Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Into the wild blue yonder

Ken Mayland got me to thinking about the safety record of spaceflight after he saw the post about Scotty below and mentioned that Richard Branson is planning to fly up tourists eventually.
So I looked into the safety record of the Space Shuttle and decided that I'll leave that trip for the great granchildren.

There have been 140 or so shuttle launches. I haven't done the math but it wouldn't surprise me if all the redundancy and safety consciousness has made each of those launches as expensive as it would have been to make a new shuttle orbiter out of solid gold each time. Nonetheless, two of the launches have resulted in loss of all hands. . . I will be surprised if Branson manages much better than that one in seventy loss rate, assuming he really flies his thing.

Not that NASA has all that bad a record considering it's doing exploration. I recall from somewhere that ships sent from Spain to the Caribbean in the first 30 or 40 years had about an 80% chance of surviving the round trip.

That started me thinking and googling around about Magellan. He set out with 237 men in 5 ships to circumnavigate the world. One of those ships returned to Spain with 18 men aboard. 15 other men also eventually straggled back over the next few years - I'll bet they had some tales to tell in the bars.

Magellan himself suffered a bit of a setback during a little scrap with the Lapu-Lapus in the Phillipines. Talk about your ultimate fighting challenge. . . those were the days when men were men.

Per Wikipedia
According to the accounts of Antonio Pigafetta, Magellan deployed 48 armored men, less than half his crew, with swords, axes, shields, crossbows and guns. Filipino historians note that because of the rocky outcroppings and corals near the beach, he could not land on Mactan. Forced to anchor his ships far from shore, Magellan could not bring his ships' firepower to bear on Lapu-Lapu's warriors, who numbered more than 1,500.

"When morning came, forty-nine of us leaped into the water up to our thighs, and walked through water for more than two cross-bow flights before we could reach the shore. The boats could not approach nearer because of certain rocks in the water. The other eleven men remained behind to guard the boats. When we reached land, [the natives] had formed in three divisions to the number of more than one thousand five hundred persons. When they saw us, they charged down upon us with exceeding loud cries... The musketeers and crossbow-men shot from a distance for about a half-hour, but uselessly..."

"Seeing that, the captain-general sent some men to burn their houses in order to terrify them. When they saw their houses burning, they were roused to greater fury. Two of our men were killed near the houses, while we burned twenty or thirty houses. So many of them charged down upon us that they shot the captain through the right leg with a poisoned arrow. On that account, he ordered us to retire slowly, but the men took to flight, except six or eight of us who remained with the captain. The natives shot only at our legs, for the latter were bare; and so many were the spears and stones that they hurled at us, that we could offer no resistance. The mortars in the boats could not aid us as they were too far away."

Many of the warriors turned upon Magellan; he was wounded in the arm with a bamboo spear and in the leg by a native sword (kampilan). He was finally overpowered and killed, stabbed and hacked by spears and swords. Pigafetta and the others managed to escape.

"Recognizing the captain, so many turned upon him that they knocked his helmet off his head twice... An Indian hurled a bamboo spear into the captain's face, but the latter immediately killed him with his lance, which he left in the Indian's body. Then, trying to lay hand on sword, he could draw it out but halfway, because he had been wounded in the arm with a bamboo spear. When the natives saw that, they all hurled themselves upon him. One of them wounded him on the left leg with a large cutlass, which resembles a scimitar, only being larger. That caused the captain to fall face downward, when immediately they rushed upon him with iron and bamboo spears and with their cutlasses, until they killed our mirror, our light, our comfort, and our true guide. When they wounded him, he turned back many times to see whether we were all in the boats. Thereupon, beholding him dead, we, wounded, retreated, as best we could, to the boats, which were already pulling off."

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