Felix Baumgartner has raised some hackles with critical comments about NASA’s future aspirations for Mars and Sir Richard Branson’s suggestion that someone might try a higher skydive from SpaceShip Two.

It appears that Baumgartner is already anxious about protecting his legacy.

Baumgartner’s comments are reminiscent of complaints by Sir Edmund Hillary and other pioneering mountaineers about modern climbers paying their way to the summit of Mount Everest.

Climbing Mt. Everest is now a major commercial business in Nepal. Prior to his death, Hillary complained that “Having people pay $65,000 and then be led up the mountain by a couple of experienced guides… isn’t really mountaineering at all.” Jamling Tenzing Norgay, son of Tenzing Norgay who performed the first ascent of Mount Everest with Hillary, complained that “The spirit of adventure is not there any more. It is lost. There are people going up there who have no idea how to put on crampons. They are climbing because they have paid someone $65,000. It is very selfish. It endangers the lives of others.”

Hillary and Norgay’s displeasure at the perceived loss of adventure is understandable, but it sounds selfish and elitist to our ears. Climbing Everest may be relatively easy now (“only” about 1% of climbers die in the attempt) but that fact does not take anything away from the hardships and accomplishments of the original pioneers. Nothing can. The point about endangering the lives of experienced climbers, who may need to rescue clients who get into trouble, is a little more valid. Yet, those experienced climbers (paid guides) would not have jobs if not for clients, and they knew those jobs would be dangerous when they took them.

The attitude of mountaineers is in stark contrast to that of pioneering aviators. It would be hard to imagine Charles Lindbergh, later in life, complaining that crossing the Atlantic was now “too easy.” Aviators like Lindbergh wanted to open the air routes to large numbers of people. They viewed the development of commercial aviation as part of their mission.

If we’re to open the space frontier the way we opened the airways, the attitude of pioneering astronauts (and others, like Felix Baumgartner) must be like that of early aviators, rather than mountaineers like Sir Edmund.

Regrettably, that has not always been the case. Senator John Glenn was strongly opposed to allowing Dennis Tito to visit the International Space Station in 2001, even though Tito travelled in a Russian Soyuz and only visited the Russian side of the space station, which was not US property. Senator Glenn’s complaints about Tito “taking a slot away from somebody who should have been up there” seemed oddly inappropriate since Glenn had used his political influence to get himself a free flight on the Space Shuttle in 1998, taking a slot away from a somebody else. Not that we blame him for wanting to get back into space, but Glenn had other options besides the political route. Glenn came from a wealthy family. He could have purchased a Soyuz flight and helped to jumpstart a new industry, as Tito did. That would have been a fitting capstone for his space career. It was sad to see a national icon diminish himself, instead.

Written by Astro1 on October 28th, 2012 , Citizen Exploration

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