On or about this day in 1522, the Victoria returned to Spain — being the first ship to make it around the world. It was the only one of Ferdinand Magellan’s five ships to return. A total of 260 men started the voyage and only 19 returned. That doesn’t mean the other 241 died. A lot of them just had the good sense to desert. But one of the men who did die was Ferdinand Magellan himself. He died in a battle in the Philippines almost a year and a half before the mission was completed — while still over 10,000 miles from home.
So why do people say that Magellan was the first man to sail around the world? Well, they have to give someone the credit and it was his voyage. But that’s a big part of what is wrong with humans: our insistence on seeing everything in heroic terms. There were so many people who made that trip possible — including scores of people who never set foot on one of those ships. But we just don’t seem to be able to grok that.
Interestingly, I think this is why most people are so much more interested in manned spaceflight. I prefer the robotic kind myself. When humans are involved in that way, I just worry about their safety. But in addition to that, when it is an unmanned mission, it is clear that it is the accomplishment not just of the thousands of people who worked directly on the mission, but of the entire society. And the world is a better place the more we think that way.
So the Magellan mission sailing around the world was a great accomplishment. As for the man? Whatever.