Category Archives: Exploration

Named Magellan: An explorer, a spacecraft, and more

It was on September 20th in 1519 that Ferdinand Magellan set sail from Spain on the first successful attempt to sail all the way around the world. The word “circumnavigate” is used to describe this feat.

A native of Portugal, Magellan sailed under the Spanish flag with a fleet of five ships and 237 men.

As a result of his successful voyage, his name has come to represent exploration and navigation. NASA launched the Magellan spacecraft in May 1989, on an unmanned exploratory flight to Venus. It arrived at its destination in August of 1990, and for several years, it flew in an orbit around the planet. Cameras on board Magellan took pictures of Venus, enabling scientists to map 98 percent of the planet’s surface.

Scientists are particularly interested in Venus because they believe it to be the planet in the solar system most like our own, Earth.

The Magellan spacecraft’s mission ended with a dramatic flourish when scientists on Earth ordered it to crash-land on the planet’s surface. This allowed the spacecraft to gather data on the planet’s atmosphere on the way down.

Like the Magellan spacecraft, Ferdinand Magellan didn’t make it home, either. He was killed in a battle in the Philipines during his expedition. While he didn’t actually finish circumnavigating the globe, his fleet did. However, only 18 of the 237 men who originally started out on the voyage finished the trip. They arrived home in 1522.

Other things named after Magellan include the Magellanic Clouds, which are dwarf galaxies; the Magellanic Penguin, which he first observed and recorded during his voyage, and a GPS system.

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