The Voyages of Columbus and Spaceship America

Columbus's Voyage to the New World

Examination of the paths Columbus's and Cernan's craft followed to their destinations reveals similarities. Both scribed a figure 8 upon their respective "oceans" of Earth and space. At their destinations both performed a loop of exploration prior to returning to their home ports. (The image of America's lunar mission does not show orbits about the Moon while the sister ship Challenger landed on the Moon for a period of surface exploration prior to returning to America for the docking, transfer of the two lunar module astronauts for America's return to Earth.

With regard to the specific city or port where each vessel set forth, a discussion ensues. Some believe Santa Maria's originating port of departure should be considered Palos on the coast of Spain. Others suggest that Gomera in the Canary Islands is a more accurate candidate because the Canary Islands were the extent of sailors' knowledge of the western ocean. This would make the Canary Islands analogous to trans lunar injection and Kennedy Space Center comparable to Palos, Spain. In like fashion, a trip from the Earth to the Moon to Mars would have the Moon as Columbus's Gomera and Kennedy Space Center as Palos.

Apollo 17's Voyage to the Moon

Continuing the discussion which compares the missions of Columbus's first voyage of discovery and Apollo 17, one finds that the Canary Islands had a unique purpose. There an examination of the fleet's seaworthiness was made. This was performed prior to the trans new world setting sail. With repairs and restocking of supplies made, the fleet weighed anchor.

However, an exceptionally windless four days kept the three vessels within sight of land. Likewise, Apollo 17's three vessels, America, Challenger, and the orbital transfer vehicle known as the SIVB (the Saturn V's third stage) had a pause. The lunar fleet spent approximately 90 minutes (25,000 miles) statusing the vehicles for trans new world injection into the ocean of space. The circularization orbit served the same purpose as Columbus's pause at the Canary Islands.

With regard to the port of return from the New World discovery, similar comparisons may be addressed. The 1492-93 fleet returned less one vehicle: the Santa Maria had run aground and sank Christmas Eve of 1492 leaving the Nina and Pinta to accomplish the return to the Old World. Likewise, Apollo 17's Challenger (the lunar lander) was run aground into the Moon's surface (This was done on purpose, not by accident.) leaving only America as the returning vehicle. The winds and waves carried Columbus's returning pair of ships as far north as the Azore Islands. Again, sailors had little knowledge of the ocean west of the Azore Islands so that they would be analogous to Apollo 17's splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

1. In light of the above discussion, consider your first day at school. What would be your launch port and port of return? Discuss your reasons for these selections.

2. What steps were taken by or for you with regard to checking things out before you launched your journey along the path of your eduction? How did these steps compare to Columbus's pause at the Canary Islands and Apollo 17 circularization orbit of Earth? Discuss.

3. Consider the steps you might take in planning a vacation. How are they alike and different from those taken by Columbus and the Apollo 17 astronauts? Discuss your answer.

Return to Home Port Mate.

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

Author: Jerry Woodfill / NASA, Mail Code ER7,

Curator: Cecilia Breigh, NASA JSC ER7

Responsible Official: Charles Gott, NASA JSC ER7

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