Redirect: Lessons from Terrestrial Exploration for Earth Orbit

Artist's conception of Shimizu Space Hotel in orbit.

Artist’s conception of Shimizu Space Hotel in orbit.

Last week I published an op-ed in Space News entitled “Lessons from Terrestrial Exploration for Earth Orbit.” It focused on the history of European expansion beginning in the fifteenth century and the outcomes of that effort. In the process, Western Civilization expanded around the globe moving from exploration to use. I see the same thing happening in low-Earth orbit. Check out the op-ed here.

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6 Responses to Redirect: Lessons from Terrestrial Exploration for Earth Orbit

  1. I’ve been doing a good bit of research on this topic and what I’m seeing suggests that it was rather rare for the monarchies of the time to fund or run the actual voyages. At most they provided patents on routes and royalties from discovered lands. There are a few notable exceptions, the most important one being Henry the Navigator who demonstrated sailing beyond the site of the shore on the Atlantic as his team sailed around the Cape of Bojador.

    The hypothesis I’m testing is that successful voyages of discovery were incentivised by the respective governments but were privately financed and run. So far the evidence that still exists suggests that is the case. My goal is a cap table and ROI analysis on the major voyages but currency conversions are proving problematic.


    • launiusr says:

      Thanks for sharing this information. Much of what you suggest is true, but not all. Approximately half of the funds for Columbus’s first voyage was secured from the sovereign, the rest from Italian backers who hoped to make money. American Horizons: U.S. History in a Global Context (Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 22, states this point blank. I suppose this might be incorrect, but that is the assessment of a leading history textbook. I’d like to see what you have on this since it is an issue that I have been working on as well. The government also provided supplies, equipment, ships, and other in-kind support. Much was true for other exploring parties as well. We should talk.


  2. Can you cite that? Because the documentation says that half came from Louis de Santangel’s personal funds, not the Crowns. He was a finance minister and Treasurer of the Church of Aragon and the funds he provided were his. The research I’ve done says there is no documentation that the sovereign provided any funds since they were broke.

    I’ll dig up my citations when I get home and post those.


  3. My source is “Christopher Columbus – The Grand Design” by Paolo Emilio Taviani. This is the English edition. The original Italian edition was published in 1974 and revised in 1982. The specific reference is Chapter XL, page 201. Here is the quote:

    “Of the original estimate of two million maravedis, the sum of 1,140,000 maravedis was paid personally by Luis de Santangel, or, more probably, jointly by him and Francesco Pinelli. In addition, Columbus advanced 500,000 maravedis.”

    Columbus’ 500,000 was provided by various Genoese bankers that Taviani lists but there is no available accounting of who provided exactly what. The cap table I use in the presentation comes from details found in another book that I’m blanking on right now that outlines how much of that 500,000 was from the bankers and how much was personal to Columbus.

    The ‘balance’ of the funds is 360,000 maravedis which is represented by two caravels from the city of Palos as payment for a fine imposed on them during the previous wars. They provided the boats but no sailors from Palos volunteered so the Crown never provided funds to pay them. The third boat, the Gallega, belonged to Juan de la Cosa who provided the boat with himself as captain and some of the crew as another investor. This ship was reflagged as the voyages flagship, the Santa Maria. (this is from Chapter XLI).

    (There are also claims that the other two ships offered by Palos were refused by the Pinzon brothers who then provided ships of their own but many historians believe this is Spanish propaganda to bolster the case in the resulting lawsuits.)

    The nice thing about Taviani’s research is that he goes back to original source materials as much as possible. I just wish the publishers had provided pictures of those documents but I think that would have made the book to big.


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