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Arctic lessons for NASA

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Michael F. Robinson, author of The Coldest Crucible: Arctic Exploration and American Culture has written an interesting piece for the Space Review that draws on his cultural analysis of polar exploration in the nineteenth century to comment on NASA’s recent space exploration initiatives. In the article, Robinson notes that sensationalism was often used to justify early polar expeditions rather than their scientific value, and argues that NASA’s recent plans to send astronauts to Mars might be an analogous situation. Robinson writes:

A manned mission to Mars, if it happens, will be a dazzling event guaranteed to keep us glued to our televisions. But symbolism alone cannot carry the US space program forward. One hundred years ago, Americans faced the same dilemma on the Arctic frontier. In their relentless pursuit of the North Pole, explorers had abandoned science. After Robert Peary claimed the discovery of the North Pole in 1909, American scientists breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, scientific exploration of the Arctic could begin in earnest. Franz Boas, professor of anthropology at Columbia University, expressed the mood of scientists then, but he could have been expressing the opinion of many scientists now. “We must not forget that the explorer is not expected merely to travel from one point to another, but that we must expect him also to see and to observe things worth seeing.”

Read the article on the Space Review website.