August 5 – Happy Birthday, Vitus Bering and Neil Armstrong

Posted on August 5, 2018

There are so many things to explore - our own talents, underwater environments, old junk stores, the edges of known science.

That means that all of us could be called "explorers"!

But some people are more worthy of the title "explorer" than others! Today we honor two famous birthdays that did a really exciting version of exploring - exploring unknown places.

Vitus Bering was born on this date in 1681 in Denmark, but he got his naval training in the Netherlands and then served in the Russian navy! He is most famous for leading two expeditions of Northeast Asia and Northwest North America. We're talking the farthest regions of Siberia and of Alaska - and the bit of sea in between.

During the first expedition, Bering was asked to map any new areas as he set sail from the Kamchatka Peninsula. The Russian czar especially wanted to know if Asia and America were actually connected by land - if they shared a land border - and Bering returned with a definitive answer, even though Bering never caught sight of North America: No, he informed the czar, there is no land connection, but rather there is open sea between Asia and North America.

The second expedition was larger and better prepared for a long voyage. This time Bering did reach North America. He sighted Alaska's southern coast and landed on Kayak Island. However, there were storms and bad conditions, and Bering set sail back to Asia, determined to map any islands he came across. 

Unfortunately, one of Bering's sailors died; Bering had the man buried on one of the Aleutian Islands, and he named the island in the man's honor. 

Even more unfortunate: Bering himself sickened and died. And a bunch of others did, too - 29 in all! They were buried on another island, which has been named Bering in the explorer's honor.

Other things that have Bering's name include the Bering Strait (the bit of water that connects the Pacific Ocean with the Arctic Ocean, running between Russia and Alaska), the Bering Sea (the bit of the Pacific Ocean that lies between the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands, to the south, and the Bering Strait, to the north), and the Bering Land Bridge (the bridge of land between Asia and North America that USED to exist, tens of thousands of years ago.

Neil Armstrong lived more recently - he was born on this date in 1930 - and he is quite a bit more famous. 

He is also much, much, much more "firstish" (first to be somewhere or see something) than Bering. Actually, he is more firstish than any other explorer in history - because he is the very first person to step onto another world.

Of course I'm talking about the Moon! 

Neil Armstrong studied aeronautical engineering and served in the Navy; he became a pilot during the Korean War. After the war, he became a test pilot and then an astronaut.

When Armstrong was chosen as commander of Apollo 11, and he was chosen to be the first human to step on the Moon, he probably didn't think, at first, about what he would say as he did that firstiest of all firsts. But after he and Buzz Aldrin actually landed on the Moon, as they were going through long checklists of things to get ready for that first lunar walk, Armstrong thought about what he should say. And what he decided to say was this:

"That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."

For years, that is what Armstrong claimed he did say, but most of us on Earth heard, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Like, maybe he messed up and left out the word "a," and made the whole sentence less meaningful?

Apparently audio analysis says that Armstrong did NOT mess up, he did say the "a" that most of us didn't hear. At any rate, the quote (with or without the word "a") became instantly famous and endlessly discussed.

Also on this date:

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