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Friday, April 06, 2012

The Importance of Space Exploration

"It has only recently been suggested that the first great voyages of government exploration have been forgotten for over half a millennium. The first discovery and rounding of the Cape of Good Hope by ships sent out from an organized, map-making civilization, the first discovery of the Caribbean area and South America, the first navigation through what we now know as the Magellan Strait, the first discoveries of Australia and New Zealand, and the first global circumnavigation, all these were reportedly accomplished by the huge fleets of Chinese treasure junks of the third Ming emperor Zhu Di and his grand eunuch, admiral Zheng He, in the period 1421–1423, as Gavin Menzies argues in his book, 1421," scribed Stephen Ashworth more than seven years in The Space Review.

"The emperor, though, had overstretched his resources, on this and on other grandiose imperial projects. The purpose of the treasure fleets was not to establish profitable trade routes, but to assert China’s global political domination. In this they closely resembled the Apollo project, begun 540 years after the great junks had sailed from Beijing. Like Apollo, too, and like the programs of manned space exploration now being considered in America and Europe, they were strong on vision and inspiration, but weak on the economic fundamentals."

Regardless of how one view the the book 1421 and its author Gavin Menzies, governments throughout human history have launched great explorations in starts and stops, too frequently not realizing the potential impact of what they had started. Space advocates around the globe need to tell the story of the great Chinese Treasure Fleet to better assign meaning to space exploration and space economic exploitation.

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