In search of terrestrial limits man has tried to tread on all the “finisterres”: the sea beds, the extreme coasts, the poles, the heart of jungles and deserts, the Moon and outer space. Also mountain summits, even –sometimes with more fervor– the apparently unaccessable and, naturally, the highest. But prior to this, all of them had to be documented and the altitude of their peaks reliably measured. The first exploration in search of the highest mountain was thus strictly geographic and its location moved from mountain range to mountain range until very belatedly settling on Mount Everest, in the Himalaya. This was followed by Alpine exploration to find the route to the top. This is a beautiful story of landscapes, science, perserverance and braveness.
Few regions of the planet have resisted the curiosity of human beings so tenaciously like the Arctic and Antarctica. Their natural settings, ravaged by an extreme climate that negates even the slightest recourse to life, have played host to the bitter struggle of generations of explorers to sketch the contours of such inhospitable lands and obtain trophies full of symbolisms: the poles. This lecture will discuss these men, whose professionalism and efforts helped to write some of the most epic pages in the history of exploration. In particular, it will focus on Antarctica, given that it was on the ice of this continent that the most spectacular race in the history of explorations took place.
For 400 years, the pharaohs of Egypt used a small valley in the desert on the West Bank, opposite the ancient city of Thebes (today Luxor), as a burial place. The place was thus dubbed "The Valley of the Kings", although it was in fact a woman, Queen Hatshepsut, who began the tradition around 1470 BC. In spite of continuous looting, archaeologists have discovered tombs still containing a significant proportion of their original funereal equipment, which provide valuable information about the period, its customs and beliefs. Moreover, the decoration of the walls, sometimes very well preserved, transmits their view of the world of life after death and their aspirations of eternal life. The visits of curious erudites, which commenced at the beginning of the eighteenth century, became organised expeditions in search of treasures for museums over the next century, and in turn were transformed into archeaological missions of a scientific nature as the twentieth century wore on. Surprising discoveries in The Valley of the Kings are still being made today, while floods of tourists visit the valley daily.
Some of the most important contributions from Spanish science to world knowledge come from the explorations carried out by Spanish naturalists in America since the sixteenth century in their search for natural products that were useful to medicine, pharmacy, commerce, etc., that by Francisco Hernández (1570-1577) –Philip II’s first physician– being considered the first important expedition of a scientific nature.
By the eighteenth century, with the coming of the Bourbon dynasty to Spain, the number of scientific expeditions was immense and of a diverse nature, from maritime and hydrographic explorations, with high quality cartographic contributions, to astronomical and geodesic expeditions, including the Spanish-French geodesic expedition to Quito (1735-1744) with the participation of Jorge Juan and Antonio de Ulloa, and naturalist searches that unveiled new vegetable and animal species to European science, coinciding with the birth of modern natural science.
Flights into space are the natural extension of exploration on Earth. They have allowed us to access outer space, a world without limits in which to immerse oneself and penetrate into, in search of the unknown. We are witnessing the beginning of an infinite period of discoveries in which after surpassing each frontier many others will emerge to explore.
In 50 years of manned flights, few more than 500 people have been into space and, yet, space missions form part of the collective aspirations of humanity. International cooperation is thus essential for effective space exploration.
How did it all begin? What were the conditions that made it possible to develop the technology necessary to escape the Earth’s gravity and leap into space? What difficulties do human beings encounter in adapting to this new type of exploration? What is the role of robotic missions? Extraterrestrial exploration was always motivated by observation and scientific research, the search for life and the understanding of the solar system. As the access to space has become more frequent, it is beginning to be seen from a more pragmatic dimension: What economic benefits would space missions bring us? Will we be able to exploit the resources that exist outside Earth?
After fleeting visits to the Moon, and various decades of human presence in the Earth’s orbit, asteroides, the Mars system and returning to the Moon are emerging as the next stages in an adventure that has only just begun.
Since the invention of the scuba set for underwater diving in 1943, the seabed became much more accessible to numerous professionals, including underwater archaeologists.
From prehistoric times, an enormous amount of objects have been accumulating underwater that have been lost or voluntarily thrown into the sea, yet at the same time, man has maintained a constant interest in recovering, due to their economic or symbolic value, or their historical interest as documents for research.
The new technologies of underwater exploration open up many possibilities for developing underwater archaeology.
The cultural and scientific approach to exploration, which has been present throughout the lecture series in the background, will come to the fore in this lecture, which will thus culminate a whole month of explorations of its frontiers. Its objective is to highlight the role that science and culture have had, as stimulii, method and objectives, in an exploration that sought and still seeks world knowledge. Seas, new lands, islands, deserts, volcanos, mountains, remote and mythical have required a spirit, that of exploration, to be reached, a culture in order to comprehend them and popularise them and a science to explain them. Exploration has been (and still is) thus understood as the essential source of access to geographical knowledge and, with it, to global conceptions of the Earth, the comprehension of its diversity and its sense of whole.