Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Yesterday morning, The Today Show did a brief segment honoring the anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina -- ninety-nine years ago. The segment was interesting, but it seems to have erred a bit in attributing the dawn of the Space Age to the Wright Brothers' invention. The problem here is that the Space Age has been dependent not on aeronautics as pioneered by Wilbur and Orville Wright, but on rocketry as pioneered by Robert H. Goddard and the Russian Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, who had written an article proposing a rocket as a vehicle for spaceflight five years prior to the Wright Brothers' first flight. Even now, almost a hundred years after the first airplane flight, we are still reliant on rockets for leaving Earth's gravity, the Space Shuttle notwithstanding (the Shuttle being basically a supersized glider attached to a rocket for launching purposes -- in fact, the Shuttle is entirely useless as a flying machine). It's certainly true that our current technological society is a case of "standing on the shoulders of giants", but in the case of spaceflight the giants are Goddard and Tsiolkovsky, not the Wright Brothers.

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