The Santa Maria to the New World and the Apollo Mission to the Moon: Christopher Columbus and the Astronauts
By Catharine Magdalene Wingfield Clayton
The 2006 essay contest winner was a Home Schooled junior from Sugar Land, Texas. Her participation ws sponsored by the Fort Bend Chapter, DAR.
Perhaps no voyages have opened the doors to new worlds as have those of Christopher Columbus and Apollo 11. The first Europeans to venture across an unknown sea and the first men to touch the moon–both accomplished great feats and both left much unknown. Yet, while the overarching results of these expeditions were similar, in other ways the voyages varied. Separated by much more than the five centuries of technology between them, the journeys differed in their motivations, means, and historical evaluations.
Probably no aspect of the voyages is so dissimilar as the respective crews, Columbus struggled to find sailors with the bravery required for a journey into the “sea of darkness,” but finally, he and eighty-seven crew members set sail with two vessels furnished by a friend and a third seized by Spanish Queen Isabella to settle a debt. Ranging from weal thy merchants to convicted criminals, the crew had little but the sea in common, providing a strong contrast to the tbree close-knit astronauts of Apollo II. Prior to Apollo II, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration launched fifteen space voyages, each laying crucial groundwork for the ultimate goal: a man on the moon. Of the astronauts involved in these flights, three possessing outstanding leadership, courage and teamwork were chosen for the Apollo 11 journey: Edwin AIdrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins. All three had served in the military, were husbands and fathers, had worked clos38ely together for five years, and would define an immortal moment in history.
Columbus’ primary objective was to find a direct sea route to Asia, thus rendering obsolete the expensive, perilous land journey; however he also coveted the glory of discovering such a route. The purpose of the Apollo II mission was very different. While Columbus himself initiated the voyage and petitioned the government for funding, the opposite occurred in 1961–President Kennedy announced his vision of putting a man on the moon, and Congress immediately committed the necessary funds. Kennedy’s announcement came in response to the apparent Soviet lead in the “space race,” and issues of national security as well as pride were at stake. Yet the astronauts–and their country–sincerely believed the words of the plaque they left behind on the moon: “We come in peace for all mankind.”
Technology played an important role in both historic journeys. Columbus’ voyage rested upon a mistaken calculation of the earth’s size–if its comparative enormity had been known, no sailor would have attempted such a voyage. Also, imprecise instruments prevented accurate calculation of speed or distance traveled, and Columbus relied on the sun and sand glasses to measure time He carried an astrolabe and quadrant for measuring latitude, but sea conditions made both useless. Although both crews used the stars to navigate, Apollo 11 was also in constant radio communication with NASA’s control room to monitor pressure oxygen, fuel, distance, and other important maneuvering and survival information.
What each crew brought home provides insight into their different paradigms. Columbus pursued glory and wealth, while Apollo sought scientific knowledge. Columbus brought back animals, natives, and gold, while Apollo II returned with samples of soil, dust, and rocks, and information about lunar radiation, magnetism, and wind. Both crews documented their journeys–Columbus by written log; Apollo through photographs, video, and audio recordings.
After his voyage, Columbus enjoyed temporary fame and fortune. He was granted a coat of arms–important to this status-conscious man–and became governor of Hispaniola. However, his settlements suffered from disease, internal quarrels, and conflict with natives, and when malicious rumors reached Spanish officials, Columbus was brought home in chains. Thus, the flory in which he reveled after his first voyage ended in ignominy. Conversely, the success of Apollo 11 made astronauts Armstrong, Collins, and Aldrin national heroes, and all three received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Their fame endured, and all continued working in the space industry, pouring their skills aid experience back into what they loved. Thus, after an arduous seven-month journey and unwitting discovery of anew continent, Columbus faded into temporary obscurity while the astronauts achieved lasting renown for their incredible six-day voyage to the moon.
Columbus paved the way for centuries of exploration and discovery on a new continent; Apollo opened an age of space exploration and awakened man to how little he worlds beyond Earth’s atmosphere. Each voyage impacted the future and will live forever in history. However different, each heroic voyage will be remembered s an expedition of bravery, adventure, and discovery.
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2006 – Catharine Magdalene Wingfield Clayton
2005 – Irtefa Anwara Bibte-Farid