When I was invited to introduce this sumptuous volume of Sidetracked, a familiar kaleidoscope of thoughts and images revolved around the ineffable question, why?
Why do we make these journeys? And why do we find them so enthralling?
At 20:18 UTC on Sunday, July 20, 1969, something momentous happened in our solar system. Perhaps you even watched it on television, albeit back then it would have been in black and white. It was the moment human beings gained a unique perspective on their own planet – by landing on the surface of the Moon. That moment, and the world’s ability to experience it, gave full expression to all that a journey of discovery can be: rendering in perfect clarity the vision of a leader, President J. F. Kennedy; the skill and courage of three explorers, Neil Armstrong, Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin, and Michael Collins; and the enabling teamwork of NASA’s experts, with their remarkable take on innovation, risk management, and public communications. Even more so, it gave worldwide exposure, and focus to humanity’s relentless quest to push back its boundaries and discover what lies beyond them. Buzz Aldrin’s words in this volume offer a startling insight into what he felt deep inside him in that most important of moments.
Interesting journeys, valuable journeys, can revolve around one person in a single moment, or international teams with multiple objectives over decades. It is for each of us to decide where value lies. But it is the way in which they are communicated that can be the value-amplifier-the telling of the core story, of its discoveries, both personal and universal, and of of its many achievements. And that’s where Sidetracked’s editorial team delivers, with its curation on our behalf, offering interesting and valuable journeys from around the world: the multi-sensory storytelling so vivid, the protagonists’ insights so authentic. And the images, oh, the visceral, transporting effect of those images.
So while some are guided on missions by personal curiosity, by the will to exceed perceived limits, or by a desire to capture a culture that might be about to disappear, and still others continue to explore new frontiers through international space programmes. I’d like to suggest it has never been more important or urgent in human history to deploy our phenomenal capability to better understand how our planet’s biosphere works. It is, after all, the only one we have, and we depend on it entirely for our own continued existence.
If you accept that our planet, our home, is showing signs of stress, and that our activities are likely a significant contributor – from the pollution in a local river, to the changing distribution of bees, to the mass migration of humans, to the loss of the heat-shielding effect of the Arctic’s sea-ice – then the sooner we can understand how our natural systems and processes work, the better positioned we will be to manage our relationship with it. This is where explorers, with their commitment to public engagement, can make a unique contribution to the warp and weft of the global community’s engagement with its natural environment.
Back to now. You’ve got Sidetracked in your hands. Good start. Maybe it’s time to get a brew on. And then savour the experiences of some of our highest grade travellers, adventurers and explorers. One step at a time….