There are astonishing parallels between the whaling industry and deep human spaceflight in the great pantheon of human exploration.
Voyages to the South Seas usually lasted between two and four years, mirroring almost exactly the time frames associated with a roundtrip journey to Mars. Credit: NASA
In the 45 years since the Apollo 17 astronauts placed the last boot prints on the Moon, Mars has loomed as the next target for human exploration of the solar system. NASA, SpaceX and other spacefaring enterprises have repeatedly declared their intentions to go there in the coming years and decades. A crewed mission to Mars will demand expertise from a wide range of disciplines, including physics, engineering, psychology and geology. Less obvious, it will also require us to scrutinise any antecedents that could help us to prepare for one of the most difficult undertakings in history.
Perhaps nothing better prefigures this most daunting and ambitious of quests than the whaling industry of the 18th and 19th centuries. The South Seas fishery hit its peak between roughly 1820 and 1860. Powered by an insatiable desire for whale oil and other whale-based commodities such as umbrellas, corsets and perfume, the industry was at the forefront ...