How important is the concept of exploration to modern society? The BSA’s Exploration merit badge pamphlet puts it best: “Exploration is the key to discovery.”
For Scouts in the New York City area, there’s no better way to learn about exploring than by visiting the headquarters of The Explorers Club, the 119-year-old society dedicated to promoting scientific exploration and field study. The organization also played a major role in the creation of the merit badge itself.
During one jam-packed day, the Scouts talked with explorers who have uncovered scientific breakthroughs in environments such as underwater caves and dense jungles, from the highest mountains to the deepest oceans, and in fields such as aerospace engineering, animal science and rare diseases.
“We got to go from room to room learning from different explorers about the things they’ve explored,” says Shane Herzog, a Scout from Troop 2011 in New York.
In addition to checking off multiple requirements from the badge, the Scouts learned just how important exploration really is.
Without exploration, there would be no medical breakthroughs, no advances in technology and basically no innovation in science, economics and business.
Exploration — in short — is the search to discover new information and resources.
People can explore using various modes of transportation to get to the most remote areas on our planet. They can also explore using a powerful microscope in a lab.
The Explorers Club
The Explorers Club has been supporting scientific exploration since 1904. Though its headquarters are in New York, it has chapters all over the world.
(Click here for a list of chapters.)
Its members are among the most famous explorers in the world, including Sir Edmund Hillary, Neil Armstrong and James Cameron (yes, that James Cameron).
At the NYC headquarters, Scouts got to see the actual flag that made it to the moon, ice axes used by Hillary when he became the first person to summit Mount Everest, artifacts from the Apollo space missions, and the table Teddy Roosevelt used to plan the Panama Canal.
“The coolest thing was the animals,” says Shane.
That would include a polar bear, cheetah, lion and antelope.
Eagle Scout Stephen Daire spoke to the Scouts about his multiple cave-diving expeditions. Steve Elkins talked about how he used laser technology to discover a long-lost prehistoric city Mosquitia region of Honduras. Eagle Scout James Sisti, explorer and mountain climber, talked about drawings in exploration.
“We learned that exploration is important so we can learn more things and make new discoveries to help the future,” Shane says.
The event was organized by Eagle Scout and renowned cave explorer Peter Lenahan. Others presenting at the session were Bonnie Wyper from Thinking Animals United, Ilan Moss from the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative, dogs and eels researcher Jeanne Wilcke, Milbry Polk from The Explorers Club, and Roberta Kravette from Destination: Wildlife.
What qualifies as exploration?
The Exploration merit badge was released in 2017, in large part thanks to what started as an innocent conversation between Explorers Club member Lee Berger, paleoanthropologist, archaeologist and Eagle Scout; and Michael Manyak, vice president of the National Eagle Scout Association.
The rest is history.
After learning about the history and importance of exploration, the Exploration merit badge requires Scouts to plan, prepare for and go on an actual expedition to somewhere of interest to them.
As the merit badge pamphlet explains, there’s a difference between an adventure and an exploration. An adventure – a sailing trip, a hiking trip or a guided tour of ancient ruins – isn’t necessarily an exploration.
An exploration involves the collection and sharing of information, like analyzing the animal population or plant species at a state park, or studying the effects of drought on an area that you visit.
Though humans have now visited almost every area of our planet, legendary explorers such as caving expert, Explorers Club member, and Eagle Scout Bill Steele (who has a tarantula named after him!) believe we are just now entering a golden age of exploration, thanks to new technology — and a new generation of explorers, many of whom could be inspired by the Exploration merit badge.
“It will take many lifetimes before all of the caves on Earth are explored and mapped,” says Steele. “Some even await new technologies to be able to explore them.”