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Risk of Exploring


I’ve been wondering recently about how the risks of space travel compare with the risks sailors took during the Age of Exploration. I haven’t tracked down anything statistically conclusive, but my friend Arthur Herman, who is a historian and an NR contributor, brings to mind two examples. Magellan left Seville to sail around the world in 1519; three years later, one of the ships made it, minus Magellan himself. Francis Drake had the same problem later; five ships joined him in trying to circumnavigate the globe, and one returned (two were lost, one was scuttled, and one turned back). There’s an old English saying: “He would go to sea for pleasure would go to hell for pasttime.” Maybe we should make that a modern American saying, applied to space.


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