Is there a connection between the work done at NASA (the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan? At first glance, you might be inclined to say no, but the scientists and aerospace engineers the author interviewed for his book on the mission to Mars, who often referred to Magellan, would be inclined to disagree. They believe that the relationship between space travel and the famous navigator's sea voyage both involved intelligent exploration: in other words a clearly defined and strategic purpose was achieved in both cases by using the best tools and maps that were available at the time of each voyage. In short, the relationship between the circumnavigation of the globe and space travel resides in the fact that both expeditions were launched into the complete unknown, each one after exhaustive preparation and by using every means at their disposal; means which, no matter how thorough the research and preparation, could not be calibrated for a voyage into the unknown, on which, whether in space or on the sea, anything could happen.
As a historian, the author was intrigued by this connection, and began to wonder about Magellan. There is not much information available about him, as much of the documentation about him has been lost, which means that we have never really known much about Magellan’s character or background. While doing some research, however, Laurence Bergreen found an invaluable document which became the key to the history of Magellan's expedition, as well as providing the clue to understanding the complex personality of the navigator himself. He found a journal of the expedition dutifully written by the Venetian scholar Antonio Pigafetta. Pigafetta was an Italian scholar who travelled on the main ship of Magellan's expedition to write about the journey from a scientific and literary perspective. For much of the expedition he served as Magellan’s assistant, so his notes provide us with an up-close account of the explorer’s character and methods, as well as a lively chronicle of events.
Bergreen’s work is based on the fleet’s logbooks, geographical and historical information, and Pigafetta’s notes, and he used them all to tell the human side of one of the most complex, arduous, and fantastic journeys known to mankind.