Monday, October 31, 2016

Expedition Update: Farallon Islands

On October 22-25, 2016, a partnership between OceanGate Foundation and NOAA's National Marine Sanctuaries mounted an exciting expedition to explore the depths around the Farallon Islands, 30 miles offshore from San Francisco.

The expedition chartered the Cyclops 1 submersible to take 5 crew to explore 3 target sites: the Ituna shipwreck and two local seamounts.

After 2 days of diving in the sanctuary, inclement weather and unkind seas forced the expedition inland, and the team spent 2 days diving in the San Francisco Bay, exploring the depths around the iconic Alcatraz Island. BME co-founder Guillermo Söhnlein joined the OceanGate crew for an amazing experience diving beneath one of America's most popular waterways.

(Photos courtesy of NOAA, OceanGate, and BME.)

Monday, September 26, 2016

Exploring Volcanoes to Save Lives

Last month BME's co-founder and Chief Explorer, Scott Parazynski, participated in an incredible expedition led by Sam Cossman of Qwake. The team went where no human being had ever gone before--into the mouth of an active volcano--to deploy innovative technology that could provide an early-warning system for millions of people.

Sponsored by General Electric, the expedition focused on the Masaya volcano in Nicaragua. The team consisted of explorers, scientists, filmmakers, and riggers, who ensured everyone's safety while lowering them into the volcano.

Over the course of several weeks, the team made several descents to "Level 0", just above the molten lava, to deploy a network of sensors that will "connect" the volcano for scientists to study and evaluate. Once activated, the network will help provide advance notice of potential eruptions to the millions of Nicaraguans who live near the volcano.

The Qwake team is currently working on a documentary to showcase their work at the volcano, so stay tuned for exciting footage coming out soon!

[All photos courtesy of Qwake]

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

From Spacecrafts to Submarines

My career in the commercial spaceflight industry has long afforded meaningful intersections with the broader exploration community. Organizations like The Explorers Club have helped to connect like-minded explorers, where two camps inevitably arise: space vs. sea.

While the space community extols the enormity of the unexplored universe, it is not uncommon for oceanic lectures to begin with a comment about more people have walked on the Moon than have reached the deepest point in the sea, or how we know far more about the surface of the Moon than the ocean floor. To the those who suggest space is the Final Frontier, submarine designer Graham Hawkes goes as far as to offer his infamous advice: “your rockets are pointed in the wrong goddamn direction!”

Admittedly, I’ve spent more time following Hawking than Hawkes. I’ve spent the past few years working to advance mankind’s footprint in the solar system, puzzling over the particulars of interplanetary life. I’ve worked alongside industry, academia, and government organizations in the pursuit of space exploration, and I’ve spent weeks at a time in isolation at a prototype Martian research facility, studying in situ resource utilization techniques in the hopes of advancing mankind’s ability to live off-Earth. Beyond the inherent desire to explore space myself, my dedication has always been rooted in the simple fact that Earth will one day cease to support life, and that a future without space exploration is no future at all.

Still, I have always rejected the either/or approach to exploration. As an experienced scuba diver, I’ve always been intrigued by the mysteries of Earth’s vast oceans—an anomaly within our known universe. From hostile environments to extreme lifeforms, it seems evident that dividends from the exploration of both sea and space are critical to our advancement and ultimate survival as a species. So earlier this summer when Blue Marble Exploration founder, Guillermo Söhnlein, invited me to participate in an expedition on board OceanGate’s Antipodes submersible, I jumped at the opportunity.

Stockton Rush—OceanGate's founder, CEO, and sub pilot—utilized advanced sonar to navigate Antipodes in the murky visibility of the ocean floor, allowing our group to explore the remains of the Al-Ind-Esk-A-Sea, a 336-foot fish processing ship that caught fire and burned for several days before sinking off the coast of Seattle in 1982. While I was prepared for the advanced technology that enabled our navigation, I was wholly unprepared for the thrill of submerging hundreds of feet to the ocean floor. Light from the surface dimmed as we descended, and bioluminescent creatures came to life in its absence. Staring out at the alien environment ahead of me, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was the same overwhelming sensation experienced by astronauts upon their first glance through the cupola of the International Space Station.

Intellectually, I appreciated the diversity of our planet. But having the opportunity to explore the ocean floor drove home the magnificent uniqueness of Earth within our universe, and how little we truly know about the “blue marble” we call home. The tenacity of life to flourish at those dark depths, and the potential of what we might find even deeper, reminds me how lucky we are to call this planet home, and how much we still have to explore, both on Earth and beyond.

While I remain an evangelist for space exploration, I have a newfound passion for exploring the sea. In 2016, I’ll be joining Blue Marble Exploration on the world’s first crewed submersible expedition to the bottom of Dean’s Blue Hole in the Bahamas, an exploration event which will be broadcast live around the world.

While I’m fond of proclaiming that this is the first time in four billion years that it’s possible for life to become interplanetary, I now realize that this is also the first time in four billion years that we have the knowledge and know-how to study the unique features of our own planet. Blue Marble Exploration will offer a path to take advantage of this unique window in history, and I feel privileged to join the mission.

Contributed by

Kellie Gerardi
Emerging Explorer
Blue Marble Exploration
New York, NY, USA

Thursday, October 15, 2015

From the Intelligence Community to the Exploration Community

I'm a storyteller; that's what exploration really is all about. Going to places where others haven't been and returning to tell a story they haven't heard before.
-James Cameron

As an up and coming explorer with Blue Marble Exploration, I am honored to be invited into such a prestigious group of astronauts, entrepreneurs, divers and well… explorers. My story is a bit different from other new explorers. I’ve been working for the intelligence community since the age of 19. Due to my test scores, I was recruited by the Army into a program that no longer exists. I was trained as a Counterintelligence Special Agent in the art of tradecraft, source operations, and interrogation. For those of you who are not familiar with the term counterintelligence, it simply means that I keep our nation’s enemies from stealing our secrets.

After the Army, I pursued my intelligence career in private industry, and now I work for the Department of Defense as a Counterintelligence Special Agent. During my travels, I’ve been fortunate to meet many beautiful minds to include fellow explorers. I’ve always admired these men and women above all others. My experiences of global travel, extreme environments, and war zones gave me the qualifications to prosper within my field, but never in the name of science or exploration.

This is not the first time the intelligence and exploration communities have crossed paths. In 1985, Bob Ballard set out to lead an expedition with the hopes of discovering the Titanic. Ballard, a former Naval Officer himself, was able to fund the expedition through U.S. Naval Intelligence in secret. The Navy was not interested in financing the search for the Titanic. However, the Navy was desperately interested in discovering the location of two of their sunken nuclear-powered attack submarines from the 1960s. Stories like Ballard’s inspired me and gave me hope for being accepted into the exploration community.

When I began working with Blue Marble Exploration and The Explorers Club, I was amazed but very cautious. For every similarity between these two worlds, there were several differences. Who pays for this stuff? I’ve been accustomed to Uncle Sam picking up the tab, and had no idea where the funding for these expeditions came from. I recognized very quickly there was no right answer for this question. Corporate sponsors, wealthy donors, crowdfunding, grants, and yes, in some cases the intelligence community has funded many of the amazing expeditions that have awed and educated us over the years.

In order to be accepted into the exploration community, I needed to embrace social networking. This has been the hardest change for me. Having active Twitter and Instagram accounts is considered a general faux pas within the intelligence community, especially for those in non-overt positions. Having a significant cyber footprint on the internet opens oneself up to possible cyber-attacks and visibility from the enemy. However, it also brings public interest to important causes, helps with crowdfunding opportunities, sponsorship for expeditions, and is a medium for educating the public.

Finally, I now have the ability to pursue expeditions with my particular interests. Having the freedom to decide where I want to travel and write on topics I’m personally interested in is a new concept for me. Being a certified scuba diver, I’ve always enjoyed exploring the world’s oceans. In 2016, I’ll be joining Blue Marble Exploration to be part of the first manned submersible expedition to the bottom of Dean’s Blue Hole located in Long Island, Bahamas. The goal will be to pilot a small sub 663 feet to the bottom and broadcast the event live!

I live for these adventures and take this stewardship seriously. I now understand the bond between exploration and storytelling, and more importantly doing it in ways that impacts the human experience and deepens our connection to this planet. These stories are not only meant to entertain but to educate and remind us that the age of exploration is just beginning, not ending.

Contributed by

Justin Shanken
Emerging Explorer
Blue Marble Exploration
Atlanta, GA, USA

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Primal Instinct to Explore

One of the most common questions explorers face is: "Why?"

WHY do you explore?

WHY is exploration important?

WHY do human beings have a history of exploration?

Perhaps it is simply in our nature to do so. Perhaps we have a deeply ingrained survival instinct that our animal brains cannot shake despite thousands of years of evolution. Or perhaps we are simply following our destiny as "wanderers".

Carl Sagan was one of the biggest proponents of our sense of exploration. Now Swedish digital artist Erik Wernquist has created a powerful video to try capturing that wanderlust. Regardless of whether you believe the viability of humanity ever existing beyond Planet Earth, Wanderers is still a visually compelling piece of art. Enjoy!

Wanderers - a short film by Erik Wernquist from Erik Wernquist on Vimeo.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Becoming The Youngest Person in Space

I am 17 years old and will start my senior year of high school in the fall. Like most kids, space has always been something that excited and amazed me. Even as a young child, I would stare up at the stars, wondering what was out there and how I could find it.

Unfortunately, growing up in my generation I began to face the reality that being an astronaut was not exactly a realistic career choice. People told me that it was almost impossible to work for NASA and that the space program had almost no budget so what was the point in trying anyways. This was really hard for me to take in, but I moved on and began to accept the reality that I would just have to become a doctor or lawyer when I grew up.

However, after an incredibly unexpected turn of events last year, my dream of going to space was reignited, when I was able to create a position for myself at XCOR Aerospace, a commercial space company based out of Mojave, California.

The biggest perk of working for XCOR is that every employee gets a free trip into suborbital space aboard our spacecraft, Lynx. When I found this out, I could not have been more excited: since Lynx is set to start flying within the year, that would mean that I would become the youngest person ever to visit space!

As XCOR’s Communication and Youth Outreach Associate, I have taken this excitement with me and spoken to over a thousand students and teachers about the possibilities of commercial space exploration and how they all can get involved. I have developed a presentation and classroom materials, and I have seen how inspired kids are by space and all that it holds.

Through all of this, I have thought a lot about what exploration really means to me.

Some people dismiss XCOR because we are only going to suborbital space, and that is somehow unimportant in the grand scheme of exploration since we have already gone to the Moon as a species. However, what that notion fails to take into account is that each flight will be a new experience and chance to explore for each individual. Not only will we be conducting research that has never done before, but we will also be bringing space, the most extreme environment we know of, and its beauty to thousands of people, while inspiring millions more. The commercial space market as a whole is pushing the limits of how we explore and making our universe more accessible to everyone in the process.

I want to go to space not because it will be a first for humanity but because I will get to expand the boundaries of what I have experienced and share that knowledge with as many students as I can. I truly hope that my record of being the youngest person in space does not stand for long and that space becomes something accessible for everybody on the planet, especially kids. The future of exploration relies on the youth of today. We have as a whole become more interested in looking at our phones than looking up at the sky or down into the ocean, but this can be changed. It is our job as individuals, as communities, and as a society to reignite a passion for exploration and make it exciting for future generations once again.

Contributed by

Zach Oschin
Student Explorer
Blue Marble Exploration
Los Angeles, CA, USA

Monday, April 20, 2015

Exploration Summit 2015

Last week the Exploration Institute organized its first Exploration Summit. Set on the Caltech campus in Pasadena, California, the event drew a group of 40 invited participants with diverse professional backgrounds but a common passion for exploration. I had the honor of attending and came home with three thoughts:

The Next Great Age of Exploration

Many members of the media and general public seem to question the need for ongoing exploration efforts, so I often hear the question, "Haven't we already explored everywhere on Earth?" Then a plane goes missing somewhere over an ocean, and those same people wonder why we cannot find it. Perhaps it is because our planet is a phenomenally huge place, and humans have only begun to scratch the surface when it comes to exploring the entirety of its ecosystem?

Fortunately, there also seems to be no shortage of explorers, who are prepared and eager to continue pushing the limits of humanity's knowledge of our home world. Leveraging modern technologies and funded by the greatest accumulation of global capital we have ever seen, these courageous visionaries are ushering in what many of us consider to be The Next Great Age of Exploration.

During last week's Exploration Summit, I was humbled to be among so many passionate individuals working hard to bring their exploration projects to life. I am excited to see what eye-opening discoveries the next few years will bring!

Explorers and Storytellers

I have always believed that one of the most important roles exploration plays in the realm of human activities is its vast potential for inspiration and education. Each expedition can be a tremendous storytelling platform with the ability to reach great numbers of people around the world. This is the fundamental vision behind Blue Marble Exploration.

Leveraging the Summit's strategic location near Los Angeles, founder Armin Ellis and the wonderful staff at the Exploration Institute were able to bring together explorers AND storytellers. It was such a pleasure engaging in so many riveting discussions with artists, photographers, writers, and filmmakers!

While explorers can organize expeditions and scientists can provide the subject matter expertise, it is these talented and creative storytellers who add all the value and make the expeditions worthwhile endeavors. They are true heroes.

From Extreme Environments To Hyperlocal Exploration

We founded Blue Marble Exploration with a specific focus on human exploration of extreme environments. As such, our expeditions tend to be large complex projects that span the globe. However, we know so little about our planet that even a single person can make a big difference by exploring their own backyard ... sometimes quite literally. Over the past few years, we have seen a growing movement toward "hyperlocal" exploration, and that phenomenon was on full display last week.

Several participants arrived at the Summit with ideas for large-scale global expeditions, including a trek along the Pan-American Highway on an eco-friendly flying motorcycle, a trip to study the indigenous peoples of the Ecuadorian Amazon, and a public-private partnership with NOAA to explore a 6,000-meter-deep South Pacific marine protected area the size of California. However, there were also many ideas for much smaller projects, including a platform to enable community-based exploration, a 3D visualization app to study butterflies, and a "thumbsat" (extremely small satellite) to allow individuals access to space.

Humans have really just started to explore this planet, so every little bit helps ... a lot. We need more than just a few "intrepid explorers" embarking on occasional ambitious expeditions. We need 7 billion explorers using their curiosity to make new discoveries in their own backyards every day.

These are just a few thoughts that I took away from last week's Exploration Summit, but there were so many more ideas that came through the intense two-day event. I look forward to future interesting projects from our friends at the Exploration Institute!

Contributed by

Guillermo A. Söhnlein
Co-Founder & CEO
Blue Marble Exploration
Atlanta, GA, USA