It was in the high latitudes that humans first noticed noctilucent clouds. Inuit records tell us about them well before others recognized them in 1885, during the Krakatoa explosion. The upcoming crop of suborbital space vehicles will greatly enable the research of these hardly-known clouds and their associated dynamics.
A member of my Penny Ice Cap Science Expedition, Jason Reimuller, is creating all of the puzzle pieces that will make it possible for this research to happen. It is a pioneering effort where private space companies are joined by citizen astronaut scientists and Jason’s company to define new research, develop and flight-qualify experiments, and to – as soon as Blue Origin and Virgin start flying.
I have the pleasure of being a small part of this movement as a PoSSUM (Polar Suborbital Science in the Upper Mesosphere) graduate. My ambition is to bring the leadership lessons from this entrepreneurial and pioneering effort to help organizations excel.
Flight. At once beyond human and, today, a demonstration of learned mastery. Far ahead of any other human endeavor, flight and those who pioneered it have also led us in our ability to manage risk. Nature is indifferent – in the air, on the water, on land. It is up to us to understand its inherent risks and to tread with insight and an open mind.
Can we get to where we want to go? Managing risk is about finding a way to get there without irreversible consequences. It involves navigation in three dimensions, weather across long distances, winds aloft, communications, power plants, airframe, take off and landing site characteristics. It’s a bit like a conductor who is not in control of his orchestra players and who has to get an integrated performance from them, somehow.
When I am aloft, I am at the edge, outside the bounds of my evolutionary design, pulling hard from the experience and wisdom of the people and the institutions that extended our reach. It gives me a point of view I can’t get from the ground.
Flight was a key participant in 20th century Arctic and Antarctic exploration – Amundsen, Ellsworth, Wilkins, Balchen, Byrd gave us some of its history pages.
Today, flight remains a key transportation mode at high latitudes. We now fly turboprops instead of piston engines. We use GPS instead of dead reckoning and pilotage. We seldom rely on a single engine. We forget what an amazing challenge it is to fly in the cold latitudes, where we have to depend on our knowledge and a pair of pliers to keep our steeds airworthy.
I look forward to flying in the high latitudes. My first steps will take me to Baffin Island.