Josh Gates On His New Discovery Show, ‘Tales From The Explorers Club,’ Space Tourism, More

More From Forbes

The other day a friend, Joe Kittinger, asked if I had seen a new television show on Discovery Channel called, “Tales From The Explorers Club.” I confessed that I hadn’t, even though I’ve been a Fellow at the Club since 1999, and had served on its Board of Directors for six years.

Kittinger, a Club member but also an aviation legend - in 1960, he rode a helium balloon to 102,800 feet, the edge of space, and jumped out, eclipsing 600 mph during free-fall and setting a then-world record for the highest parachute jump - liked the show’s premiere on August 31, and thought I should give it a look-see. His jump had been featured in the first episode.

Why not do something even more interesting, I thought, chat with the show’s host, Josh Gates? So I contacted Discovery, and set up an interview. Gates and I spoke earlier this week. He was taking a break from filming another of his Discovery TV shows, “Expedition Unknown,” and was up in Canada, the northern Great Lakes, searching for two shipwrecks that have eluded divers for a century.

The EC show is projected to run through October 5, airing in six separate one-hour episodes on Wednesday evenings at 8 p.m. What’s it all about? Gates says he’s taking viewers into the bowels of EC’s historic headquarters, in New York, and exposing them to a number of famous exploration “firsts” done by Club members. Also included in his Club visits are rare artifacts from such journeys that are housed there. For example, there’s a flag Neil Armstrong took to the Moon in 1969, and a sled that Robert Peary’s expedition used to reach the North Pole in 1909.

The first episode of the EC show included profiles of members Kittinger, Don Walsh, first to the bottom of the Mariana Trench with Jacques Picard in 1960, and Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, first to summit Mt. Everest. This week’s show will be all about space. Following are edited excerpts from a longer conversation with Gates, 45.

Jim Clash: Years ago on my interview series at the EC, I asked the late Sen. John Glenn and filmmaker/diver James Cameron, both EC members, what their definitions of exploration were. Both immediately and independently said, “Curiosity in action.” What’s your definition?

Josh Gates: I think the curiosity part is right. It’s also about being willing to walk into the unknown, step into darkness, at least for me. Our brains tell us not to do that. By its very nature, exploration involves an inability to know involves mystery, whether you’re trying to map a river, study a new cancer drug, whatever. You’re going to make predictions, buy supplies, hire the right people for your crew, but you don’t really know what’s going to happen. The results of not knowing could mean life or death. Certainly with people like John Glenn, that was true, right?

Clash: Okay, what are you afraid of and how do you handle fear?

Gates: Everybody has fear. It’s natural, baked into our DNA. For as many expeditions as I’ve been on, I still have fear. It’s a question of how you manage it. People who pretend they’re not afraid are either lying or crazy. I speak a lot in front of big groups, and still feel sick to my stomach 10 seconds before I walk on stage. To me, fear management means not living in your head. Sometimes our minds are dangerous places to be. When you’re doing something that’s potentially dangerous, say climbing a mountain or scuba-diving a wreck, your focus needs to be on your safety. How much fear do I have, what’s my profile here, what do I do if this breaks, or if I slip? It’s like astronauts and pilots, they’re always so cool under pressure because they’re not in their heads but in the moment, their training, their expertise. When you’re confident about something and good at it, there’s a satisfaction in that.

Clash: Other than public speaking, what are you afraid of?

Gates: I don’t particularly like heights. I do a lot of climbing on my shows, rapeling into chasms and caves. There are times when I’ve been on a rope, and really uncomfortable. That said, it’s good for all of us to be outside of our comfort zones. If you ask people what’s their most powerful travel memory, they’re almost never going to tell you when they sat on a beach. They’re going to tell you about a calamity, the time a tire came off of the Jeep in the rain. Even if you’re going on vacation, say to Cancun, and I’m all for that, take some part of your trip and get that Jeep into the interior of the Yucatan, something you’re a little unsure of, or maybe volunteer at a [dig] site.

Clash: Have you had any close calls yourself?

Gates: I’ve done so many trips and expeditions, and all of the ones that stick to my ribs are the hard ones. When we sailed down to Antarctica [via the treacherous Drake Passage] in a steel-hull sailboat, I came up to the deck and couldn’t see the horizon. The mast was underneath the swells! You just go, “Uh, I’m going back down below [laughs]. I don’t even want to see this.”

Clash: Many argue, including myself, that adventure has become so commercialized that there are negative consequences. What do you think?

Gates: I’m not sure it’s over-commercialized. I sometimes worry about the impact of cruise ships, huge footprints, travel companies coming into islands in remote destinations with large amounts of tourists. But I also think we’re in a golden age of travel, a democratization. A hundred years ago, we were at the dawn of aviation. Now you can go the airport, buy a ticket and board a flight to almost anywhere in the world. But there are places where the travel has to be managed. How many people per year can go to Machu Pichu, or to the Pyramids, with damaging those places? That said, travel really changes you, especially when you experience something totally different than what you know. It exposes you to a different culture, but it also helps re-define you and where you come from. Should only a handful of people go to the top of [Mt.] Everest? I don’t know. I don’t think we want to create a gondola to the top, impact the culture and economy of the people there, in a negative way. But why shouldn’t more people be able to go? That’s a question we have to wrestle with.

Clash: Your next episode of the show is about space. It is also being commercialized, in some good ways with Elon Musk of SpaceX, Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos of Blue Origin. These private companies have developed the concept of efficiency - reusing the entire spacecraft rather than chucking big parts into the oceans. But there’s the tourism aspect to it, too. Currently, only the rich can go up - those with a half million or a million dollars for a ticket. What do you think?

Gates: I do think there are questions about the cost, the environmental impact and all of that. My hope is that the people who can afford it now aren’t just going up for the Instagram photos. I hope at least some of them are changed, and bring the experience back and inspire the next person to go. It is another step to the future. We know that we have to explore space in a more aggressive way. I’m encouraged by all of it. But I won’t be ponying up a check anytime soon [laughs]. Who knows - maybe my kids will be going around the Moon the way we hop on a Southwest flight.

Clash: What if Jeff Bezos offered you a comp trip to suborbital space in return for you doing a segment about the experience?

Gates: I’d be there before the phone call was finished [laughs]. Of course I’d go! But I’d also be interested in exploring the technology behind the flights, what makes it all happen. I think viewers would be interested in that, too.

Post a Comment