Few relize that it was Christopher Columbus' opening up of the New World that helped fuel Copernicus' discovery. The Boston Globe has a great article which discusses just that. Columbus' discovery shattered the Christian idea that there could be no lands that had not heard the Gospel and Greek-thought that the Earth sphere floated on water. The realization that these ideas were false and that the model of a balanced Earth medieval scholars made was also wrong allowed Copernicus to rethink the universe.
The relationship between Columbus and Copernicus is proof once again that geography is a key competent with understanding not only the Earth but its place in the universe.