loader graphic

Loading content ...

Missiles & Misconceptions: Why We Know More About the Dark Side of the Moon than the Depths of the Ocean

Young, G.C., 2014. Missiles & Misconceptions: Why We Know More About the Dark Side of the Moon than the Depths of the Ocean. BS Thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Mechanical Engineering, June 2014.

We know more about the dark side of the moon than the depths of the ocean. This is startling, considering how much more tangible the ocean is than space, and more importantly, how much more critical it is to the health and survival of humanity. Tens of billions of dollars are spent on manned and unmanned missions probing deeper into space, while 95% of Earth’s oceans remain unexplored. The result is a perilous dearth in knowledge about our planet at a time when rapid changes in our marine ecosystems profoundly affect its habitability.
The more intensive focus on space exploration is a historically recent phenomenon. For millennia until the mid-20th century, space and ocean exploration proceeded roughly at the same pace, driven by curiosity, military, and commerce. Both date back to early civilization when star-gazers scanned the skies, and sailors and free-divers scoured the seas. Since the 1960s when Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard descended to the deepest point on the ocean floor, and Neil Armstrong ascended to the moon, however, the trajectories of exploration diverged dramatically. Cold War-inspired geopolitical-military imperatives propelled space research to en extraordinary level, while ocean exploration stagnated in comparison. Moreover, although the Cold War ended more than 20 years ago, the disparity in effort remains vast despite evidence that accelerating changes in our marine ecosystems directly threatens our well being. Misconception about the relative importance of space and ocean exploration caused, and continues to sustain, this knowledge disparity to our peril.
In this thesis, we first review in section 2 the history of space and ocean exploration before the Cold War, when the pace of exploration in each sector was more or less comparable for thousands of years. We show in section 3, however, how the relative paces and trajectories of exploration diverged dramatically during the Cold War and continue to the present. In section 4 we seek to dispel the persistent misconceptions that have led to the disparity in resources allocated between space and ocean exploration, and argue for prioritizing ocean research. Finally, in section 5 we highlight the urgent imperative for expanding our understanding of the ocean.