's Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal in 1999. "We can use our knowledge of those to design new drugs."

The information also has applications in the manufacturing of insecticides, herbicides and industrial products, such as laundry detergents that use enzymes.

Vocabulary Development

Words in Context: Clues All Around

You have defined the five vocabulary words. Use those definitions for the practice below.

Practice 1:

Write your answer to each of the following questions on a separate piece of paper. Make sure to use complete sentences.

  1. Why is an illusion different from the truth?

  2. If you had to be marooned somewhere for a month, where would you choose to be, and what would you take with you?

  3. If you nudged an object, what would happen to it? Have you nudged anything recently? Explain.

  4. Is whimsy a quality that makes you laugh or not? Why?

  5. A deep-sea research team has a job for a navigator. What responsibility does that position involve?

Word Clues: Greek and Lain Roots and Relations

What do a seismograph, an autobiography, and a telegraph have in common? Sound like a riddle? In fact, all three words share the Greek root –graph-, so they’re related. Learning to recognize familiar Greek and Latin roots will help you fathom the meaning of many English words. Many of the roots in the chart below can be found in words in the article you read.

Practice 2:

Think of at least one other word for each of the Greek and Latin roots listed above, and then write the word’s meaning. Explain how knowing the meaning of the root helps you understand the word. Use a dictionary for help.

Skills Review Questions

  1. Which research question is most relevant to the information in the article?

  1. What have scientists deduced about the atomic structure of the molecules of a protein crystal?

  2. What techniques do teachers use to make science and math more appealing to high school students?

  3. What is the history of the U.S. space program?

  4. Who is Alan Shepard?

  1. Which research question would probably yield the most relevant information about future experiments planned for the ISS?

  1. What is the likelihood of future experimentation in space?

  2. How profitable is experimentation on the ISS?

  3. What do scientists hope to learn from space experiments?

  4. What are the research plans for the ISS for the next two years?

  1. Which of the following research questions about protein crystals is the most narrow and focused?

  1. Why are protein crystals important?

  2. What are the results of some recent experiments in space?

  3. How will the information gained from protein-crystal research be used practically?

  4. What are the different types of crystals, and how does each grow?

  1. If you were using an Internet search engine to try to find out more about the research experiment described in this article, which search term would probably be most helpful?

  1. UC Irvine

  2. Space science

  3. International Space Station

  4. Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal

  1. To find out the design of the ISS (what it looks like), which resource would be the most helpful?

  1. A recent magazine article about experiments aboard the ISS

  2. The ISS NASA-sponsored Web site

  3. An encyclopedia article about Alexander McPherson

  4. A book about the history of the U.S. space program published in 1997

Constructed Response

  1. List three kinds of Web sites that would probably provide reliable information on the ISS. Explain why you think they would be useful.

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