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The Kid Should See This

Slingshots of the Oceanic: The genius of ancient Pacific mariners

There are many ways of moving through the Universe – of traveling from one point to another over great, even extraordinary distances. There is also a way of using the world for your own ends: taking advantage of slopes, winds, currents or gravitational fields, as fuel-efficient resources for your own acceleration.

Gravity-assisted space travel is one such example, when a spacecraft uses the gravitational pull of a nearby planet or other celestial body to ‘slingshot’ itself toward another, more distant goal. Crucially, the target or destination here is one that could not have been reached without this assistance, not only in terms of the ship’s velocity but even in terms of its original direction of travel.

navigating the waves
For generations, Polynesia’s master navigators would use the seasonal winds and water currents to travel across the expansive island chains in the South Pacific much like how NASA scientists use gravitational slingshots. This video from and filmmaker Flora Lichtman tells the story: Slingshots of the Oceanic.

Related reading: Polynesian Stick Charts at

navigational charts
stick charts
Next: More travel videos, more from Flora Lichtman, and this: How to Make a Navigational Chart, a Met Kids video.

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