Permanent Human Settlement of the Earth, Space and Ocean Frontiers

Friday, January 13, 2006

Death Zone Genius

Exploring anywhere anytime teaches we humans our limits. Standing on the highest place on earth, for example, teaches us many things about out realistic limitations. The region on and just under the summit of Mount Everest is called the “death zone”. It is called that because the atmospheric pressure is right around 300 millibars - less than 1/3 that of sea level. If one could magically transport oneself to the summit from the comfort of home - nearly all would die from systemic shock - pulmonary edema and heart failure. Yet, dozens of climbers strike out into the death zone each year and survive. They do so because they spend weeks acclimating their bodies to the death zone, and many of them acclimate enough to make the demanding climb to the top - testing few real mountaineering skills but maximum personal endurance skills.

The same lesson is learned in the sea and in spacecraft - when man pushes past his sea level - comfort zone and ventures into the death zone - endurance and purpose take over for human physiology. Not everyone makes it. Some do back down. Some die on the slopes of uncertainty.

What lesson do we take home from all this? I believe we need to stop trying to test our limits and start actually planning better expeditions and designing better equipment. The macho-macho-explorer-man days are gone. Everyone dies whether in a rocking chair or on a mountain - every human proves that sooner or later. But not every human can forge a victory over whatever limits by intelligent design of his equipment so that his final take home victory is something more than “Look mom – I’m still alive!”. Running with the bulls is fine for fulfillment of adolescent fantasies - but hardly fitting for any meaningful accomplishment beyond one's ego.