Exploration's Logs, Maps, and Manuals

Columbus's Logs, Maps, and Manuals

By the late fifteenth century an emerging body of literature to facilitate sea travel in the Mediterranean world was available. Early books giving sailing directions served as handy guides for the sailor and a source of practical information for laymen. In such, the use of the hand and zodiac for information, was considered vital to the 15th century Mediterranean navigator, might be explained. Whether such texts accompanied Columbus on his New World voyage is uncertain.

Documents used by Columbus during his first voyage are unknown. Certainly, maps must have been included among a body of voyage literature. On a later voyage, Columbus reported using a text on astronomy to determine the date of a lunar eclipse. Perhaps, the Admiral included religious writings as well. We know of his deep faith which motivated his search for new lands. Again, on a later voyage, he employed the use of a Bible. If a Bible was present on a later voyage, likely, the initial sail into the unknown would have been accompanied by a Bible as well.

Based on the numerous hymns sung in the course of the ancient mariner's day at sea, it would a surprise to find no hymn book aboard a medieval sailing vessel. Of course, we know that most of these melodies and their lyrics were passed down through verbal recitations from elder to younger crew members, making a printed hymnal unnecessary. Likewise, sailing techniques such as the steps required to set the sails, change sails from square to lateen rigging, and the weighing of anchor, etc. required no written text. These procedures were native to all experienced captains and seamen.

America's Logs, Maps, and Manuals

Mission Operation and Crew Training

Missions to the Moon involved three distinct groups: the astronauts, flight contollers, and engineers. These groups served as a "three-legged" stool with regard to support of Apollo lunar missions. Since the engineers contributed to the design of the moonships, their input into the logs, manuals, and checklists used by the astronauts and flight controllers was essential to a safe reliable mission and spaceship.

To assist those who controlled and flew the Moon missions, a body of documentation or mission data pack was prepared by those responsible for astronaut training and mission operations. Generally, these were NASA employees and contractors supporting the astronaut office and elements of the flight control administration. Of course, their data sources would be the NASA spacecraft engineering team and their support contractors: Rockwell, Grumman, and the hundreds of hardware subcontractors.

The culumination of this effort resulted in a mission check list and integrated operational schematics that resided on board Apollo missions. In like fashion, Columbus's vessels possessed a library of navigational aids, maps, logs, and even astronomical texts. While the 16th Century navigator might encounter unknown geographical characteristics of the voyage, Apollo crews often encountered unusual and oftimes unexpected spacecraft responses. For example, when the Apollo 10 crew activated the lunar lander, the craft experienced frightening sudden and unforeseen gyrations. Checks of the list of on board switch settings and examination of the operational schematics by ground controllers led most to believe the cause was simply a switch set in the wrong position.

In a sense, these hardware idiosyncrasies were every bit as challenging as any storm or rocky shoreline faced by Columbus. The final landing phase of Apollo 11's Eagle lunar module faced a series of master alarms generated by its on board warning system. A check of the logs and checklist for landing operations indicated this to be a threat to safety. What Neil Armstrong faced during the lunar landing was every bit as perilous as the storm Columbus's vessel fought during the return from the New World. Because the Apollo 11 crew and flight control team was well trained having the support of accurate documentation, the alarm threat was quickly analyzed. The Eagle landed safely.

Example of an Apollo Operational Schematic

1. The voyages of Columbus and Apollo have much in common with a vacation trip you might take during the summer. What are some things which are similar about automobile trips and voyages of exploration? Discuss your answer based on the above information.

2. What would you compare the following features of your automobile trip with the voyages of Columbus and Apollo 17? Explain why for each answer:
a.) a stop at a roadside restaurant
b.) filling the car with gas before leaving home
c.) a visit to a museum along the way
d.) checking into a motel for the night
e.) driving straight through to your vacation destination
f.) packing snacks for the trip
g.) having an auto club plan your trip

3. Pretend you have lost your way on your vacation. What would you do to find it again? How does this compare to what Columbus or Apollo 17 might have done to find their way if they were lost? Explain.

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Last modified: Monday, 28-Aug-00 04:00:00 PM CDT

Author: Jerry Woodfill / NASA, Mail Code ER7, jared.woodfill1@jsc.nasa.gov

Curator: Cecilia Breigh, NASA JSC ER7

Responsible Official: Charles Gott, NASA JSC ER7

Automation, Robotics and Simulation Division, Walter W. Guy, Chief.