Throughout history, people have sought knowledge about the world and its inner workings. Some of us are filled with a desire to explore distant cultures, while others prefer to walk off the beaten path and brave the elements. At various times, these great explorers took to the land, sea, air and even space in their quest to expand our horizons. Learn more about their tribulations and triumphs below.
1. Ibn Battuta (1304-1369)
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In 1325, aged only 21, Ibn Battuta exposed to hajj a pilgrimage made by Muslims from his native Morocco to Mecca. Thus began a journey of 75,000 miles that would take him through the Islamic world and beyond, over the course of two decades. Batuta traveled through Syria, on to Turkey, down the east coast of Africa to India, and finally reached Indonesia and China.
After his travels were over, he dictated from memory accounts of his adventures in a travel book called a loose. This describes the many places, peoples and cultures he encounters. There is a debate as to whether Batuta actually visited every place he claimed, but nevertheless his travel and travelogue exist as an important source of information about the 14th-century world.
2. Amerigo Vespucci (1451-1512)
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Although the name of Christopher Columbus is perhaps better known, Amerigo Vespucci was the explorer who gave his name to America. The Italian trader sailed to South America about seven years after Columbus and is considered his recognizing that the land mass is actually a new continent — not part of “India”.
Born in Florence in 1454, Vespucci was an enterprising businessman but also had a passion for cards. His continental discovery began to shape world maps shortly after: The German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller credited with designing the first map marking America in 1507, named after Amerigo Vespucci, a man of “discerning character.”
3. James Cook (1728–1779)
In 1768, after several years of service in the British navy, James Cook took command of a scientific expedition at the age of 40. Effort, Cook, whose family originated in Scotland, sought to reach the hypothetical land Terra Australis. Departing from Tahiti, his crew first sighted and charted New Zealand. As they continued east, they arrived on the coast of Australia.
The scientists on board the Effort collected hundreds of plant and animal species previously unknown in Europe, gaining fame for their discoveries. Subsequent explorations included a second circumnavigation and the discovery of the islands of New Caledonia and South Georgia. During his last voyage in 1776. Cook died fighting islanders on a Hawaiian beach.
Famous for their success, Cook’s expeditions set a trend for scientists traveling aboard naval ships. He also won recognition for not losing men to scurvya common problem for marine explorers at the time.
4. Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859)
Born Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt, this German naturalist and geographer was equipped with many talents as well as a wide name. After spending his early adulthood working in the mining industry and nurturing a passionate interest in collecting plants, von Humboldt left for South America in 1799. He partnered with Emme Bonpland, a French botanist, and traveled more than 6,000 miles for five years—exploring vast tracts of rainforest and climbing numerous mountains and volcanoes.
Among his many scientific achievements he is believed to be the first to attribute altitude sickness to lack of oxygenthe first to discover the location of the magnetic equator and also the first to describe how human actions affect ecosystems and local climates. No wonder South America Humboldt current is named after him or that several hundred species bear his name.
5. Roald Amundsen (1872-1928)
Norwegian Roald Amundsen was an adventurer from an early age, setting sail at the tender age of 15. Although he had originally envisioned a trip to the North Pole, the news that the American explorer Robert Peary had already achieved this feat caused Amundsen to change his plans. Instead, he headed for the South Pole, keeping his plans secret for a while. “Had I made my intention public at this point, it would have only given rise to much discussion in the newspapers, and probably would have ended in suffocating the project in its infancy,” he wrotemotivated in part by his large debts.
In December 1911, Amundsen and his team of four crossed the Antarctic and finally reached the South Pole, beating British Naval Officer Robert Falcon Scott for the achievement. Unfortunately, Amundsen disappeared in 1928 when he set out as part of a mission to rescue missing members of an airship flying to the North Pole.
6. Jacques Cousteau (1910-1997)
Few names are as closely associated with the ocean as that of Jacques Cousteau and his ship, Calypso. After suffering a car accident in which both his arms are broken, the French naval pilot falls in love with the sea and freediving during his rehabilitation. He later pushed forward the exploration of the oceans and deep seas by developing diving equipment Aqua-Lung, underwater cameras and other instruments. During the decades spent on the high seas with his team, called the Musketeers of the Sea, Cousteau made films. They brought the wonders of the oceans and the life beneath them to screens around the world.
7. Yuri Gagarin (1934–1968)
On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first person to fly into space. Against the background of the space race between the Soviet Union and the United States, the flight of the Russian cosmonaut around the globe aboard the Vostok 1 spacecraft lasted just under two hours. Gagarin, possessing extraordinary physical qualities and mental strength, was also chosen in part because of his short stature. He died just seven years after this achievement, in 1968, when he leftown in a training flight – barely misses the chance to witness American astronauts (including Neil Armstrong) touch the surface of the moon.