August 16, 2014

The Ithsmus Canal

It's almost enough to make a feller forgive President Theodore Roosevelt: today marks the 100th anniversary of the Panama Canal.

The Erie Canal, which connected the Great Lakes with the Hudson River, opened in 1825, greatly shortening the distance between the burgeoning Middle West and the east coast. It quickly made New York City, "that tongue that is licking up the cream of commerce of a continent," and the greatest boom town in world history.

In the mid-19th century, the Suez Canal, originally 102 miles long, shortened the sea route between Europe and India by thousands of miles.

The Panama Canal route was much shorter than these three great canals, a mere 48 miles. But Suez was built in a level, low-lying desert. Building Suez was, therefore, essentially a matter of shoveling sand, although, to be sure, there was a lot of sand to be shoveled.


I know my adamantine recommendation of David McCullough's "Brave Companions" is tiresome, but my friends in the NSA mention that a couple of you have yet to order it. Insty asks "if we could do anything like it today" and I daresay no way in freakin' hell.

McCullough details brave adventures, but also bold projects like the canal and the Brooklyn Bridge which could not have been completed without many of the workers' dying. Nobody values human life more than me. But we cannot do a space launch that goes past 34th Street; we could not put guys under the ocean in wooden boxes to dig and pour bridge pylons; and we certainly could not dig the Panama Canal.

We could repeat these achievements safely with current technology but we'd never complete the paperwork. Yet risky pursuits like space travel are cordoned off. The paperwork jab is a joke -- but everyone knows it is not. Somebody would stop a canal, a bridge, a Dam -- yet we have prospered greatly from their completion.

UPDATE: Professor Reynolds provides the segue post as well: America's Forgotten Astronaut.

If there was a prize for the most isolated memorial to an America astronaut, the one for Maj. Michael J. Adams would win by a wide margin.

From Mojave, it's a drive of nearly 50 miles through the sagebrush and Joshua trees, around dry Koehn Lake, and through the old mining towns of Randsburg and Johannesburg before you reach the unmarked dirt road leading to the site. A half mile of bad road later, you arrive at the modest but heartfelt memorial to one of America’s forgotten space heroes.

It was on this spot where Adams and a large section of his X-15 rocket plane came to rest on Nov. 15, 1967. The vehicle had broken up in flight after Adams lost control of it while re-entering from a suborbital spaceflight.


A brave companion, indeed.

Technology Posted by John Kranz at August 16, 2014 2:00 PM

The Endangered Species Act, via the UN, would halt any similar project today. In addition, the indigenous peoples would block any development on ancestral lands amid cries of "Yanqui go home!"

Posted by: Boulder Refugee at August 18, 2014 5:07 PM | What do you think? [1]