NASA’s Kon-Tiki Moment

“So we’ve … now finally done something for the first time for our generation,” the Lockheed Martin manager for NASA’s Orion spacelaunch said.   And that’s true.  It’s the furthest NASA have sent a capsule since 1972.  It came back at a screaming 8G, more than any Apollo vessel pulled on re-entry, and nearly three times the G of a Shuttle reentry.  But it did come back.  It’ll be seven years before it gets crew-rated, I believe.  But that comment stayed with me.  Just as the Virgin Galactic flights are intended to recreate the suborbital lob that Alan Shepard rode in 1961, the Orion mission was essentially looking to recreate Apollo-level space travel ability.  And I kept thinking about Kon-Tiki.

In 1947, Thor Heyerdahl built a raft from only the materials and methods available to pre-Columbian South America, in order to re-enact the antiquitous voyages from Peru to Polynesia.  It was called Kon-Tiki.  Heyerdahl and his team were also the first in their generation to do that thing.

It’s a curious thing, to view a spacelaunch from the perspective of experimental archaeology.