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Zheng He! Zheng He! Is there a better icon for interstellar voyaging?

Between 1405 and 1433, Zheng set out from China on massive naval expeditions that reached as far as Mecca and Mombasa, journeys with more than 300 vessels and 28,000 crew, excursions far bigger and longer than those of Columbus more than a half century later. Staggering in price, formidable in technical sophistication, unprecedented in level of national commitment—Zheng’s voyages remain the closest functional equivalent to the cost, effort, and risk required to travel into deep space. Trying to picture what settling other planets might entail? One place to look is 15th-century China.

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