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Editor's Note: Taking Off

June 30, 2009
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Summer travel season is upon us and for that I would like to thank Orville and Wilbur Wright.

As you all know, on December 17, 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright became the first men to achieve powered flight.

This was unbelievable to many around the world, and according to Wikipedia, in 1906, the Herald Tribune’s Paris edition headlined an article on the Wrights “Flyers or Liars?”

It seems they were telling the truth about their flying machines, and what a different world we live in as a result. Those contraptions have really taken off, as have airlines, space shuttles and professions dedicated to flight.

Indeed, more than 100 years later, it is difficult to imagine the world without flight. It has been an impressive century for air travel, and it is amazing to consider that only 66 years after Kitty Hawk, man landed on the moon-40 years ago this month.

Forty years after that moonwalk, the NASA schedule is packed this summer, as the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter took off mid-June and the space shuttle Endeavor is rescheduled for launch this month.

And let’s not forget another NASA launch: Spacebook. In June, the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center introduced Spacebook, which Linda Cureton, NASA’s chief information officer, describes on her blog as an employee intranet with user profiles, group collaboration spaces and social bookmarking.

If Wilbur and Orville only knew.

In their day, trips across the country took days instead of hours, trips across oceans were only done by boat, and trips into space were the stuff of science fiction. Clearly the world was a different place, and it’s not hard to see why these flying machines caught on.

Though air travel today is by no means risk-free, with details of the ill-fated Air France Flight 447 in the news, along with the recent story of a captain dying mid-flight, industry professionals do their best to ensure the safest possible experience.

Today we can send people to the moon-although it has been years since we have-and to every corner of the globe-which happens every day.

In fact, putting yourself in the hands of transportation experts and getting on a plane seems much less risky than getting into the car. Flying is such a tightly regulated industry with so many standards, inspections, checks and balances, that it feels much safer. Though crashes do still occur, fortunately those are the exception, not the norm.

For that, we have many more people to thank than the Wright brothers, from the pilots who fly the plane to the quality professionals who ensure the plane is safe to fly.

And on that note, our annual Aerospace edition touches on a few aspects of this safety critical industry, from inspection to standards to real-world examples. Without such stringent attention to detail, flying would no doubt be risky business.

It also is worth noting that although Wilbur Wright died young, it was not flight-related. He contracted typhoid fever and died at age 45, while Orville lived to see the age of supersonic flight and died at 76.

Thanks again, gentlemen.

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