This Week in Travel History: Space Race and an Epic Underwater Journey

Komodo island, Indonesia. Photo credit: Gabby Panebianco and Luke Jannicke.



Each week we’re taking a look at profound moments within amazing trips taken by interesting people. See what happened this week in travel historand come back every Monday and Friday for more historic moments. Watch last week’s Zoomcast about Harley-Davidson history.

Scuba Diving Around the World

Week of February 15-21

Watch this week’s Zoomcast where John talks to a couple who scuba dived around the world, fell in love and came back home from their 2-year odyssey engaged.

They donned scuba tanks and dive masks 267 times in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. But calling Gabby Panebianco and Luke Jannicke’s trip a dive-around-the-world would discount it from an array of other life altering adventures they had on their 730-day odyssey.

Their world-wide journey commenced in 2017 in the Cook Islands and concluded in Kenya and was originally going to be a year long. But odd jobs and a desire to explore more fueled the adventure an additional 12 months. They washed elephants in Thailand, rode camels in India, and nearly got lost on a jungle island in the Andaman Sea. Ironically, a couple that met in a pet store in Maui got engaged on a safari in Africa. But it was events that happened this week, exactly four years ago, that brought them closer together and showed them how precious life is.

Scuba diving.
Photo credit: Gabby Panebianco and Luke Jannicke.

“It wasn’t the best Valentine’s Day,” Gabby exclaimed while retracing their tracks from the depths of Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. “Luke had jaundice and some severe internal pain – we needed to get to an international hospital. We had to get our Visas and then take a bus for 13 hours over some very rough roads.”

While Gabby worried about Luke’s treatment and multiple surgeries in the hospital, Luke worried about Gabby’s safety in town during Vietnam’s wild Tết (New Year’s) Festival. It was then they knew they would truly go to the ends of the earth for each other. And that they did – one gall bladder, two surgeries, 10 days and 25 pounds later, Luke walked out of the hospital, grabbed Gabby’s hand and they were off for nine more months, absorbing all they could in Southeast Asia, India and Africa.

Underwater Highlights

With 267 scuba dives in the span of about two years, Gabby and Luke have seen some amazing underwater sights. Here are just a few of their favorites:

Komodo island, Indonesia

This dive spot has amazing wildlife and blue waters, but the main difference between this spot and other places is the vibrant color of the coral.

Sulawesi island, Indonesia

Komodo island, Indonesia.
Sulawesi island, Indonesia. Photo credit: Gabby Panebianco and Luke Jannicke.

Sulawesi is known for several major dive sites including Bunaken National Park, the Togian Islands and Wakatobi National Park. The abundant wildlife includes some of the largest green sea turtles that Gabby and Luke saw during their odyssey.


Boat wreck dive site in Australia.
Boat wreck dive site in Australia. Photo credit: Gabby Panebianco and Luke Jannicke.

Australia is a no-brainer for scuba enthusiasts. What sets these waters apart is the wide variety of marine life you can see on a single dive including rays, sharks, turtles and grouper.


The Philippines is one of Gabby and Lukes’ favorite places to scuba dive, and for good reason. Over 7,000 islands make up the Philippines and the surrounding waters are filled with animals as small as the pygmy seahorse (which is about the size of a pinky nail!) and as large as the whale shark.  

The Day The Right Stuff Finally Happened

Week of February 15-21

After 70 simulated missions followed by 11 equipment malfunctions and weather delays, it all came together on February 20th, 1962 when John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. Glenn soared 75,679 miles in less than 5 hours and sent a message to the Soviet Union that the space race was back on after they had put a satellite, a dog and a man into orbit before the USA.

John was a stud pilot in WWII and had legendary Boston Red Sox Hall of Famer Ted Williams as his wingman in Korea. Author of The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe, famously said John “had the hottest flight record as a pilot, was the most quotable, the most photogenic and the lone marine.” He had already piloted the first supersonic transcontinental flight and seemed the natural choice to take this historic flight.

Every aspect of this flight was risky, as John and the six other selected Mercury astronauts watched their very first rocket launch end in a fiery explosion from Cape Canaveral at the start of the program. The reentry after the actual flight was especially dangerous and John carried a note that read: I am a stranger. I come in peace. Take me to your leader and there will be a massive reward for you in eternity. It was written in several languages in case he landed in a remote spot. Fortunately, John only showed that note to friends and family after being safely retrieved 800 miles offshore and the success of the Mercury program were soon parlayed into success in the Apollo Program that brought man to the moon.

Space Travel

Space Shuttle Discovery on display in the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar at the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.
Space Shuttle Discovery on display in the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

We are coming ever closer to civilians being able to orbit the earth like John Glenn did all those years ago. While we’re waiting for space travel to be as simple as going to the airport, there are a few places you can go for a little space exploration of your own.

NASA Johnson Space Center

Houston, Texas

The home of mission control and the training base for America’s astronauts, the NASA Johnson Space Center is an icon. Just a few of the highlights include: walking underneath the reusable SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket – which was launched twice in 2017; touching a moon rock and going inside a replica of the world’s only shuttle mounted on a carrier aircraft.

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Washington, DC

This museum maintains the world’s largest collection of aviation and space artifacts. It is the largest of the Smithsonian’s 19 museums and has two locations: one in the Smithsonian complex and the other located near Washington Dulles International Airport. The collection is massive, encompassing astronaut gear, the Space Shuttle Discovery, a NASA android and an archive with more than 1.75 million photographs and 14,000 film and video titles among many, many other objects.

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

Orlando, Florida

The launch site for every human who stepped foot on the moon, the Kennedy Space Center is another historic location with incredible exhibits. See the historic Countdown Clock, walk in the “Rocket Garden,” and try your hand at training simulators.  

Check back Friday for episode 3 of the Zoomcast where John talks to a couple who spent two years traveling around the globe – mostly underwater!


Episode 1: Midwinter Motorcycle from Alaska to Argentina

John Binkley with his motorcycle on his journey from Alaska to Argentina.
John Binkley with his motorcycle on his journey from Alaska to Argentina. Photo credit: John Binkley.

Episode 2: Birth of a Harley-Davidson Founder

Photo courtesy of the Harley-Davidson Museum.

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