The Voyage of HMS Challenger

The First Space Exploration
Woodcut of the HMS Challenger
The British set up a major expedition to look for life in a part of space about which we were totally ignorant. No, this was not in the latter part of the 20th Century; it was 100 years earlier in the late 1800s, nor was it some distant planet; it was the 90% of Earth’s oceans which at that time lay unexplored and generally regarded to be devoid of life.

The expedition (from 1872 through 1876) aboard the original Challenger (the Royal Navy corvette HMS Challenger) was the equivalent of the 1970s Viking Expeditions to Mars, and it was not only every bit as adventurous, but also infinitely more successful in so much that it recovered and defined over 4,000 species, all of which were new to science.

Apollo 17 moon lander

Furthermore, it ended up paying for itself!, as it gave rise to the discovery of massive phosphate deposits (guano from sea birds) on an uninhabited island - Christmas Island - in the Indian Ocean. The British planted the Union Jack on the island claiming it for Queen, country and profit!. The tax revenue, arising from the sale of the bird shit, matched the cost of the expedition, so we still have a lot to learn from the entrepreneurial Victorians.

The space shuttle Challenger was named in recognition of HMS Challenger achievements and fittingly the Apollo 17 lunar module that landed on the Moon in 1972 was also named Challenger.