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In the darkness before dawn on Thursday, October 1, 2015, an American merchant captain named Michael Davidson sailed a 790-foot U.S.-flagged cargo ship, El Faro, into the eye wall of a Category 3 hurricane on the exposed windward side of the Bahama Islands. El Faro means “the lighthouse” in Spanish. The hurricane, named Joaquin, was one of the heaviest ever to hit the Bahamas. It overwhelmed and sank the ship. Davidson and the 32 others aboard drowned.
They had been headed from Jacksonville, Florida, on a weekly run to San Juan, Puerto Rico, carrying 391 containers and 294 trailers and cars. The ship was 430 miles southeast of Miami in deep water when it went down. Davidson was 53 and known as a stickler for safety. He came from Windham, Maine, and left behind a wife and two college-age daughters. Neither his remains nor those of his shipmates were ever recovered.
Disasters at sea do not get the public attention that aviation accidents do, in part because the sea swallows the evidence. It has been reported that a major merchant ship goes down somewhere in the world every two or three days; most are ships sailing under flags of convenience, with underpaid crews and poor safety records. The El Faro tragedy attracted immediate attention for several reasons. El Faro was a U.S.-flagged ship with a respected captain—and it should have been able to avoid the hurricane. Why didn’t it?
It was March 7, 1968, and the members of the Plaisted Polar Expedition looked up at the plane in bewilderment. They were trying to travel to the North Pole by snowmobile — in what they believed to be the first expedition to the North Pole carried out on motorized machines, but what in reality may very well have been the first to reach the North Pole at all.
Barely an hour into the trek, it wasn’t going well. Having just left base camp, the six men stood atop a 40-foot-high wall of ice at the edge of the Arctic Ocean and looked at what lay ahead: stretching over the horizon, an unending moonscape of ice boulders, crevices and pack ice contorted by vast floes whose constant motion created steep pressure ridges and black stretches of open water known as leads. Sounds came from the ice, ghoulish groans as floes shifted followed by artillerylike reports as the sheets collided, threatening to open a yawning divide beneath their feet at any moment. In the days ahead they would have to zigzag through a patchwork of pressure ridges and risk breaking through the frozen mantle and drowning in the glacial sea.
‘‘God, we can never cross that,’’ one man said.
The scene before them was not what they imagined back in Minnesota, when a dare in a bar instigated the least likely polar expedition of all time.
A Light in the Void will be a show with original music, presentations given by scientists live on stage, and documentary and animated footage. Wintory and his partner, Emmy-nominated filmmaker Tony Lund, are currently raising the funds for the first live performance and stream of the experience in Denver, Colorado with the Colorado Symphony. The campaign has raised $72,000 of its $80,000 goal, with seven more days to go at the time of this writing.
It’s an ambitious undertaking. Three scientists will be presenting their own speeches, with each one trying to tackle huge questions: Where did we come from? Who are we? And where are we going?
These speeches will be performed live by the scientists who wrote the words, accompanied by Wintory’s original score, also performed live. Imagine a TED Talk with live orchestration, set to music written specifically to heighten the emotional impact of the information being shared with the audience.
I WAS A BAD STUDENT WHO BECAME AN ASTRONAUT. LET’S STOP TELLING PEOPLE THEY CAN’T BE GOOD AT SCIENCE
Scott Kelly is an engineer, a former U.S. Navy captain, former military fighter pilot and test pilot, and a retired astronaut; Kelly has also commanded the International Space Station and set the record for the total accumulated number of days spent in space.