One of the greatest challenges ever faced by mankind was the exploration of the Pacific Ocean. The fact that nearly all of its major features were known before even rudimentary
(by modern standards) navigation tools were developed, is a testament to the audacity of the early explorers.
Two separate strategies evolved for position finding in the great expanse of the ocean basin. The Polynesians used an oral tradition to communicate their knowledge of navigation; a tradition that relied heavily on memorization. The Europeans on the other hand, relied on tools, procedures, and algorithms to accomplish the same goals. It is the navigation tools developed in the western
world that I am most fascinated with. These tools are the immediate precursors to the navigation tools that I have used.
Developed in the middle ages, the astrolabe is used to measure angles. Because it was used before the advent of chronometers, it could only determine latitude. To do so required a sight to be taken of either Polaris or the Sun, each of which has a known latitude. With only a little arithmetic, the observers latitude can be
determined. My Blue Rabbit project is to use a 3D printer to create an astrolabe. In effect, I will use a very modern technology to create a tool from the middle ages that can solve problems in today’s world. As a test of my craftsmanship and understanding, I will use the astrolabe to determine the height of the clock tower on campus.
1. http://www.gizmag.com/freshwater-reserves-under-sea/30072/, http://www.gearthblog.com/blog/archives/2011/11 /captain_james_cooks_circumnavigatio.html, http://sixboats.co.nz/wakas-part-3/