We (people of westernized civilization at large)
have been discussing, with disbelief, the disproportionate investments made by government and the private sector into space exploration versus ocean exploration for a half a century.
Since my departure from duty on Lee Stocking Island – one of the NOAA Undersea Research Centers (NURC) in 2006, which served as the closest thing to an ‘inner space’ program, it has remained consistently evident that that industry just continues to dive, dive, dive – and not in the productive way.
In 2006, things started to tank, resulting in the shutdown and dissolution of the NURC program, and the few remaining assets have done all they can to limp by. Most notably was the Aquarius habitat program in Key Largo which went through a management change, though still remains a somewhat poorly exploited national asset. I’ve discussed my opinions on this previously, which are not the subject of this Blog post, though it is certainly important to consider the context of where we are today.
A colleague forwarded me the following 1966 Popular Science article which is a plea from John Steinbeck to catalyze more ambitious ocean exploration activities:
Not much has changed since 1966. Perhaps most interestingly, 1965 marked Ed White’s first extra-vehicular spacewalk, and 1969 marked Neil Armstrong’s famous first footsteps on the moon (45 years ago).
Throughout that period, and trickling in to the 1970’s were a series of undersea habitation programs which were largely billed as sea – space analogues. The result – interesting saturation diving technologies and techniques for the private sector as the offshore oil boom took place, and a variety of shallow infrastructure to keep scientists in the field. What stopped working was a model where science and industry continued to work together, leveraging cooperative assets to keep exploration on the focal plane. NASA on the other hand, kept its perspective high and for the far reaching but greater good of mankind, and so they took the glory – and the federal funding to go with it.
45 years (July 20 this summer) since Armstrong’s small steps, we finally have an opportunity to take a real giant leap. The race for a seafaring humanity has been a slow one, but this is the win we all need to improve upon and advance our role with and within the Blue Planet.
Timing is everything, and the timing is right.
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