By Ameena Naqvi for KidSpirit's The Adventurous Spirit issue.
What are we searching for when we explore the unknown?
Humanity's interest in the unknown is universal and enduring.
Humans are driven to explore the unfamiliar, discover new worlds, and push the boundaries of our scientific and technical limits. This great desire has been incited by our need to challenge what is possible for humans and improve the lives of our communities.
Growing up, the greatest explorers of my childhood ranged from Amelia Earhart and Neil Armstrong to Alice Liddell and Harry Potter. Their stories of exploration and limitless curiosity always intrigued me. They all searched for a sense of purpose to appease their restless curiosity about their surroundings. Yet despite these childhood role models, I was personally never inspired to test new boundaries and venture into the unknown. As a cautious person, I wasn’t particularly drawn to the idea of adventure or even interested in learning about human exploration.
However, these views began to change during my fifth-grade history class, when my teacher introduced a lesson on the history of aviation. While most of the class had commenced their usual twenty-minute nap, I listened intently as she began to describe the inventions of the Wright brothers.
“By the turn of the 20th century,” I remember her excitedly explaining, “most of the lands of the earth had been explored and eyes began to turn to the skies. The desire to fly is an idea handed down to us by our ancestors who traveled across trackless lands in prehistoric times.”
I remember imagining them looking up enviously at the birds soaring freely through space, at full speed, above all obstacles, on the infinite highway of the air. At that moment I was suddenly hit with a new sense of curiosity and wonder about exploration.
My newfound interest began to increase as I listened attentively to my teacher’s description of Orville and Wilbur, two bicycle builders from Ohio who designed the world's first successful airplane. Their discovery began in 1903, when they found the magic formula for successfully undertaking the first controlled flight. The two brothers had surpassed all limitations and proven the remarkable capabilities of humanity. Their particular journey of innovation and how it challenged the impossible made me eager to start discovering on my own.
I sat there thinking that the lesson could not get any better, but it seemed this was just the beginning. My teacher then began to describe the rapid expansion of the aviation industry.
“As aircrafts became larger, more powerful, and more efficient, an age of exploration began and proved there were few limitations to the new technology,” she stated.
The 1920s and 1930s were filled with news of aviation pioneers and explorers, such as Richard Byrd, Amelia Earhart, and Howard Hughes. During the World War II years, aircraft became larger, traveled farther, flew faster, and climbed higher.
As explorers, the individuals who contributed to these revolutionary missions were all hoping to improve the knowledge of society as a whole.
At the age of 10, I sat there enthralled, reflecting on the aviators’ relentless bravery and desire for discovery. It seemed to me that most of them had a shared commitment to venture into the perils of the unknown without any regard for the consequences.
Being an extremely logical person, this didn’t immediately make sense to me. I had always been fixated on being realistic and rational, which prevented me from completely exploring the realms of adventure or creativity. However, when I learned about these visionary aviators, I slowly began to realize that an innate drive for exploration has been embedded in all humans, no matter the time or place. It challenges individuals to make new discoveries, whether for the benefit of their personal lives or society as a whole.
While I had often thought of adventure as dangerous and unwise, I slowly began to realize that taking risks is also a great opportunity to push for innovation. This is what inspired me to learn more about the unknown by delving into the field of space exploration.
My new interest was fueled as I began to read books and articles about the missions and discoveries scientists had made. I learned about events like the moon landing, which revolutionized science. I was fascinated as I learned about millions of Americans who had set to work on achieving what was deemed impossible. Their legacy has remained a major part of the International Space Station, and it has inspired astronauts from around the world to break past new boundaries. As explorers, the individuals who contributed to these revolutionary missions were all hoping to improve the knowledge of society as a whole. They were searching for ways to expand the boundaries of what is possible for humans.
My favorite quote about space comes from Russian pioneer Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, who stated, “The Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot live in a cradle forever.”
This quote not only embodies the importance of exploring outer space but also showcases the value of creativity and curiosity as a whole. By embracing this ideology, scientists have revolutionized discovery through extraordinary achievements like the moon landing. Like past aviators, they have made lasting contributions that have changed our perception of the world.
I once feared the unknown and put too much weight on the probability of failure and catastrophe. Through my experiences, I have begun to realize that risk-taking and iterative questioning expands our imagination, and thus our ability to further question and explore. The desire to learn about our surroundings existed within the Wright Brothers and the Apollo 11 crew, whose stories showcase the discoveries that result from adventure. Explorers delve into the unknown because they are constantly searching for innovation and ways to both improve their communities and expand the capabilities of humanity. This curiosity stimulates our creativity and, at the end of the day, is the way each generation creates its own universe and each individual shapes themselves as a person.
When she wrote this piece, Ameena Naqvi was in the 11th grade at White Oaks Secondary School in Toronto, Canada. Her hobbies include drawing, playing the flute, and reading. She has a passion for music and writing.