P. Edronkin

Always Carry A Backup Compass, It Is A Matter Of Survival



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A compass is not very costly, and carrying one as a backup tool may prove essential for survival if our primary navigation systems suffers a malfunction when we need it most.

One of the astronauts of the Apollo program was in his prior life a naval pilot, and about ten years before he went into space he was flying a Grumman F6 Panther during a night combat exercise over the Pacific Ocean; then, interference from a radio station located in Japan induced errors in his ADF (a kind of radio compass that is very common on aircraft) and as he followed the needle, he soon realised that he was suddenly lost, flying a combat aircraft during the night, away from any coast and with no signs of his aircraft carrier.

He then tried to connect a small torchlight to the instrument panel and the electrical bus system of the plane; all he got was a short circuit that left him completely in the dark, with less functional instruments than before and unable to even see those that were still working.

He was, however, lucky and capable enough to see a luminescent path on the surface of the water. That was the wake left by a ship - his carrier -, filled with bioluminescent plankton. He followed it and finally found the ship where he landed almost normally.

Some years later he was flying the Apollo XIII mission that suffered an explosion on its way to the Moon. He and his crewmates survived the ordeal because they all were men that indeed, could fix serious problems. No one can blame these men for what happened, but this kind of situations tell us that carrying backup systems is a good idea, always.

Naturally, the decision of carrying such items onboard a spacecraft does not depend on the astronauts but a committee that decides how they should be equipped; but unless you are a space explorer, you will enjoy some degree of liberty to decide what you take and what you don't.

The simplest of all navigational systems is the compass; it is inexpensive, easy to use and to carry, and could save your life. Technology might help us navigate in an efficient way but why take chances?




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