Antonio Martínez Ron: "Disasters and wars unfortunately drive scientific advances"

Antonio Martínez Ron: "Disasters and wars unfortunately drive scientific advances"

Those pioneers who studied the clouds or who ventured up in balloons, the space explorers or the first aviators or mountaineers, all of them acted moved by that very human desire to go further. It was, in short, the same spirit that encouraged Magellan and Elcano to go around the world or Amundsen and Peary to reach the poles. Now, the vertical exploration fell more into oblivion. This is how Antonio Martínez Ron (Madrid, 1976), author of something new in the skies (Crítica), an exhaustive but very entertaining book on the history of meteorology and aeronautics, among other disciplines; about all the questions that arose and arise when contemplating the celestial vault. "It gives the feeling that looking at the sky," says the author, "is reduced to a matter of pleasure or laziness. But, quite the contrary, the conquest of the sky has been a motor of human knowledge."

Martínez Ron, one of the most expert Spanish scientific journalists, has dedicated six years to preparing, documenting and writing a book where he mixes his personal impressions ("when I look at the sky from the garden of my house") with a historical account of the investigation from space. Based on an extensive bibliography and numerous interviews and testimonies, something new in the skies it is intended for a general reader and not just for science buffs. "Fortunately," says the author, "scientific popularization has improved a lot in Spain in recent decades, both in quality and quantity. In any case, non-fiction and essays continue to be the poor brothers in bookstores with respect to novel. Now, scientists and researchers are losing that ancient modesty that prevented them from spreading their discoveries or their studies. In short, our country still suffers a bit from the slab of having tilted more towards the arts and letters than towards the sciences" .

In the pages of the book appears a common feature in many vertical explorations that refers to the paradox of the importance of adversities in scientific knowledge. "Disasters and wars drive," comments Martínez Ron, "unfortunately scientific advances. In the field of the sky, we must remember that the progress of meteorology was pushed by the Crimean War in the mid-nineteenth century, while World War I It was a huge leap forward for aeronautics in general. Not to mention the frantic rush of technologies of all kinds during World War II. For example, the obsession with predicting the weather on the eve of the Normandy landings." Of course this journalist freelancing, collaborator of various media and who has always worked on scientific issues, does not forget the most recent case, that is, the vaccines against the COVID-19 virus. In any case, he believes that the world soon gets used to improvements in the quality of life without realizing the immense efforts necessary to reach, without going any further, the massive phenomenon of commercial aviation. "We are surrounded by science," says Martínez Ron, "but we ignore it and do not value it because it is part of our daily lives."

After years of work as a science journalist and having published books such as the naked eye and What do astronauts see when they close their eyes? This essayist was very attracted to the exploration of the sky, which, in his opinion, has not had a good epic or adequate didactics. For this reason, he has used an agile and refined style, as a reportage, to go through the conquest of the mountain tops, the study of clouds and rain, the balloon trips of the Montgolfier brothers, the routes of the imagination of Jules Verne, the pioneering flights of the Wright brothers, the airships of Ferdinand von Zeppelin or the first meteorological services of FitzRoy or Le Verrier. "In addition," says Martínez Ron, "I also wanted to highlight the immense beauty of the descriptions of those writers who were also pioneers in the heavens, such as Antoine de Saint-Exupery or Manuel Chaves Nogales. Actually, my intention has been to accompany the reader in a scientific journey, but at the same time literary and personal. In this way, taking perspective from the skies I have observed how small the world is and how everything is related".

Although something new in the skies encompasses a panorama, never better said, international, Martínez Ron has also wanted to vindicate the figures of some Spanish scientific pioneers such as Emilio Herrera. He is a true unknown to the general public, including aviation fans, born in Granada in 1879 and died in Geneva in 1967, who was a military engineer, aviator and inventor of the space suit, the true antecedent of space suits . On the political side of it, Herrera remained faithful to the Republic and after the war he was president of the Republican Government in exile for a while. "It is clear that we cannot compare", argues the popularizer, "Spanish scientific history with that of the Anglo-Saxon countries, Germany or France. But we have also had moments of glory with people like Herrera, Ramón y Cajal or Malaspina". Very critical of clichés and commonplaces, Martínez Ron has shied away from writing an Anglocentric book, although he admits that Americans and British have historically been at the forefront of disclosure and, on many occasions, of discoveries.

If he had to single out science pioneers, Martínez Ron cites the English physicist and chemist John Dalton (1766-1844), who designated color blindness and formulated the theory that matter is made up of atoms of different masses that combine in proportions simple to form compounds. It also highlights the figure of the Swiss aristocrat and mountaineer Horace-Benedict de Saussure (1740-1799), founder of modern mountaineering and a great scholar of geology. From an attitude very distant from sensationalism or propaganda, Antonio Martínez Ron concludes that "the next great human conquest should not go through trips to Mars, but by not destroying our Earth."

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